In fashion, complex problems are oft solved with simple solutions. And for Kayser Roth Corporation, a legwear manufacturer based in Greensboro, N.C., the firm turned a global pandemic into an opportunity with a new brand and product, Ghluv, which helps shoppers stay physically safe with its antimicrobial technology while also restoring their emotional wellbeing.
Ghluv has carved a niche at the intersection of fashion and safety, emerging in a new category of “personal protection apparel.” Here, Nicola Gallotti, the president and chief executive officer of Kayser Roth Corporation, talks to WWD about Ghluv, how the brand evolved and the birth of the “Ease Factor.”
WWD: What was the genesis of Ghluv hand protector?
Nicola Gallotti: As most innovations, necessity is the mother of invention. When the pandemic hit the U.S., we had to solve a problem we were all personally facing: How to open a communal door without touching potentially contaminated surfaces while avoiding the risk of possibly being infected by microbes.
People were pulling down sleeves, using their elbow, or making a fancy move with their hips. We envisioned a practical solution by creating a stylish wristlet accessory treated with an antimicrobial technology that could be easily pulled down, serving as an effective hand protector when needed.
Kayser Roth is one of the largest U.S. legwear manufacturers. Due to the pandemic, we swiftly pivoted and in two weeks inked our first large deal with a major food and drug retailer and went live on our e-commerce ghluv.com with a “Made in U.S.A” product.
WWD: How does the Ghluv hand protector work, and how is it differentiated from comparable solutions?
N.G.: The beauty of the hand protector is that it is very easy-to-use, intuitive and effective protection. With the consumer in mind, we conceived a discreet and functional companion for everyday use. The proximity value of the wrist is terrific: just pull it down to cover your hand for the limited time you need protection while touching communal surfaces and pull it upward again – it’s easily ready for use.
No other comparable offering has been able to deliver a truly dynamic solution that combines an effective “specific for purpose” prevention with the “value add” typical of a fashion accessory. We filed a patent and, to further differentiate, partnered with the Swiss company HeiQ for its innovative antimicrobial treatment V-Block NPJ03. The antimicrobial technology used in Ghluv inhibits microbes upon contact and protects the fabric from becoming a house for microbes, also preventing further spread from the fabric while touching other belongings.
Prevention is a smart choice, always. Hands are a primary concern in terms of possible indirect infection during this pandemic and not only. Solutions in the market were – and still are – primarily focused on cleaning hands after possible contamination. While we recommend washing hands and following CDC guidelines, we believe that trying to prevent our hands from entering in contact with microbes is a good start to keeping us safer.
WWD: What are some of the enduring consumer trends that have emerged during the coronavirus pandemic?
N.G.: Sustainability and emotional health are definitively two of them.
Sustainability is not a new trend that emerged during the pandemic, but it is relatable because disposable gloves and face masks have quickly become a “new” source of pollution. Ghluv hand protectors are all treated with V-Block antimicrobial, which lasts at least 30 washes and represents a better environmentally friendly solution to any disposable product in the market.
Emotional health is really an emerging, multifaceted trend fed by the anxiety of getting sick, the anxiety of financial instability, and stress generated by restrictions to what we used to consider our “normal” habits. This new trend really inspired the vision for Ghluv, a brand rooted in what I call the “Ease Factor.”
WWD: What is the “Ease Factor,” and why is this relevant to the consumer?
N.G.: Any time there is a dramatic event, fear forces us to introduce new elements that help protect ourselves from potentially dangerous situations to happen again.
Think, for example, of terrorist attacks carried out by trucks on sidewalks that occurred in several countries a few years ago. The immediate reaction was to introduce grey concrete blocks with the “police” designation on it, as a reminder of safety. After a while, we learned how to live with the new normal. The panic phase left room for a more constructive phase, where we envisioned different venues, different opportunities.
That’s the time we saw concrete blocks being wonderfully colored or substituted with modern city art serving the same need, just with a toned-down level of anxiety and much better integration on the stage, which is our “normal” life. Innovations introduced in this second phase have what I call the “Ease Factor”: the ability to find a solution able to ease adaptation to a new normal. During the COVID-19 pandemic, we thought it became normal to use PPE accessories as part of our daily routine and constantly be reminded of the danger of being infected.
The Ghluv hand protector is not there to scream out loud about the danger of possible contamination while touching communal surfaces: it is an easy to wear fashion accessory that complements your outfit and, discretely, serves the need for protection throughout our daily routines. Ghluv hand protector feeds mental relaxation we all need and proves we can be protected in style. Under this philosophy, the Ghluv brand is now developing into a full line of apparel.
WWD: Kayser Roth is a global corporation with more than 100 years of history. How does the company stay in front of innovative design?
N.G.: I think it is more the cultural mindset than the scale of your operations that defines who you are and what you can accomplish. Kayser Roth owns legacy brands such as HUE and No Nonsense and operates in several fashion verticals such as apparel, sleepwear and legwear. We are a large manufacturer, but we also are a consumer-driven company focused in creating products and stories that resonate with the end consumer.
I see this apparent complexity typical of a large corporation as a fantastic big tank of knowledge that can be leveraged at a phenomenal speed, and my team has been trained to understand when it is time to operate under a start-up mood. In the end, my philosophy is that breaking through decisions and ideas that leave a mark are obvious to the crowd, once done. Therefore, we just need to stay laser-focused on the one big thing and keep it simple.
WWD: What’s next for Kayser Roth? Might a complete line of Personal Protection Apparel be on the horizon?
N.G.: As part of Kayser Roth’s adaptation to the pandemic and response to the immediate need for face covers, we completed the transition to direct manufacture in North Carolina adult and youths face masks, reusable and treated with antimicrobial V-Block NPJ03. Since our historical core business is in legwear, we launched a line of antimicrobial home socks and we recently launched a curated collection of antimicrobial tights for adults and girls, so that they can appreciate the winter season and wear the looks of their choice without being concerned about garment contamination.
Under the “Ease Factor” perspective, we just kicked off the production of tops with integrated face coverings. We’re also finalizing outerwear apparel called “the perfect personal protection jacket” – thanks to a variety of discreet protective functionalities embedded in the garment. Stay tuned!