Nanotechnology Goes to Work for a Smaller-Sized Consumer
By Michael D. Cole
In creating Bersica Futurewear for children, the husband-and-wife team of Jose and Adriana Berlanga feel they've uniquely fulfilled a void in the market. The new high-performance brand, established this year, is intended to offer functionality and technology - considerations that are often afterthoughts with children's clothing design.
Beyond filling that niche, the startup venture also realizes a personal vision, according to Adriana Berlanga, who oversees the company's day-to-day operations. "Our motivation was based on a couple of things," she said during a recent interview. "We've always wanted to create a product for children that was fun, unique and innovative for them, while also making their parents happy. At the same time we're really trying to make a positive difference as it pertains to children."
To address the goal of making a difference, 10 percent of Bersica's proceeds are donated to OneXOne, a relief organization to help children around the world. Berlanga says that through apparel sales, they are also donating to Shriners Hospital, the famous network of 22 pediatric non-profit hospitals across North America that provides specialty care at no charge to patients and their families. A Shriners facility in the Berlangas' hometown of Houston is devoted to orthopaedics; Berlanga says her husband Jose received care from a Shriners hospital when he was a child.
"We've wanted to do something to give back to children and this is our vehicle for doing that," she says.
As to the Bersica line itself, Berlanga says that she and her husband sought to create a high-performance, eco-friendly children's line of casual wear that was free of chemicals, a trait they believe is often overlooked. The fabric used in the clothing, provided by global fabric producer Schoeller, has achieved the recognized Bluesign certification. The Bluesign standard is designed to guarantee the highest possible amount of protection against substances which are harmful to humans and the environment.
In successfully launching Bersica, the Berlangas' devotion to their mission has apparently offset their prior lack of experience in the apparel industry. Adriana relinquished a job in the financial brokerage field to take on the apparel endeavor full-time. Jose owns and operates a construction firm that builds homes in Houston's "Inner Loop."
The initial Bersica offering, sold exclusively online, is an eight-style line of shirts and shorts for boys, girls and babies (targeted up to age 12). Its narrow SKU scope at the moment ("this is only the beginning for us," proclaims Berlanga) is offset by the offering of a multitude of performance characteristics such as stain repellency, durability and abrasion resistance.
The commitment to performance is apparent in a video on the company's web site that illustrates grape juice, milk and punch all seemingly "bouncing" off a boy's polo shirt without causing as much as a blotch, thanks to the clothing's nanotechnology-inherent fabric. "You can literally put a shirt or the shorts under running water and the water doesn't penetrate it at all," says Berlanga, "and in a bathtub (the apparel) will just float. The repellency of all this is truly amazing."
She says the clothing also is extremely oil- and dirt-repellent and that no liquid or substrate penetrates the fabric. "Not only does it work with liquids but it also repels ketchup, honey and spaghetti sauce - you name it." Berlanga says. "There are a lot of substances that would typically stain a fabric and this doesn't at all. It's really quite impressive. The initial feedback from customers has been one of surprise with what the product can actually do."
Bersica Futurewear also features UV resistance, and the company touts the softness, comfort and breathability often sought in modern-day apparel. The Berlangas have dubbed the line "Bersica Futurewear," citing the high-tech nature of the clothing and its fabric.
NanoSphere of influence
Discussing the development of the line, Berlanga says: "The initial idea was to create waterproof, stain proof clothing that was high quality and affordable, but we weren't sure if all of those requirements could go hand-in-hand." (The children's tops and pants all sell for $34.99 on the firm's e-commerce site.)
To meet her vision, Berlanga says Internet research ultimately led her to the doorstep of Schoeller Technologies AG, a subsidiary of Switzerland-based global textiles and fabrics provider Schoeller AG. For its entire line, Bersica selected Schoeller fabrics with NanoSphere, Schoeller's patented nanotechnology-based finish that is designed to repel oil and water and offer abrasion resistance and washing permanence. (To enhance the nanoparticle formulation, Schoeller Technologies formed a strategic distribution partnership in 2007 with Clariant, among the world's largest specialty chemicals companies.)
Schoeller says with its formulation, which achieved nano certification from the independent Hohenstein Research Institute, the nanoparticles are organized in a stable and specially-developed coating matrix and are thermo-stable up to 1,700 degrees Celsius. That matrix stability ensures durability with the fabric, according to Schoeller; it ensures that the millions of nanoparticles on its surface cannot come adrift and dissolve during washing, dry cleaning or ironing.
According to its developers, NanoSphere also offers a "natural self-cleaning" effect: as described by them, the NanoSphere
effect can be compared with a lotus leaf that possesses a structured rather than a smooth surface and therefore always
remains clean. Similarly, according to Schoeller, dirt does not adhere to the textile surface of its fabric and "rolls" off by itself or rinses away with water.
Additionally, NanoSphere utilizes modern C6 fluorocarbon technology that is considered ecologically safe. According to Schoeller, the partnership with Clariant has improved the recipe to ensure its finish is free of other flourochemicals often deemed more harmful, notably PFOA (Perfluorooctaonoic acid) and PFOS (Perfluorooctane sulphate). High levels of PFOS, for instance, have been restricted by the European Union in the use of textiles and other coated materials.
Considering the fabric's environmentally friendly claims, Berlanga acknowledges that the use of it for her brand is particularly beneficial in light of the recently enacted Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008 (CPSIA), which has thrust stringent new government regulations on children's apparel designers and manufacturers and outlawed certain levels of lead while outlining other restricted substances.
"While our selection of fabric is helpful in that regard, I'm just happy I'm not selling something that could potentially harm someone with chemicals that are put into certain dyes and finishes," she comments.
Berlanga says she sought and obtained a certified letter from Schoeller that affirms through testing that there are no harmful chemicals with the NanoSphere fabric.
Futurewear overcomes past challenges
Berlanga, who operates with a small marketing staff in Houston, acknowledges there have been startup challenges with launching the Bersica product line, including the planning time required before product launch (she says it extended a full year, to her surprise).
Raising capital, navigating through importing complexities and selecting and budgeting the amount of fabric needed are among the tricky hurdles that she cites. "It's hard to tell from just one swatch how that fabric will work within a shirt or pair of pants," she says.
Berlanga attributes her success getting off the ground to patience and flexibility. "This is a full time job, something you need to put a lot of time, energy and organization into," she comments. "There are so many variables, whether it be marketing, production, pricing or meeting regulations that need to be addressed daily. It will consume long hours of your day. There are going to be times that not everything is going to work the way you envisioned and you'll have to go back to the drawing board and reassess everything. Sometimes you'll have to come up with a game plan that is totally different from what you originally thought. It's all part of the learning process."
A supportive vendor relationship with Schoeller has helped overcome growing pains, Berlanga says. She adds that the partnership has been mutually beneficial, as it offered the fabric supplier an opportunity to broaden its horizons beyond the outdoor, ski and extreme sport apparel market.
"I think it was a challenge for them at first to send us fabrics that weren't geared toward those types of activities," Berlanga says. "At the same time, I think that speaks to the uniqueness of what we are offering. I think they are keenly interested in our success because we are so different."
Berlanga adds that she is enthusiastic regarding the future of Futurewear.
"We're excited about what it holds," she says. "We want people to be happy with what we're providing, and want people to get involved not only with our product but our cause."
Michael D. Cole is Associate Editor of Apparel.
* Headquarters: Houston, TX
* Sourcing: Product line manufactured entirely in United States, fabrics are imported.
* Channel: Product initially sold online; channels including specialty retailers being considered.
* Online presence/social media: Company's e-commerce site is at www.bersica.com; the brand actively markets both on Facebook and Twitter (at twitter.com/bersica).
* Technology: Bersica Futurewear uses Schoeller AGââââ¬Å¡¬âââ¬Å¾¢s NanoSphere finishing technology to create its line of children's clothing, which provides a natural self-cleaning effect and an extremely high level of water and dirt repellence.
* Green benefits: According to the company, clothing requires less frequent washing and can be washed at lower temperatures, thus protecting the environment and the fabric.