Winter is right around the corner and retailers are hoping the outside chill will warm up business this season. Investment firm Cowen and Company finds that historically when the temperature goes down, retail traffic goes up.
In a conference call with Cowen Retail, Bill Kirk, CEO of Weather Trends International, predicts that Winter 2018-2019 will be the “coldest and snowiest overall in five years.”
This is welcome news to Michael Markesbery and Rithvak Venna, founders of Oros, a Cincinatti-based, digitally-native company. Oros is a performance and outwear brand where science meets the apparel market . It uses NASA-inspired technology that makes goose down, Thinsulate and other synthetic insulating fibers obsolete.
“For the first time in the history of clothing insulation, you can have a thin amount of insulation and get significant thermal value,” Markesbery shared with me.
Markesbery and Venna plan to disrupt the outdoor and performance apparel industry with Oros’ exclusive Solarcore insulation, the brand name for the company’s use of NASA’s aerogel material on which it has filed several patents.
Oros’ innovative use of technology for apparel got Markesbery and Venna named to Forbes 30 under 30 list in 2018. “It was an amazing honor to be named to the list,” Markesbery says.
“Here we spent 60 months with our heads down and then popped up, and asked ‘how did this happen?’ We still don’t know who nominated us, but we were are grateful for it,” he continued.
A revolution in staying fashionably warm
Oros’ founders are both outdoor enthusiasts, as well as self-described “science geeks,” having met as sophomores studying pre-med at Miami University in Ohio. At the time Markesbery was working in the school’s research lab, when he was awarded an Astronuat Scholarship Foundation grant and learned about NASA’s aerogel insulation.
“Aerogel is what NASA uses to insulate the space shuttles, Mars rovers and other things in space,” he says. “Space is negative 4550° F. This insulation is surviving the best torture test in the universe, but it isn’t being used in apparel.”
Having just completed a backpacking trek across Europe, including climbing one of the Swiss Alps highest mountain, Markesbery was keen to apply aerogel technology to the obvious problem he faced on top of that mountain.
“I looked like Ralphie’s brother in The Christmas Story in his big, puffy red snowsuit,” he laughed. “I decided there had to be a way to cut the bulk, cut the layers and still stay warm.”
Getting back to the lab, Markesbery working alongside Venna found out why nobody had used aerogel in clothing. In its natural state aerogel is brittle and shatters when poked. “Our passion project for our senior year became figuring out how to make this amazing insulating material flexible and durable enough for apparel,” he explains.
“We discovered how to take small particles of aerogel and use those particles to create a composite that can be put into fabric with minimal thickness and maintain 97% of its thermal performance. That is called Solarcore and it goes into all of our gear today,” Markesbery continues.
Better than down without the puffiness
Markesbery breaks down the advantages of Oros’ technical superiority to goose down, and other insulating materials, scientifically:
- It passes the test – Solarcore has been laboratory-tested using ASTM C518 protocol against 250 insulating materials and to date, Markesbery says, “We haven’t found one yet that beats it.”
- No bulk – Trapping air is what makes every other insulation work and that creates volume, what the industry calls loft. The more loft or more air trapped, the more insulation provided. “So the more air you funnel in, the puffier and puffier your jacket becomes. You end up looking like the Michelin Man,” he explains.
- Breathability – On the flip side of staying warm, is what happens when you heat up inside your jacket, which is particularly problematic for performance wear and those engaged in outdoor activities. Oros has a fix for that. Solarcore doesn’t require super-dense fabric, like down does, to keep the insulation in.Markesbery explains that most insulating materials, including Solarcore, goose down and other synthetics, are highly breathable, but the problem is the fabrics that are used to wrap around the insulation.
“Down-proof fabric that keeps feathers from poking through are so tightly interwoven that they have constricted airflow,” he explains. “We have none of those limitations. We can put the most breathable fabrics around our insulation. The inner liner of our garments is sports mesh which is as breathable as it gets.”
It is these qualities that makes Oros’ product line, the flagship design being its Orion Parka, perfectly suited to outdoor activities where warmth and mobility are critical, but equally appealing to anyone who needs to stay fashionably warm when commuting to work, going to the store or just hanging around.
“The Orion Parka has been taken to the summit of mountains in Nepal and back with only a t-shirt underneath,” Markesbery says, adding that a group of German trekkers braved -40° weather in the Siberian tundra going 60 miles an hour on snowmobiles. “It is the warmest jacket in the world,” he exclaims.
The company’s Explorer Quarter Zip shirt, available in both men and women sizes, with its Solarcore panel on the front and back, is Markesbery’s personal favorite. “It was named to Runner’s World 2017 Gear of the Year list,” he brags. Oros’ women’s leggings also got the Runner’s World nod. Gloves and hats round out the current product line. An added bonus, is the Oros product line is machine wash and dry.
Oros recently secured a $5 million infusion from investors Sonny Vu, founder of Misfit Wearables now part of Fossil Group, Eric Dobkin, former Goldman Sachs partner, and Listen Ventures, a brand-focused venture capital firm in Chicago.
“Oros has all the ingredients to be a brand of tomorrow,” Rick Desai, Listen Ventures, said in a statement. “It’s rare you find a technical innovation team that builds a 10x consumer product. We’re looking forward to making the future feel warmer.”
With medical school on hold, Markesbery says this capital investment is targeted toward scaling the business in its digital home. Wholesale distribution is not in the cards.
“We are a 100% direct-to-consumer brand. Internet is the best place to scale a brand like ours based on true innovation. Through the internet, we can appeal to our specific customer and their needs,” Markesbery adds.
Markesbery and team are further committed to its DTC ecommerce platform because it allows them to get direct consumer feedback which enables them to continually innovate in the areas its customers’ want and need.
“One of Oros’ differentiating factors compared with other brands is we have a responsibility to our customers to invest in R&D. And we plan to do just that,” Markesbery concludes.