My first foray into traveling internationally during the pandemic was something I did not take lightly. I researched way too much about how dangerous it was to travel and probably over-prepared for my short journey to Mexico. I wore gloves, a double face mask, and a face shield but never went so far as to change my clothing. I noticed several other passengers were wearing disposable hazmat suits, which looked utterly ridiculous and uncomfortable and thus started my search for new fashionable options for my next trip.
While viruses are known to survive on clothes and surfaces, it isn’t yet known how that translates to getting infected. But I wanted peace of mind, and finding protective clothing that is made of quality while at the same time comfortable enough to sleep in on a long flight led me to several companies with some beautiful products. While these are certainly not a guarantee you won’t get infected, they are helpful to give you the peace of mind that you are trying your very best at protection while you travel.
The creative force behind Lady and Butler, the hospitality uniform company that has designed the chic clothing worn by the staff at Equinox and Four Seasons Hotels, has launched a new brand, Better Off Alone. The new line of reusable protective garments launched after the team saw the environmental impact of single-use masks and other protective wear. Tanya Amini and Eli Caner, of Lady and Butler, teamed up with Bonnie Poon, the CEO of Golden Times Group Limited. Poon oversees an ethical manufacturing supply chain in China that promotes sustainability by recycling and avoiding plastic based packaging; as well as social responsibility by providing a living wage for its factory workers, while also hiring and housing family members together to avoid separating migrant workers from their children.
I am a huge fan of the new collection featuring trench coats, pants, and hoodies, as well as an impressive travel kit. All of their products are made with 100 percent Egyptian cotton treated with nontoxic Silverplus® antimicrobial technology, designed to block and reduce surface contamination of microorganisms. The travel kit includes soft and cozy products, including an airline seat cover, a blanket (with a removable cover), a pillowcase, an eye mask, and a face mask.
I spoke at length with the team behind Better Off Alone about what inspired them to create the brand.
What was the inspiration behind the design?
“When the pandemic sort of hit, all of us were affected by it in different ways. Unfortunately, very early on in March, I caught a very severe case of covid and was out for about a month. I have a seven-year-old son, so I was in the midst of, you know, my God, what’s going to happen to our business?” said co-founder Tanya Amini.
“We started to have a lot of our hospitality partners approach us. Many of them were closed at the time, but they were asking us for recommendations on masks. So Eli and I, with the help of Bonnie, started to do some research, and I wanted to make sure I was using the very best.”
What was the process of the production?
“I did research on cotton, especially with a certain density and a certain type of weave, and it does offer some of the highest protection without any antimicrobial finishing,” says co-founder Bonnie Poon. “We decided to go with SilverPlus® that offered very low quantities of natural silver ions and then mixed them with specific biocides that are not poisonous or harmful to the environment or people, and through that, making a finishing that goes on the fabric itself.”
“I would say one of the big things is for us not just to focus on the finishing, but to focus on the material. A lot of what we see in the market is not comfortable, does not have the same quality texture or quality, and has color saturation. We are working with higher quality cotton from Egypt.”
“I don’t want to be naive, but let’s just pretend it all goes away in a year,” says Tanya. “That doesn’t mean that our mentality hasn’t changed. I think we’re all still going to wash our hands better. We’re getting used to hand sanitizer. We’re going to use masks when we travel. It’s an extra level of safety and peace of mind.”
Any plans for future travel products?
“We want to introduce the travel kit to our hotel hospitality partners because that’s something that we think they can offer in each room.” says co-founder Eli Caner. I’d love to be able to design uniforms for airlines using this fabric. We think that it could be very beneficial for them as well. I think everybody within that industry is still trying to grapple with how they’re going to recover. The concept of the trench coat was for the airlines because I was envisioning the flight attendants putting it on top of their uniforms.”
Another high-end designer of womenswear has jumped into the protective clothing world. Marta Scarampi has launched an elegant collection for the “new normal” as regions lift restrictions and people return to traveling and commuting for work. The collection, which is hand-made to order in Torino, Italy, includes a waterproof silk jumpsuit, matching face masks, and a travel bag. It was inspired by and designed for the brand’s co-founder, Lucia Scarampi, and her sister co-founder, Marta Scarampi.
Among my favorite products is the Deco Travel Jumpsuit for Men ($440), made of comfortable, lightweight, waterproof, and silk-blend fabric. The focus is on comfort and protective wear with a flattering design, ideal for the fashionable traveler. The fit is comfortable and breathable enough to layer other garments underneath and feel at ease.
I spoke with Lucia Scarampi about her inspiration for protective travel clothing.
“When Italy went into lockdown in March 2020, I happened to be with my sister, Marta, who’s also the co-founder and chief designer of Marta Scarampi, in our hometown Torino; it is where our atelier is based,” she says. “I was fortunate enough to be with my family, but at the time, I faced the problem of not being able to return home to New York where my husband and I live. My husband and I were apart for several months. When it was safe enough to travel, and flights became available, we decided it was time for me to fly back to be with my husband.”
What was the process from inception to production?
“The key aspects that Marta focused on was to ensure the product offers a head-to-toe cover, that it’s versatile enough for various occasions, and most importantly, that it’s something people would want to wear even post-pandemic.
Several fabrics were considered, but ultimately Marta went with a silk-blend waterproof fabric because it can repel droplets. The material is the key because it is lightweight and breathable, yet elegant and luxurious.
The final product is a jumpsuit with a hood that latches up around the neck and a matching face mask that can be worn alone or layered over another outfit. And I wore the first and last prototype from Torino to New York (Torino-Milan-Rome-NY!)”
Was it challenging to get the product launched?
“Because our business is built around a slow fashion concept where everything is made on-demand, we were able to confirm the final prototype, test it, and launch it on the website all within two weeks.
While our Travel Jumpsuit is not approved as a PPE, we received a tremendous amount of positive feedback and comments since the first Travel Jumpsuit launch. People who ordered it and wore it told us they felt safer and comfortable in it. Many of them told us they would wear it on trains and subways, too. (And even in the rain, since it’s waterproof!)
We also received an incredible amount of requests for the jumpsuit in men’s sizes and style. And so, for the first time, we as a womenswear slow fashion brand created and offered a product for men.”
Any plans for future travel products?
“After the jumpsuit, we also came up with a two-piece travel set that essentially looks like the jumpsuit, but the pants and jackets are separates. They were mainly made for people who feel like they would make more use of them than a jumpsuit. And for women that have different sizing necessities for top and bottom.
As we are a brand known for handmade capes and blazers, we were once known for our Travel Sets that consist of wrinkle-free capes and blazer sets that can be easily worn together or separately depending on the different climates. Our direction for the future is to go back to our roots and continue to offer women who need to travel for work or for leisure an easier wardrobe option that is extremely comfortable yet always effortlessly sophisticated.”
Launched in October 2020 by Noah Friedman, Arielle Crawford, Evan Boyd, and Ed McCabe, BioRomper is a head-to-toe bodysuit made with antimicrobial fabric. BioRomper is made in New York with sleek, recycled fabric. The material is a custom polyester-spandex blend and is breathable, stretchy, water-repellant, and, most importantly, comfortable. It is treated with an antimicrobial finish that helps eliminate germs on seats, headrests, and other surfaces. BioRomper is equipped with a hood, four pockets, elasticated cuffs, and an adjustable waist for a flattering fit.
According to the founders, “The last 12 months have had an unprecedented impact on our daily lives. The COVID-19 pandemic has made traveling — near or far — more complex and challenging than ever before. The team behind BioRomper wanted to create something to meet the moment; an innovative new garment that blends fashion and function for everyday people on the move in this new normal and beyond.”
Inspired by images of travelers wearing hazmat suits to board airplanes, the team partnered with a local NYC fashion designer to prototype something more practical. The bodysuit helps its wearer feel safer without sacrificing style or comfort, whether they’re headed across town or hopping on an airplane.
For the founders, innovation also implied high-quality, sustainable craftsmanship. So they built BioRomper in fair trade factories within New York City’s legendary garment district, using a custom, recycled blend of polyester and spandex.
VOLLEBAK, DIESEL, UNDER ARMOUR AND THE REST
Numerous designers are jumping into the protective clothing fray, including Diesel denim, which uses Viraloff and will launch their new product in summer 2021, UnderArmour, and North Face, which uses PROTX 2 AV treated materials. Swiss textile firm HeiQ is also continuing to release antiviral denim and face mask collections.
Among the more cutting edge products out there, Vollebak has created a futuristic line of copper full metal jackets and was one of TIME Magazine’s Best Inventions last year. I spoke with co-founder Steve Tidball about the future of pandemic travel clothing and he said, “While disease resistant clothing looks like a luxury in 2021, over the next decade it may well become a standard requirement for travel. As we rapidly head towards some dystopian future in which air travelers pass through decontamination chambers and temperature sensors, the journey to that future may just start with us choosing which brand of hazmat suit we want to wear before we climb onboard.”
It’s important to note that antimicrobial clothing should be used to enhance but not replace most safety precautions (washing hands, social distancing, and wearing masks.) I look forward to many new designers being creative with what will likely become the new normal when we are allowed to travel freely.