Bringing the Heat
New Takes on an Age-Old Wintertime Woe: Staying Warm.
How to keep warm in cold weather has challenged the best and the brightest in the business over the decades, inspiring advances in insulation materials, strategic layering, engineered fibers and smart yarns. In 2020, the hunt for winter-worthy performance comes in the form of intriguing tech and testing developments. Here’s a quick take on three innovations that caught our eye recently:
“Battery tech is evolving and innovation in this category is robust,” says KC Bean, CEO of Fieldsheer Apparel, makers of Mobile Warming Technology. The company’s heated-clothing technology is a far cry from the heavy, bulky, batteries of the past. Tucked inside a side pocket of the latest Fieldsheer jacket is a soft-edged, low profile lithium-ion battery that is Bluetooth-based and adjustable with the touch of a discreet button. “The performance is way better, as are the aesthetics,” states Bean, who hails from the consumer electronics industry, and uses terms such as power system, control system, wireless management, and integrated tech to describe apparel tech advancements.
In an article Bean penned recently for Innovation Tech Today, he wrote, “Without question, wearables – and specifically electronic textiles, aka ‘smart clothing’ – have positioned themselves as the newest, and perhaps brightest, star in the IoT universe.”
Fieldsheer was not alone advocating “personal experience” heating at the OR+SS trade show in Denver earlier this year. Attendee interest in the category was obvious, with buyers stopping at displays to check out new collections at a handful of vendors offering battery-powered warmth.
Bean makes a case for the latest developments in this category. “This was year number three for us exhibiting at OR, and we bring more cosmetics and leading edge technology.” He mentions price as another factor, citing his company’s $199 price point for a slim, down-insulated jacket.
“The textile industry is at a pivot point for disruption,” Bean concludes. “Just look at what Tesla has done in the automotive industry.”
Gobi and Therm-ic also exhibited at the Denver trade fair. Gobi featured lithium-ion batteries in apparel and accessories that offer adjustable settings. Therm-ic introduced a new heated vest for women with five heating zones, affording five hours of USB powered heat that is Bluetooth controlled. The company’s battery powered Powersocks provide 16 hours of warmth/comfort and Bluetooth heat control.
Could this new generation of batteries be the answer to outdoor industry’s version of “wearables?” Smart technology has long been waiting on the doorstep of performance textiles, but slow to generate mainstream acceptance. The significant buzz surrounding Levi’s x Google partnership that brought to market Levi’s tech connected Commuter Trucker Jacket a few years ago, for example, did not result in a game-changer for apparel, nor bring the house down in terms of sales. The outdoor apparel market has barely greeted smart wear, yet alone embraced the technology – compared to fashion or other industries. On the other hand, plenty of OR+SS attendees and exhibitors were wearing AirPods. According to a recent report from Strategy Analytics, Apple sold nearly 60 million AirPods in 2019, outpacing smartwatches and fitness trackers combined. Indeed “hearables” is now tagged the hot smart tech category.
Base Layer Debut
A prolonged legal battle with Columbia Sportswear over patent infringement was settled recently in favor of Seirus — very good news for the San Diego apparel and accessory firm and the evolution of its Heatwave technology. Base layers, an entirely new category for Seirus, will feature Heatwave in men’s and women’s styles for availability in Fall 20. Described as a “dual-stage heating system,” the textile combines a kinetic stage with a reflective stage that together raises and returns warmth.
The journey of how Heatwave came to be serves as a great example of what it takes to create comfortable, lightweight warmth in performance products for the outdoor marketplace.
The company introduced Heatwave in 2013 in gloves and a glove liner, but the origin of the technology dates further back to the early ’90s when Seirus started using a reflective heat fabric by combining a wicking fabric (Thermax) with reflective foil (Lurex) to create “Thermalux” used in a Thermalux Glove Liner – which remains in the line today.
A statement from the company provides a detailed background: “The visible ‘gold flecks’ in the glove liner made the look glittery, and the function was undeniably warmer. We often would try to find ways to move this into other products in our line for the function, but the material was just a little tricky to work with in other product types. Reflective foil for heat has been a known lightweight heat success story since NASA and the introduction of space blankets into safety kits. We were introduced to a fabric by one of our partners that had enhanced ability to wick and retain warmth. We combined that material with reflective foil and that became Heatwave. The lightweight and high wicking liner of the base fabric and the soft surface area that we were able to apply against the skin really opened up how we were going to be able to apply reflective heat. Being able to create a comfortable lightweight experience in gloves, liners and headwear was a perfect alignment for our line.”
Futuristic Weather Testing
Construction is the key to Marmot’s innovative Warm Cube design that not only gets the job done very well when it comes to warmth but also sports a cool, contemporary look. The insulating material, down, is housed in cube-shaped compartments unlike a traditional baffle. As such the air space trapped between each cubes holds heat more efficiently and warms the wearer quickly. The technology and placement also create channels which flex and shape to the body.
The latest iteration of Marmot’s 8000-meter suit built for the altitudes and demanding conditions of the Himalayas, employs the Warm Cube design and makes use of several custom-designed Toray textiles. Recently Marmot’s textile tech met with futuristic weather testing at Toray’s Technorama GIII facility in Seta, Japan, an advanced laboratory for reproducing climates worldwide, as well as simulating everyday type environments like stuffy subway cars.
Having been put the through its paces in two days of testing, the Marmot suit performed exactly as designed in the Technorama’s sub-zero temps and high wind conditions. This enabled the Toray and Marmot teams to validate the efficacy of the Warm Cube design, through thermal imagery, with input from Everest veteran Roxy Vogel who joined in the testing.