Columbia launches newest Omni technology

As it continues to push the technology side of its apparel and footwear, Columbia Sportswear announced the addition of Omni-Wind Block, plus updates of its Omni-Heat technology. SNEWS gets the scoop at the company's media event in Park City, Utah.
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When there’s a technology guru involved, chances are technology is going to be at the forefront of products. At least that’s the case with Columbia Sportswear.

The publicly traded, Portland-Ore.-based company (NASDAQ:COLM) announced a few years ago plans to become an industry leader in technology innovation, even at the cost of some past quarterly losses because of research and development expenses (click here to read a July 29, 2011 SNEWS story on Columbia's second-quarter earnings).

In expanding its Omni technology line further, the company recently introduced Omni-Wind Block – to be featured in some of its Fall 2012 line of products. SNEWS was on hand for the annoucement at the Canyons Resort in Park City, Utah, interviewing Columbia's technology guru, Michael “Woody” Blackford (photo, right), who donned his white lab coat for the occasion.

Click here to read a June 15, 2011 story on Columbia’s Spring 2012 product launch, where the company introduced some of its other Omni technologies like Omni-Wick Evap and Omni-Freeze.

“Back in 2008 we made a conscious decision to rededicate ourselves to focus on consumer needs and innovating to deliver end-use benefits,” said Dan Hanson, vice president of global marketing for Columbia. “We made some bold statements, some considered at the time to be quite out of character for the brand and the company, but after 10 consecutive seasons of innovation, we have delivered on what we have promised.”

Protecting from wind chill, not just chill

Blackford, vice president of innovation, said one of the goals behind Omni-Wind Block was to encourage people to get outdoors, feeling comfortable, no matter what the wind chill factor is.

“When you look at the forecast there are usually two temperatures in the Western hemisphere this time of year – the actual temperature and the feels like temperature,” Blackford said, adding that Omni-Wind Block protects from the ‘feels like temperature.’ Blackford admitted there are many products on the market to protect from the wind chill, but claimed Columbia’s breathable, lightweight, waterproof and windproof product is superior.

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The new technology will be featured in the men’s and women’s Triteca Softshells (both MSRP $220, photo, left), which Blackford called a “trifecta of technology” because the products also include the Omni-Wick Evap and Omni-Heat thermal reflective technologies.

Electric products will only get better

While the Omni-Heat electric technology in Columbia's products is not new, Blackford said he has continued to experiment where best to place the warming locations to maximize the effect of the electric heat and has also added a new “pre-heat mode” for those who want to warm up their products without running down the battery’s time.

Columbia uses its different technologies on parts of the body based on whether they are hot or cold zones. In line with that, Blackford said a few of the new electric products feature the electric carbon fiber yarn embedded into sections near the wrists, which warm the blood flow from the wrist to the core.

The company also added a new electric boot to is revamped heritage Bugaboot collection (photo, right), said Eric Groff, senior footwear product line manager. The boot still maintains all its old school charm while sporting a button that lights up when the battery hard at work keeping toes toasty.

Blackford said eventually the battery packs, which are about the size of an iPhone, are bound to get smaller and more efficient, just like cell phones.

“This is as unusual as the cell phone must have appeared in 1983,” Blackford said, adding that in time “this system will be much more refined.”

Using ‘the dot’ in new way

A fashion show where models donned base layers inside-out to show off the Omni-Heat reflective dots had some journalists believing Columbia apparel was taking more space-age approach.

But it was just to show off the technology, and Columbia’s Vice President of Global Apparel, Sue Parham, told SNEWS while you never know what might happen in the future, the dot will remain on the inside of apparel for now.

Although that’s not the case in footwear as the company launched several styles of boots and trail shoes where ‘the dot’ is on both the inside and outside of the products as in the new Women’s Yama OutDry Flash (MSRP $130, photo, left).

Groff said this feature doesn’t serve any functional purpose, “It just looks cool,” he told SNEWS with a laugh.

Other highlights

Last spring the company launched a line of men’s and women’s packs and will bring a few new models to the market in Fall 2012, including the retro style Montlake backpack (photo, right) and the lightweight, hydration-ready Wylder 15L (both MSRP $115), which both include the company’s Techlight material on its straps to make them lighter.

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The Powerfly jackets, which are 800 down fill power, kept reporters in Park City warm in unusually cold weather during activities like bobsledding and watching the U.S. Olympic Freestyle team (which Columbia recently sponsored, read a Sept. 21, 2011 SNEWS story about that here) practice.

But whether it is the new use of “the dot” or the new Omni-Wind Block technology, Hanson said he believes Columbia has pushed other companies to up their technological innovation, which is a good thing.

“It’s nothing but good for this industry to continue to innovate and bring choices to the consumer,” Hanson said.

--Ana Trujillo

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