A Silver Lining? Investigating the use of silver in outdoor clothing

When I first heard about the use of silver in technical clothing, it would be wrong to say I was over the moon.

Instantly my mind turned to insane machines burrowing into the core of pristine countryside to extract just enough silver to make a pair of pants.

I branded all those that used the antibacterial thread pillagers of the earth and polluters of adventure sports.

However, my newly developed sense of a fair debate has won over the knee -jerking greenmons in me. So here I look for a silver lining in the use of silver in sports clothing.

It is little disputed that the use of silver for its medical and therapeutic benefits dates back thousands of years. X-Static, who have brought silver to the adventure textile scene cite Cyrus the Great, who in the 5th. Century B.C, would only let his troops go to war if they carried water in silver vessels, something he knew would keep the water supply clean and safe.

More recently, it has been used in the medical field. From its incorporation into wound dressings to its use as an antiseptic and disinfectant in medical appliances. In all cases where infection control is the priority.

X-Static is the fiber produced by Noble biomaterials, the world leader in silver-based bacterial management solutions. They claim that the weaving of silver thread into any support from wool and cotton to manmade fibers give the resulting fabric anti microbial properties which in turn means that over a given period the clothing smells less.

If unlike me you do not revel in reliving your day by absorbing the smell of effort, fear and adrenaline, then lets face it, its a plus in a baselayer.

You can see the potential advantages instantly, where a mountaineer or artic expedition would have been forced to change socks, with the introduction of silver into the weave, one sock will last you days and days and take you the distance.

The silver thread also reacts in a thermodynamic way to bodyheat, making it cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter. In the heat conductive body heat is distribuited and conducted to the outside air, however in the cool, reflective body heat is reflected back to the skin.

Oh, and its anti-static. Something my dad who actually crackles like a radio when peeling a base layer off his excessively hairy back- might like.

But how do I know that when I come to wash this innovative cloth I am not just going to double the value of my washing machine by coating the drum in silver? Well, X-static Im told, is not a surface treatment. The silver is irreversibly bound to a polymer so it becomes a physical part of fiber.

We have visited the advantages of this development in adventure fabric, but what of the environmental impact?

Wool comes from a sheep, and cotton comes from a plant, some manmade fibres come from a pool of oil under the sea, some come from recycled PET – or Coke bottles to you and me. But where does the silver yarn come from?

I have probably above average agricultural knowledge, and so can confirm that one in every hundred sheep is not sporting a blinging coat of silver.

Mining ore in a number of countries accounts for about 25% of silver production, 15% from gold ore, and the rest is an alloy of other and more common metals.

I am not writing an expose on silver production or the impact of mining, and so will allow you to make your own judgements based on those figures. Demand for silver has not increased or decreased largely over recent decades.

For my part I will say that a sudden surge in demand for silver following a fashion trend worries me.

And it seems that the people from Noble biomaterials agree. ECO-SILVER represents a new line of sustainable performance fabrics from the original makers of X-static.

They say

ECO-SILVER fabrics feature sustainable and renewable raw materials and clean manufacturing processes. Noble starts by using the 50% recycled silver to make the X-STATIC fiber. This is then blended with certified organic cotton, bamboo or PET to create unique and exceptional spun yarns. The yarn is knit or woven to create ECO-SILVER fabrics. The environmental loop is closed when fabrics are recycled at the end of their lifecycle to recover the silver content.

So if you always suspected that you probably deserved a pair of silver lined pants, just make sure that you educate yourselves about the origins and the efficacy of the technology you are buying.

There are, for example some questions being asked of the introduction of silver into sportswear. The Environmental Protection Agency in the US has handed down fines to at least one sports brand that made overreaching claims as to the bacteria fighting qualities of this technology.

The EPA is further concerned over the potential use of nanotechnology and therefore potentially dangerous nanoscale particles in the application of the silver to these threads.

Jeffery Keane CEO at Noble Biomaterials Inc. has this to say about the X-Static fibre.

Noble Biomaterials takes seriously the responsibility of ensuring that our X-STATIC technology is safe and complies with all EPA requirements. And NO, X-STATIC is not Nano!

The latest brands to take up the X-Static thread include Giro and Bell whose Tour de France riders will be using it for the first time this year in the Giro and Bell cycling helmets.

3M too have teamed up with Noble to produce the imaginatively named Thinsulate Supreme Insulation with X-STATIC – The Silver Fiber, to be used by Spyder, the high end makers of ski adventure wear.

Smith’s Evolve helmets utilize Evolve X-Static. Like Eco Silver, Evolve X-Static is initially made by blending up to 50% recycled silver with other recycled materials to create a performance fabric that is 3.7% X-Static and 96.3% recycled polyester. Fabrics are then recycled at the end of their lifecycle to recover the silver content for further use. Evolve X-Static has earned the Oeko-Tex Standard 1000 accreditation, which certifies that they support human ecology through biocompatibility and the absence of harmful substances in the manufacturing process.

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