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More cooling additives headed for next summer's outdoor apparel

Cooling additives are moving beyond scarves, bandannas and hats into performance apparel. SNEWS looks into the technology and how retailers can educate consumers on the advantages, as well as limitations, of the latest products.

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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, when it encounters a person’s sweat, claims to activate an extra cooling sensation beyond normal evaporative cooling.

The technology isn’t new. Several outdoor scarves, bandannas and hats have been using it for years, and a few brands, such as Pearl Izumi, ExOfficio, Descente and New Balance, introduced it with apparel in the past two years. But from our tour of upcoming products at Outdoor Retailer Summer Market 2011, more brands have jumped on the cooling additive bandwagon for 2012, including Columbia, 180s and Zoot Sports, among others.

Retailers can expect to see an increased push for the products, alongside some education on the technology. Manufacturers admitted to SNEWS that the cooling apparel isn’t an end-all solution to keeping cool on a hot day’s outdoor adventure. The technology has limitations, variables and conditions when it works best.

The added ingredient

While some manufacturers kept a tight lip on their proprietary versions of the cooling additive, many said it wasn’t far from Ice-Fil, a technology from South Korea-based Ventex being used by several of the brands. Ice-Fil is derived from xylitol – a natural sugar alcohol used most commonly as a sweetener in chewing gum.

There can be initial concern from consumers about additives in their clothing, said Carol Little, material manager for Pearl Izumi. But, “it’s something most people ingest when chewing gum, so there’s no problem having contact with the skin.” Every manufacturer featuring the technology told SNEWS they conducted tests and research to assure consumers of the product’s safety.

Pearl Izumi has dubbed its version of the technology In-R-Cool and provides it in its Infinity tanks and T-shirts (MSRPs $35-$45) and long-sleeve tops (MSRP $55; photo right), and its Elite and P.R.O. bike shorts (MSRPs $60-$145).

Cooling activation

Many of the new cooling garments have a “cool-to-the-touch” hand to begin with, but it’s important to note to consumers in the store that the actual cooling additive doesn’t activate until they sweat or add water.

“They won’t really feel it in the fitting room,” said Fred Dennis, senior operations manager at Columbia, which will feature cooling on its upcoming Omni Freeze ICE products including a short-sleeve top (MSRP $55) and the long-sleeve Solar Polar 1/2 Zip (MSRP $70).

To help educate and sell the products in stores, Columbia and others have come up with test kits (photo, left) for retailers to demonstrate the technology. Consumers can put on gloves or fabric samples with the additive and then spray room-temperature water to activate. They can compare the difference with non-treated garments.

“We’re trying to bring it down to the consumer level, with sort of a ‘you have to see it, or rather feel it, to believe it,’” Dennis said.

Another point to educate to consumers – the cooling has limitations in both single and the long term use. In a single use, say on a long run on hot day, the cooling will initiate once the user starts to sweat, Dennis said. “It will eventually plateau (in 10 to 20 minutes) as the clothing is saturated, and over time (about two hours), if you continue to sweat, the cooling sensation decreases,” he said.

But once the shirt dries, say during a hike with intermittent periods of sweating, the technology is ready to activate again the next time a person sweats. Over the long term, the additive and its effect will diminish from repeated washes. The technology lasts through about 30 to 50 washes, manufacturers told us.

Even when the additive is depleted, the garments will remain as a strong technical pieces, manufacturers said. They are designed with wicking materials, breathable construction and sun protection, which can be used for years.

ExOfficio, which debuted its Sol Cool collection of cooling short-sleeve (MSRP $45) and long-sleeve tops (MSRP $50; photo right), has seen a positive response from consumers, said the company’s media representative, Chris Hugo. The response has been particularly good with those conducting fitness activities outdoors, such as running or biking, she said. ExOfficio plans to expand the line in 2012 with a Sol Cool hoody (MSRP $65) and even a dress (MSRP $60).

Cooling claims

Brands with the technology in their apparel have taken different routes to marketing its cooling effect.

Pearl Izumi claims cooling of the skin up to 5 degrees Fahrenheit.

And 180s, which will debut its QuantumCool cycling shirts (MSRP $55), jackets (MSRP $70) and compression sleeves (MSRP $40; photo left) in spring 2012, claims cooling of the skin by up to 3 percent.

“It’s a broad measurement,” said Amy Tankersley, vice president of marketing at 180s. “Our testing shows it varies by each consumer. It’s very different, but it consistently cools the skin by up to 3 percent.”

Columbia officials decided not to put a figure on the amount of cooling provided. “There are so many variables – ambient temperature, humidity, skin temperature – making it difficult to say that it will decrease the temperature by this amount,” Dennis said. “So, we’re not guaranteeing any number of Fahrenheit or Celsius, but we will guarantee that consumers will feel a difference.”

Retailer reaction

SNEWS interviewed several outdoor retailers on the topic of cooling apparel. They told us they are familiar with the technology, and they have seen it sell well in the form of cooling scarves, bandannas and hats, but have yet to bring product in on the apparel side.

“We’ve been looking at it, but we’re not committed yet,” said Rich Huskey, general manager of the Alpine Shop with three stores in Missouri. “I think there is some hesitation when you go from an accessory to a shirt. As an accessory, you can take it off when you don’t need it. It doesn’t always work that way with a shirt.”

Indeed, one last piece of education retailers will have to pass onto consumers about the cooling apparel is to use it in the right conditions. During an early test of Columbia’s Omni Freeze ICE, a tester mistook the unmarked garment for a skiing baselayer. He eventually had to peel off the garment to stay warm, Columbia officials said.

Into the future

What’s next for cooling apparel? How about a little Jade powder in your shirt? At Outdoor Retailer Summer Market 2011, Klinger Asia introduced its Stone Cold technology, which officials said that by mixing jade stone powder into its yarns, the resulting fabric can cool skin temperatures by 1 to 2 degrees.

David Clucas