Halosource Vet Starts Company to Make Socks that Kill Bugs

2/10/10Follow @xconomy

For years, Halosource was what you might call a solution in search of a problem. It had anti-microbial technology that could theoretically kill viruses and bacteria anywhere and everywhere. But when it came down to making actual commercial products, it took many years to find its niche in purifying water.

Now one of the veterans from the early days at Bothell, WA-based Halosource, Simon Johnston, says the time has come for a few of the innovative antimicrobial applications that were too far ahead of their time. First on the list: socks.

I know, I know, what could possibly be innovative about socks? Cotton, polyester, wool, that’s all you need to know, right? It turns out Halosource spent a lot of time in the ’90s thinking about how to use technology that incorporates antimicrobial compounds into textiles. Socks, kitchen towels, bedsheets—these are all obvious fabrics used by millions of people every day, and which can become breeding grounds for hardy bugs like viruses, bacteria, or fungi.

Halosource still applies some of its technology to textiles, like odor-fighting kitchen towels, but this idea never worked for socks. The chemical application cost too much to be competitive, and you had to apply such large quantities of the finish that it made the socks too brittle. They’d fall apart after you ran a few miles in an ordinary pair of sweat socks, Johnston says.

“What looks great in the lab…when you go into the real world, sometimes you get into a real-world manufacturing site, you just don’t come out with what you thought you had,” Johnston says. “We spent a lot of time trying to put square pegs into round holes.”

Simon Johnston

Simon Johnston

The new variation on this bug-killing textile idea is taking shape at a Bellevue, WA-based startup called Antimicrobial Technologies Group. The company, led by Johnston and co-founder Pam Goldschmidt, has raised a modest $500,000 from friends and family to pursue their renewed bug-killing vision in socks. But the company isn’t focusing on just any kind of sock—it has its sights on people suffering from diabetic foot ulcers.

Why? The diabetes epidemic is raging, of course, affecting an estimated 25 million people in the U.S. Many of them suffer from poor circulation in their extremities, which leads to sores that get infected. The antimicrobial polymer technology, licensed from the University of South Dakota, is designed to overcome some of the previous challenges that made antimicrobial socks impractical. The chemical compounds embedded in these socks now come in such a potent dose that these socks look (and smell) just like any fresh cotton sock off the shelf, Goldschmidt says. The cost of the technology has come down so fast that the new socks can be mass-produced for pennies on the dollar, and compete on price at $10 to $20 a pair, along with other compression socks sold to diabetics to help with circulation, Johnston says.

Johnston, 63, is betting these new socks will sell. He’s ordered a shipment of 15,000 pairs that he plans to start selling directly to consumers online as soon as April. He’s hoping to capture … Next Page »

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