The Interview: Jamie Hunt, founder and managing director of anti-viral apparel brand Aviro
Launched in the first lockdown in April, 2020, Aviro creates facemasks and clothing using HeiQ Viroblock technology which kills 99.9% of viruses on contact, including Covid-19. Initially designed for the healthcare sector, including founder Jamie Hunt’s nurse daughter, the brand extended its offer to a range of sportswear apparel in June – designed to protect wearers while working out, especially targeting people eager to get back to the gym but looking for an extra level of protection and reassurance while doing so.
The lightweight, breathable tops come in a range of long and short sleeved crew necks and polos for both men and women. Starting from £36, the fitness apparel doesn’t maintain moisture, which allows for less washing and makes them odour resistant while the virus killing technology protects against germs picked up from gym machines or mats.
Anti-viral and anti-bacterial clothing is no doubt a growth area in the market given such times in the face of a global pandemic. Jamie Hunt, who co-founded the 2XU sportswear brand in 2005 and sold it to L-Catterton, the equity arm of LVMH, for circa £138m in 2018, has made it his new focus with Aviro, which has certification from Materials Science Laboratory (MSL) in the UK and Swiss laboratory, Microbe.
It has already sold over 80,000 pieces of clothing and masks, mostly in New Zealand (where Hunt originates from) and Australia, though Hunt says he is now starting to see equal success in the northern hemisphere through distribution partners.
Formerly one of the world’s top three triathletes, Hunt has spent the last 20 years as a fabric engineer and product developer. He became known in the sportswear space as being a world leader in engineering performance fabrications, hence the success he had with 2XU. Now he is taking his experience from engineering fabrics to develop Aviro further – adding new products along the way - as he explains.
What's your background and what experience do you have in clothing and masks?
I spent over 20 years as a fabric engineer and product developer, and I became known in the sportswear space as being a world leader in engineering performance fabrications. I took my experience from engineering fabrics to develop the world’s first anti-viral fabric for both garments and masks.
Where are you based?
Our headquarters are in Oslo, Norway, and I am now based in the UK, taking care of all UK sales and marketing. All our products are shipped from our warehouse in Sweden. We sell directly to UK customers from our website, and we do deal with a number of independent businesses, and provide B2B solutions too.
How might people have heard of Aviro?
We have been featured in a number of newspapers, including the Independent and Evening Standard. We are also quite easy to find when doing an online search for anti-viral facemasks.
How long have you been a triathlete?
I started when I was 15 and, by the age of 20, I had a few world junior titles. I went on to be in the world’s top three triathletes. My run was my strongest and favourite of the three and, luckily for me, in the Olympic era, the most important.
Do you still compete? If so, where and when in these Covid times?
I still race as an amateur, and last year finished 13th out of 1,500 athletes at Ironman New Zealand, and won my age group by 30 minutes - beating close to half the professional field. During Covid, I have had a break, so it has been great to be able to put in some extra hours of work.
When, why and how did you founder 2XU sportswear, are you still involved with that?
I founded 2XU in 2005 and wanted to take the approach of making the world’s best performance wear, which the big brands couldn’t do due to financial reasons. So, we immediately captured the hearts of the world’s best athletes. We were uncompromising in delivering products the world had never seen before. We sold the business to L-Caterton, the equity arm of LVMH, for circa valuation of £138m in 2018.
How is Aviro different? What's the real concept?
The anti-viral approach was our focus. Anti-bacterial is very easy to achieve in the fabric, but due to the fatty membrane around a virus, viruses are much harder to deactivate, which our technology was able to do. To then also have our product certified was difficult and took time, but now we have a unique product, with anti-viral properties, plus equally a well fitted and good-looking face mask. We do see many companies making a lot of false claims, however with our masks we have the certifications to deliver. Clothing was actually our starting point, and we feel it’s an overlooked segment in the marketplace. Clothing can be a transporter of viruses and bacteria, so to offer clothing to the most vulnerable out there, is important not just for protection, but also for their own piece of mind.
Was it strictly launched in the face of the coronavirus outbreak or a concept you devised well before it struck?
It was launched in the face of coronavirus, but we are growing this to be a standalone brand once the pandemic ends. We will be developing products for travel, both for air and public transport, with an anti-viral focus, and also for administration staff in hospitals and health clients.
When did you launch it and what has been the response so far?
We launched Aviro properly in June and already we have sold over 80,000 pieces of masks or clothing, mostly in New Zealand and Australia. We are starting to see equal success in the northern hemisphere, through our distribution partners.
What are the real benefits of the masks and the clothing?
Anti-viral and anti-bacterial are the main benefits, deactivating the viruses and killing the bacteria, so there is an increased protection from contaminated fabric. Plus, with the masks, they are well fitted unlike most masks, and can be worn for much longer times between washing. The same with clothing. We are the only brand truly offering anti-viral everyday clothing, so there’s a unique benefit. At the moment there’s four pieces of clothing for men and four for women, but that will be increased very soon.
How do you plan to develop it further?
We will be bringing more products to market. We have just released our gloves, plus we are releasing travel accessories including neck pillow and eye masks. New fabrics and styles are also in development.
Where is it made?
The anti-viral application is made in Germany and developed in Switzerland. We then send the application to our fabric mill, where they adhere it to the fabric. Next, the product is sewn in China, in a factory I have used for 20 years, which I have visited at least 50 times and is highly audited.
How is it anti-bacterial exactly and how many washes can the products withstand and still have anti-bacterial properties?
Firstly, anti-viral is our true unique feature. When the virus hits the fabric, a vesicle technology breaks down the fatty membrane and then the silver in the fabric deactivates the virus. For bacteria, silver kills this straight way. So, the hard part is the anti-viral component to the fabric. Antimicrobial activity slowly reduces from 99.99% to 99.29% after x20 washes.
Any designer collaborations in the pipeline?
Not at present. We are focused on science first and fashion later, our garments and masks look and fit great. Going forward we will look into collaborations if we feel it’s best for the brand.
Where is it sold at the moment?
Our European distributor sells online and through some pharmacies. A standalone shop, or even a pop-up shop as a trial, is something we may consider going forward.
Any other plans for 2020 and 2021?
We have developed a new filtration for our mask, which at .075 is one of the only filters in the market below which can keep 99.9% of virus’s out. We’ve not made any jackets as yet, but we are still in the early days of the company. These things take time, as we have a very strict quality control. What we take to market must be 100% right, and we must know that what we claim can be backed up with science. Several new products are in development though.
What’s the long-term goal?
The long-term goal is to have a fully functional collection that offers everyday/ seasonal wear, but this is also a long-term commitment with the correct team. Right now, we are trying to help people through a pandemic, by offering what we are able to design and produce with a small team in hand.