Columbia, Mountain Hardwear to tackle summer with cooling polymer 'Zero'

Columbia and Mountain Hardwear will introduce a new line of apparel, accessories and footwear for spring/summer 2013, which relies on the mechanical action of a polymer to provide cooling. SNEWS gets a sneak peak of the technology.
Author:
Updated:
Original:
ColumbiaWomensFreezeDegreeHalfZip70MSRP.jpg

When it comes to hot-weather apparel, Columbia Executive Vice President Mick McCormick says the outdoor industry effectively has had only one answer for the past 30 years — moisture-wicking polyester.

But give any technology that amount of time, and people are bound to copy it, he said. While the outdoor industry introduced moisture-wicking apparel, sportswear giants like Under Armor and Nike have taken control of the sector with well-marketed copycats.

“That $30 piece of polyester is no really different than that $60 piece,” McCormick told SNEWS. “Take off the logo, and it’s all the same thing.”

Columbia and its sister brand Mountain Hardwear officials set out to take back summer for the outdoor industry. And Columbia, specifically, was in need of a summer balance. Two-thirds of its business is winter products, officials said, and the company felt the burn of that sole-season reliance following this year’s weak winter.

To make a bigger splash in summer 2013, McCormick said the company needed to introduce a different approach to keeping cool. Something that was both effective and visual for the consumer — a blueprint the brand sucessfuly used with the launch of its radiant Omni-Heat technology a few years back.

Columbia put the challenge in the hands of its vice president of innovation, Woody Blackford and his team. Already, the team had debuted a cooling technology called Omni-Freeze Ice, which, similar to other brands, used a chemical-based approach to bring a cooling sensation to the skin when the user began to sweat.



But the technology had its limitations. For one, the cooling wouldn’t last that long. As soon as the garment became completely soaked with sweat, the cooling reached its capacity, and the effect wouldn’t return until the apparel dried and was reintroduced to moisture. The application also had a limited lifetime of about 30-50 washes. Furthermore, some consumers were wary of the chemical reaction on their skin, despite most brands using xylitol, a natural sugar alcohol used most commonly as a sweetener in chewing gum.

Blackford set out to find a better technology, and told SNEWS he found it in the form of a polymer used in the water filtration industry. These particular polymers absorb moisture, but also are structured to be hydrophobic, meaning they look to repel the water once it’s absorbed. To do so, they need energy to break the bond.

“It’s a mechanical reaction that requires heat,” Blackford said. And an active person’s body on a hot summer’s day has plenty of heat to give. By printing the polymer on the inside of apparel, he deduced, the polymer could not only draw moisture, but also provide a cooling effect by drawing body heat as well.

Columbia and Mountain Hardwear have applied the technology to a new line of apparel, accessories and footwear slated for spring/summer 2013. The technology is dubbed Omni-Freeze Zero for Columbia and Cool.Q Zero for Mountain Hardwear.

The technology comes across visually as printed blue rings on the inside of the garments, which is important for the retail environment, McCormick said.

“This truly is retail theater,” he said. Columbia will distribute sample sleeves and spray bottles to retailers and marketing teams across globe to help demonstrate and sell the product. A few squirts of water on the sleeve simulates sweat and activates the cooling effect for the consumer.

“Normally when you want to get cool, you take things off,” McCormick said. “In this case, you’ll want to add layers.”

Mountain Hardwear will target a growing running market with its new line of Cool.Q Zero apparel and accessories, while Columbia will focus on the outdoor and fitness crowd, and beyond. Officials think fireman, policemen and construction workers will flock to Omni-Freeze Zero to keep them cool underneath their top layers of clothing and equipment.

“We have long had great market penetration in cold-weather environments,” McCormick said. “But 90 percent of the globe’s population lives in warm-weather environments. If we do this right, Columbia can move toward more of a 50/50 balance between winter and summer product.”

--David Clucas

Related

Columbia acquires Mountain Hardwear

Columbia Sportswear (Nasdaq: COLM) has entered into a merger agreement to acquire Mountain Hardwear Inc. for approximately $36 million, including $30 million in cash and $6 million of debt assumption. The acquisition is subject to the approval of Mountain Hardwear shareholders ...read more

Mountain Hardwear officially inaugurates cool new digs with community open house

On April 8, Mountain Hardwear officially proclaimed its new Richmond, Calif., headquarters open with a community celebration and open house. The company's new home is in the newly renovated historic Ford Point building at 1414 Harbour Way South. Designed by architect Albert ...read more

Cooling_OmniFreezeTestKit.jpg

More cooling additives headed for next summer's outdoor apparel

When the heat returns next summer, an increasing number of outdoor apparel manufacturers will be touting their latest garments with cooling technologies beyond breathability. A slew of new spring/summer 2012 apparel – mostly performance tops – will employ an additive, which, ...read more

Columbia Sportswear Company Announces Appointment of Topher Gaylord as president of Mountain Hardwear

Portland, Ore. – March 1, 2010 – Columbia Sportswear Company (Nasdaq:COLM), a global leader in active outdoor apparel, footwear, accessories and equipment, announced today the appointment of Topher Gaylord as president of its wholly owned subsidiary Mountain Hardwear, Inc. As ...read more

Mountain Hardwear celebrates 10th anniversary

On Oct. 31, 1993, Jack Gilbert and eight other employees of Sierra Designs left the company to launch Mountain Hardwear -- a brand that quickly established itself as a market leader. This month Mountain Hardwear is celebrating its 10th anniversary, and will host a party at its ...read more

Outdoor financials: Columbia Q3 profit falls despite Mountain Hardwear's 19-percent sales boost, plus Deckers, LaCrosse, Hanesbrands, West Marine

Columbia Sportswear Q3 profit falls despite Mountain Hardwear's 19-percent sales boost Columbia Sportswear (Nasdaq: COLM), parent of the Columbia, Mountain Hardwear, Sorel and Montrail brands, said its third-quarter profit fell 7 percent, hurt by lower demand amid a difficult ...read more

Mountain Hardwear team to take over sales and marketing of Montrail brand

Columbia Sportswear (Nasdaq: COLM) said all sales, marketing and service functions for Montrail, a manufacturer of trail running and hiking footwear acquired by Columbia in 2006, will be realigned under the management team of Mountain Hardwear, starting May 1. Mountain Hardwear ...read more

Mountain Hardwear Athlete Kenton Cool Summits and Skis 8000m Manaslu

Richmond, Calif. (October 6, 2010) – Mountain Hardwear, a leading manufacturer of premium mountaineering equipment and apparel, is honored to announce the success of Kenton Cool's most recent expedition to Mt. Manaslu. On September 30th, Kenton summited and skied Manaslu, the ...read more

Dispelling Rumors: Mountain Hardwear not selling

SNEWS has been getting avalanched with "inside tips" over the last week alerting us to the "fact" that Mountain Hardwear was being purchased by Columbia. This is not the first our team has heard of this rumor, with the first rumblings beginning nearly six weeks ago. In the ...read more