BY Fast Company 3 MINUTE READ

Vollebak, the clothing company that made a jacket out of graphene and a T-shirt out of carbon fiber normally used in jet engines and sports cars, has come out with its most ambitious garment yet: A coat made of microbe-destroying copper.

The Full Metal Jacket, which retails at a whopping $1,095, is designed to take advantage of copper’s antimicrobial properties. Copper has been shown to kill bacteria and viruses; a recent study found that it inactivated the novel coronavirus within four hours. The company sees the Full Metal Jacket as the first step toward creating disease-resistant clothing. 

Photo: Sun Lee/courtesy Vollebak
Photo: Sun Lee/courtesy Vollebak

Though it came out at an opportune time, with many people purchasing copper face masks in an effort to protect themselves from COVID-19, the Full Metal Jacket was actually under development for three years.

Vollebak co-founder Steve Tidball says he was originally inspired to create clothing out of copper after watching a TED Talk by Bill Gates about pandemics. He had also been talking to friends who work in the aerospace industry and mentioned that astronauts’ immune systems are compromised in space, in addition to explorers and adventurers who “wear our clothing and told us that oftentimes when they’re in these very remote places, they are worried about getting sick,” he says. “We started to think about making clothes that could resist viruses or bacteria.”

Their research eventually led them to copper. Copper contains positively charged ions that trap viruses, which are negatively charged. The copper ions penetrate viruses, preventing them from replicating. Historically, copper was used in hospitals (like on doorknobs) to prevent the spread of diseases. In 2015, researchers found that using copper alloys in a hospital setting reduced infection rates by 58%.

More recently, copper has been incorporated into fabric to create bedsheets, pillowcases, and masks for the healthcare industry. Vollebak is building on that legacy. Each Full Metal Jacket is made of 65% copper, and the company used approximately seven miles of the metal in every coat. At first, Steve Tidball and his co-founder and twin brother, Nick Vollebak, were just trying to prove that a jacket could be made out of the material: “There is no real supply chain for copper that can be made into clothes, so it was a very expensive process,” Steve Tidball says. Now that they have proved it is possible, they hope to see what the material is capable of. “Making the jacket was phase 1,” he says. “Now we have put it out in the world for testing purposes.” Which is to say: Don’t bank on this jacket just yet to protect you from the coronavirus (or any other contagion). It’s a new, untested design.

$1,095 may seem like an outrageous price tag. But copper is expensive, and Vollebak hopes to lower the price as more get produced. In the future, he envisions an even bigger stage for copper clothing. “If you start to think about materials [to make an] operating system, copper can transmit power and transmit heat,” he says. “The antimicrobial properties are great, but we’re also looking at materials we could layer intelligence on top of. Ultimately, we are trying to make intelligent clothing for the next century.”

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