Amateur wildlife photographer Mike Lowell expected to run into swarming mosquitoes and other pests on a recent trip to the Amazon rain forest...
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Amateur wildlife photographer Mike Lowell expected to run into swarming mosquitoes and other pests on a recent trip to the Amazon rain forest. He left his insect spray at home and replaced it with a suitcase full of bug-repellent clothes.
Lowell, 29, a police officer from the suburbs of Tampa, Fla., was eager to test the new armor built right into fabric used for shirts, pants, socks and other clothing.
The technology was developed by a small North Carolina company, Buzz Off Insect Shield, which infuses an insect-repellent chemical into clothing sold by upscale outdoor retailers such as L.L. Bean and Orvis, and through Amazon.com.
“I heard about it and I was little skeptical, but I decided to give it a try,” Lowell said. “I figured if it didn’t work I would chalk it up to experience.”
Before he left for the rain forests of Ecuador, Lowell purchased several safari shirts, socks and jungle pants.
“They worked great,” he said in a telephone interview. “I could walk around during the day with my sleeves rolled up. And I was able to lay down in the mud and take pictures without having any ants or weird bugs crawling on me.”
Richard Lane, president and founder of Buzz Off Insect Shield, begun developing bugproof clothes in 1996, and the Environmental Protection Agency gave its approval in 2003. The technology also passed muster by the U.S. military after rigorous field tests.
Unlike mass spraying of now-banned chemicals to control insects, the company’s technology is almost imperceptible.
Buzz Off uses permethrin, a synthetic version of a natural insect repellent found in some chrysanthemums. The repellent is bound to the fibers of each garment.
The treatment leaves the fabric “a little softer and more comfortable,” Lane said. The repellent lasts up to 25 washes, according to the company.
The clothing is part of a growing trend in the U.S. textile industry to develop niche fabrics that can resist fire, repel stains or drive away bugs.
Such ventures are needed at a time that U.S. textile companies are closing and cutting jobs, industry experts say. Recent figures from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics show that North Carolina’s textile and apparel industry has lost more than 160,000 jobs since 1994.
Buzz Off does not produce the garments. Instead, it joins with other companies, including L.L. Bean, Orvis, Ex Officio and Bass Pro Shops. Those firms ship their garments to Buzz Off’s plant in Greensboro, where they are treated and shipped to retail outlets around the country.
The Orvis and Ex Officio Buzz Off lines include pants, shorts, shirts and socks for both men and women. Ex Officio also has a children’s line.
At a store in Charlotte, a long-sleeve men’s shirt treated by Lane’s company sells for $84 and polo shirts have a price tag of $59. Pants sell for $74.
The privately held company has about 100 employees. Lane declined to provide details on company sales or profits.
Lane dismissed the notion that his product won’t last.
“Unless you think not being annoyed by insects is a fad,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if we are selling to forest rangers who are fighting black flies in Maine or to sportsmen in the bayous of Louisiana.”