Challenges & Innovations in the Hygiene Sector

Expert Insight from Dr. Robabeh Gharaei

In preparation for OUTLOOK™ ASIA 2018, EDANA’s General Manager, Pierre Wiertz, caught up with speaker Robabeh Gharaei, Materials Innovation Analyst at the World Textile Information Network, to discuss innovation and trends in the nonwoven hygiene sector

Pierre Wiertz and Dr Robabeh Gharaei

Pierre Wiertz: You are joining us at OUTLOOK Asia to examine the challenges and innovations in the AHP sector. What do you think is the biggest single driver of these innovations?

Robabeh Gharaei: We are seeing some interesting innovations in patterned absorbent hygiene products, such as baby diapers. Much of this is being driven by the buying preferences of millennial mothers. This generation is generally more stylish and is willing to pay more for added-value products. They are also much more concerned by how ethical and safe a product is which is driving sustainable and natural AHPs.

The digital era of smartphones and social media means that creating a strong brand has never been more important. Millennials buy into this brand and it becomes a part of their identity. So, promoting the benefits of AHPs online effectively is vital in the digital era.

If we look to adult incontinence, overcoming the social taboos associated with it continues to drive product design. We have seen some really interesting products in this field centred on reducing the bulky and diaper-like look and feel of incontinence underwear so that it is considered worthy for the underwear drawer as opposed to the bathroom cabinet. And, of course, using different language to market these products to reduce the feeling of guilt or blame linked to incontinence is equally as important.

I also believe that continued work into effective odour control and leak protection will also help to drive the AHP market.

PW: What is the most exciting technical innovation on the AHP horizon for you?

RG: I am mostly interested by the use of sensor technology that is being incorporated into AHPs. For instance, sensor technology has been developed for adult diapers used in care institutions to alert staff when a diaper needs changing. In future, with the right approach, this could hopefully one day lead to diapers that can detect dehydration or fever in patients – reducing the burden on hospital staff and helping to cut costs. And I am also keen to learn of any further work that is being carried out in the area of flushable AHPs – this is where I believe the real innovation lies.

PW: And, conversely, the biggest challenge?

RG: Despite the big steps being taken by the AHP industry, I think the biggest challenge remains the ability to produce cloth-like products that mimic the look and feel of regular underwear. But advances in spunbond technology and hybridisation to offer silky smooth and soft products is encouraging to see, and this should hopefully lead to bigger improvements.

PW: How big of a game changer do you believe the apparent consumer driven demand for more ecological and sustainable products is? Is it in fact consumer driver or are producers leading the charge?

RG: As mentioned, younger consumers are much more concerned with natural and sustainable products than previous generations, so I believe that a big part of this movement is consumer driven. But on the other hand, it is also driven by more stringent environmental regulations set by governments designed to help protect our planet. We have seen some interesting developments in sustainable superabsorbent polymers and biodegradable diapers. To meet the needs of today’s market, I believe that companies must deliver sustainable solutions in order to compete.

PW: How diverse are regional demands for AHP products? Are they converging? And what do you think the impact might be for our members, the nonwovens producers?

RG: We are witnessing some particularly diverse demands across different regions. For example, the developed markets use a different language to market incontinence and feminine hygiene products. Language that creates more acceptance. And, new thought processes are going into the design of such products. That is the way forward. Unfortunately, most developing markets still have a long way to go. For instance, in some regions, such as India, the feminine hygiene market is still underdeveloped due to the social taboos that still exist there. Girls are unfortunately still missing school during their menstrual cycles as they do not have access to affordable and effective products. So, these are the markets I believe manufacturers should be targeting next if they want to make significant changes.

The ageing societies of China and Japan, for instance, also bring numerous opportunities for the hygiene market. So, focusing on new technologies that improve properties such as absorbency, odour control, fit, softness and drapeability will continue to drive demand.

PW: Robabeh, many thanks for taking the time to share your insight, I look forward to your presentation in Singapore

Dr. Robabeh Gharaei is Materials Innovation Analyst (Fibres & Process) at the World Textile Information Network and will present a session on “ABSORBENT NONWOVENS FOR HYGIENE APPLICATIONS, CHALLENGES AND INNOVATIONS” at the upcoming conference OUTLOOK™ ASIA. For further information on this event please visit the dedicated site