Karel Williams Interview Feature Article for Indian Textiles

In September, Dow Microbial Control, a business group of The Dow Chemical Company, introduced SILVADUR™ Antimicrobial, a unique technology that provides apparel and home textiles with long-lasting freshness and reliable odor protection. The editors of Indian Textiles met recently with Karel Williams, global strategic marketing manager for Dow Microbial Control, to learn more about this new product and the company’s plans for it in India.

How long has Dow been in the microbial control business? What expertise does the company have in this arena?

Williams: Dow Microbial Control has been an industry leader for more than three decades. One of the ways we’ve grown our business is by acquiring other leading companies, such as Union Carbide, ANGUS Chemical, and Rohm and Haas. This has given us access to many of the best people and technologies in the business. In fact, we have more Ph.D. scientists and microbiologists in our business than any other microbial control company. As a result, we’re leaders in numerous antimicrobial markets ranging from personal care to industrial water treatment. Now we’re bringing our experience and knowledge to apparel and textile markets.

Dow recently introduced SILVADUR Antimicrobial for apparel and textiles. What prompted Dow Microbial Control to target these markets for new product development?

Williams: It’s not unusual for people to come to Dow Microbial Control to solve their problems because of our credibility and experience in microbial control markets. Over time, a number of manufacturers and brand owners expressed their concerns to us about the lack of a reliable and credible antimicrobial product for apparel and textiles. We listened to them and looked closely at the needs of the marketplace. Our conclusion was that we could apply our technology leadership and new product development skills to meet their needs for a much higher-performing antimicrobial.

Did you involve fiber producers and apparel and textile manufacturers in India in the market research for your new microbial control product? What did you learn from them?

Williams: Yes, the perspectives of the leading apparel and textile manufacturers and processors in India are very important to us because they are so well established and many of them participate in the global supply chain for garments and other textiles. So it made sense to us to qualify the product in the Indian market.

We learned a great deal from industry leaders in India about their expectations and requirements for a cutting-edge antimicrobial. Their most important requirement was a product that was efficient and effective and could be readily used with their existing systems. They also wanted a product that is easy to handle, which is a drawback of existing technologies. Finally, they needed a liquid product that did not require a binder to work – in other words a one-component system versus two components. Based on the positive reception our product has received in India, we’ve succeeded in meeting their needs.

What’s involved in developing a microbial product like SILVADUR Antimicrobial? How long does it take? What testing is involved before a product like this is introduced to the marketplace?

Williams: Dow has a multiphase development process that includes a great deal of research, analysis and testing before a product is ready to launch. It’s a highly disciplined process that can take two to three years, which was the case with SILVADUR Antimicrobial.

Our product development team, led by Tutul Ghosh, who was born in Calcutta, considered many things during product development. For example, they defined what we want the product to do and not do and how it is to be used and under what conditions. They brought chemistries and ideas and capabilities together and began to develop prototypes. We asked many questions as the prototypes advanced through testing.

In the case of SILVADUR Antimicrobial, we looked at its interaction with fibers, fabrics and humans. We wanted to know if it was sensitizing or irritating to skin. How did it impact the environment when it was disposed of after use in processing facilities? There are many gates and hurdles to clear before Dow takes a product to market, which is why the process takes years to complete.

How is SILVADUR Antimicrobial different from other antimicrobial products currently on the market?

Williams: Our belief is that SILVADUR Antimicrobial is the highest-performing and most sustainable antimicrobial product on the market today. The major differences between it and other products are its composition and functionality.

It’s designed with an intelligent, silver-ion-based control mechanism that delivers its properties with no free silver. This is much different than typical silver particle systems, where a lot of uncontrolled silver is wasted during the application process and also released into the environment. This is also a significant competitive advantage. In addition, the polymeric nature of SILVADUR gives it long-term durability and the ability to withstand wear and tear and abrasion during the normal life cycle of many textile products.

SILVADUR Antimicrobial’s advanced mode of action is both chemical and biological. It’s fully compatible with moisture management systems and chemicals and dyeing agents. Another important distinction is that it can be collected, reused, and recycled. As we look at its performance profile, we’re confident SILVADUR Antimicrobial can deliver reliable, long-term performance to fiber producers, apparel and textile manufacturers, and brand owners.

You mentioned SILVADUR Antimicrobial’s intelligent control mechanism. What does that mean?

Williams: Its unique intelligent control mechanism regulates the amount and use of silver on the garment or textile. Silver ions are released only in the presence of bacteria. When the bacteria no longer exist, the silver ions are no longer released. That‘s what makes this system intelligent and different from other antimicrobial products.

Is Dow committed to the textile and apparel markets? How can you ensure a reliable supply of SILVADUR Antimicrobial to the marketplace?

Williams: As we discussed earlier, we’re the world leader in the microbial control industry. Our record shows a long-term commitment to our markets and we maintain our presence in them as long as our technology is valued.

As far as reliable supply, we have infrastructure in place globally to support the sales and distribution of all our products, including SILVADUR Antimicrobial. We have dedicated customer support and a vast distribution network in every region to make certain our customers have our products when and where they need them.

How do you intend to market SILVADUR Antimicrobial in India? What market support will you provide?

Williams: We intend to market SILVADUR Antimicrobial aggressively to garment and textile manufacturers in India who produce both for the domestic and export markets.

We’ll be using our network of distribution partners and sales representatives to reach them. We’ll provide application technical support, microbiology and chemistry technical support, training and information sessions to potential customers in India and elsewhere.

The entire textile and apparel value chain, including consumers, is becoming more focused on the impact of textile and apparel products on the environment. Are there environmental concerns associated with SILVADUR Antimicrobial?

Williams: SILVADUR Antimicrobial was extensively tested for its environmental impact during the product development process, and we believe it is one of the most sustainable antimicrobials on the market today. In addition, the International Oeko-Tex Association has evaluated it and confirmed that it complies with its environmental standards.

Are there any other products for the textile and apparel markets in Dow Microbial Control’s product development pipeline?

Williams: At this time, our focus is on developing improved or advanced forms of SILVADUR Antimicrobial for specialty applications that would give us an opportunity in other segments. But we know that the key to new product development is a continuing dialogue and partnership with leaders in the apparel and textile industry. We fully intend to maintain that dialogue with current and new partners in India and elsewhere, which could very well lead to the next generation of microbial control products.