Buzz Off Insect Shield has introduced the first process registered by the Environmental Protection Agency for the manufacture of insect repellent clothing. Described as the biggest breakthrough in the apparel industry since the introduction of Gore-Tex 30 years ago, clothes treated with Buzz Off provide the benefits of a bug spray without the constant reapplication. Alfred Dockery reports.

Buzz Off Insect Shield LLC, headquartered in Greensboro, NC, has introduced the first patent-pending process, registered by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), for the manufacture of insect-repellent apparel. The innovative Buzz Off Insect Shield technology provides effective and convenient protection against mosquitoes, ticks, ants, flies, chiggers and no-see-ums, according to the company.

Buzz Off convertible pant
"We consider this to be the biggest breakthrough in the apparel industry since the introduction of Gore-Tex about 30 years ago," says Haynes Griffin, chairman and CEO, Buzz Off Insect Shield LLC. "On the other hand, it's the first new tool in personal insect protection since the development of DEET which was 50 years ago."

Before Buzz Off, Griffin was the founding CEO and president of Vanguard Cellular Systems Inc. Vanguard was one of the largest independent non-wireline cellular telephone companies in the United States, before being acquired by AT&T in 1999.

Invisible protective barrier
The Buzz Off process tightly binds repellent to the garment, creating an invisible and odourless protective barrier around the wearer.

The active ingredient used in the Buzz Off process is permethrin, a manmade version of a repellent that occurs naturally in chrysanthemums. Permethrin is not effective when applied directly to the skin, because it deactivates and dissipates quickly.

The developers of Buzz Off Insect Shield have conducted numerous studies with the US Armed Forces and others. Their treatment has been shown to be highly effective the entire time the clothing is worn. Buzz Off and its partner companies - The Orvis Company of Manchester, Vermont, and Ex Officio of Seattle, Washington - have tested the garments from Vermont to Alaska to the Florida Everglades and received rave reviews from their field testers.

Buzz Off blend long-sleeve crew

Buzz Off Insect Shield is good for at least 25 washings and comes with one caveat: the garments must not be dry-cleaned. The dry cleaning solvents will remove the active ingredient in Buzz Off, making it ineffective.

"One of the secrets of the Buzz Off process is its ability to bind this effective repellent to everyday clothing," said Richard Lane, company president and inventor of the Buzz Off Insect Shield process. "This creates an insect-repellent garment that is both effective and long lasting."

Previously, Lane was the director of technical research and development for Polo Ralph Lauren Corporation. Lane also has held many positions in the apparel industry. In 1974, he founded Lane's Commercial Prewash, a Greensboro-based laundry where he was instrumental in the development of specialty finishes for the apparel industry.

Seeking a better way
Beginning in 1996, Buzz Off researchers began the development of the Buzz Off process of bonding repellent to consumer apparel with the idea that there had to be a better method than topically applied insect repellents that would be convenient, long lasting and effective.

Buzz Off shirt
After seven years of comprehensive testing, researchers perfected the necessary procedures and specialised equipment. Buzz Off Insect Shield LLC was founded in 2001 to complete the development, manufacture and distribution of the product.

"We ran two parallel tracks," said Griffin. "Number one was the development of the process: the chemistry and custom designed equipment to produce it. On a parallel basis, we also went down the regulatory path because all of our developments had to ultimately meet the rigorous, exacting standards of the EPA."

Convincing the EPA
Buzz Off Insect Shield received EPA approval in July 2003. The EPA requires thorough testing and massive amounts of data. The company had to show effectiveness against each specific insect that it claimed its garments had the ability to repel. It also had to be able to fine-tune the process for a wide variety of fibres and fibre blends, and convince the EPA of the findings.

The process works on many of the fibres most frequently used in typical garment construction, according to Griffin.

Haynes Griffin, Buzz Off CEO
"The EPA considers two basic factors: safety and effectiveness," said Griffin. "We had to provide them with data to confirm across a whole range of matters in both of those categories that we meet their requirements. These were tests that run from one individual to maybe a thousand individuals."

Finally to gain EPA approval the treatment has to be added to the completed garment and not to the fabric from which the garment will be made.

Laudable launch partners
To introduce Buzz Off, the company has partnered Orvis and Ex Officio. Both companies are well-known in durable and dependable outdoor clothing. Orvis, the oldest continuously operated catalogue company in the United States, has been in business since 1856. Ex Officio is a wholesaler owned by Orvis and has been a leader in outdoor performance clothing for the last 16 years.

Richard Lane, Buzz Off president
"We compare the launch of Buzz Off to the revolutionary impact Gore-Tex had when it was first introduced," said Orvis Buzz Off brand manager, Ryan Shadrin. "It's that kind of a seismic change in the way that clothing is seen by the consumer. Gore-Tex redefined fabrics as performance fabrics. You could wear something that would enhance or benefit you in certain conditions; so too will Buzz Off perform the same way (for insect protection)."

"Imagine wearing great-looking, casual apparel that also happens to work as well as an insect repellent in preventing mosquito and tick bites. With no odour, no effort, and no hassle. That's no small benefit, especially considering the increase in West Nile virus and Lyme disease across the country," Shadrin said.

All three companies expect the apparel line to move quickly from the backwoods to the back yard. In addition to hikers, hunters and fishermen, they expect to excite the interest of gardeners, golfers and anyone that spends significant time outdoors.

Rick Hemmerling, president of Ex Officio, says: "I have yet to run into an individual that doesn't think that they could benefit from insect repellent clothing. The only limitations we have are going to be the scope of our styling and our acceptability to the consumer base. Initially we are focusing on outdoor and travel (markets), where we are experts."

The Orvis and ExOfficio Buzz Off lines will include pants, shorts, shirts and socks for both men and women. A limited number of garments will be offered this autumn, with Buzz Off apparel more widely available by spring 2004. Prices range from $45 to $89 for shirts and $79 to $139 for pants. In addition, Ex Officio will soon announce a line of Buzz Off clothing for children.

Ex Officio and Buzz Off have decided to donate after-tax profits from the children's line to The Hole in the Wall Gang Camp, founded by Paul Newman in 1988. This is a non-profit residential summer camp in north eastern Connecticut for children with cancer or other serious blood diseases.

Initially Buzz Off will process the garments at its Greensboro facility. In the future, the company will consider licensing the technology: both the equipment and the chemistry.

By Alfred Dockery.