Will ‘37.5’ be a magic number in outdoor apparel—and in bed, too?

by Teresa Novellino

Jeff Bowman thought he was retired, and being an avid amateur sportsman, he went rock climbing around the world, sunbathing with his wife on the beaches of Spain, and inciting envy in friends who read his adventure blogs.

But six months ago, the sports-apparel veteran who helped make Gore-Tex a footwear mandate and spread the Polartec gospel for Malden Mills, came off the beach for a job as chief executive officer of Cocona Inc. in Boulder, Colorado. Why?

To put it simply, Bowman was taken with the business possibilities of Cocona technology, which will be re- branded to “37.5,” starting in 2014 to match the company’s newly announced name.

“Unlike other similar technology, you can put it in all the clothing, from next to your skin to all the way to outerwear,” Bowman tells me. “I’ve been an outdoor athlete all of my life, weekend warrior. You’re always trying to get rid of moisture next to your skin.”

Founder Gregory Haggquist, who got his first in a series of patents for Cocona’s technology in February 2006 is the company’s “mad scientist” founder who has attracted high-profile customers for his technology, including Adidas, Under Armour, Carhartt, Manduka, North Face and Pearl Izumi. The big task now is branding the technology under one unified name. North Face, for example, has been calling it “Flash-dry” technology while Pearl Izumi dubs it “Minerale, powered by Cocona.”

They’re all names that were owned and trademarked by Cocona, but Bowman says the company needed a single, better name. It came up with 37.5 with help from Sandstrom Partners in Portland, Oregon, the agency that handles branding for companies such as Nike, Coca-Cola, and Microsoft.

“We were sitting at the table with them talking about what the benefits of the technology is, and it’s really to help you maintain an optimum core temperature 37.5 degrees centigrade,” Bowman said. He added that, by contrast, too many people had false idea about the company from its current name, confusing it with a certain, similarly-named beer: “People’s perception of ‘Cocona’ was sitting on a beach with palm trees, which is incongruous with the technical story we were trying to sell.”

So now, one by one, the brands will be renaming the technology as 37.5, and the story of what that means will be told on the garments’ hang tags. First to market: Redington fly-fishing waders. The change has been welcomed by some brands and met with a bit of reluctance by others, in part because their existing marketing for the technology has to be changed to say 37.5, but Bowman has been firm that it must be done by the end of 2014.

“Our basic position is we’re not going to sell to you moving forward if you’re not using our branding,” Bowman said. This will allow 37.5, rather than the brands, explain how the complex technology works, something they’ve struggled with as it’s a bit scientific and complicated.

The simple version: Your skin produces constant heat, especially during sports, and you cool off through your breath or by perspiring. Unless that resulting water vapor can be removed from your clothes, you’re clammy and uncomfortable.

Enter 37.5, which consists of active carbon particles (from coconut husks, which is where the Cocona name came from) embedded into fibers such as knits or Merino wool, increasing the surface area by 800 percent. These fabrics can now capture and release moisture vapor, using the body’s own energy (heat) to accelerate the vapor movement and convert liquid to vapor so that you get dry faster and maintain that ideal temperature of 37.5.

“This lets you stay cool, so you less energy to cool yourself, and more energy for whatever sport you’re participating in,” Bowman says.

So for example, instead of walking into a ski lodge and immediately feeling sweaty, you won’t even need to unzip your jacket to cool down.

How is this different from Gore-Tex or wicking? Bowman says that Gore-Tex, the materials brand, became famous “and made a lot of people rich” along the way because it excelled as a waterproof material that is supposed to be breathable. It keeps wearers dry in wet conditions but it doesn’t feel comfortable at all times.

“Until you get a fairly high vapor pressure in your climate, a humidity level of 70 percent, you’re not getting any moisture vapor transmission through those membranes,” he says, which means wearing Gore-Tex can get uncomfortable. “With our product, we start moving that moisture vapor with zero percent humidity. “

As for a comparison between 37.5 and wicking materials worn against the skin, it dries up to five times faster, he says and also casts off odor-causing molecules.

That’s not all it can do, according to Bowman. Starting in March, consumers will begin seeing the 37.5 brand on bedding, including sheets, comforters, mattress pads, pillows and pillow cases and mattress ticking, all based on the idea that staying cool and comfortable provides for a better night’s sleep.

He and Christy Raedeke, the brand’s director of global marketing, believe putting 37.5 in sportswear versus outdoor specific clothing or men’s dress shirts might not be far behind. Pants too.

“We’re starting to see interest from contemporary menswear companies,” she says. “You’ve got your smartphone, why not have your smart khakis?”

At least that would give Bowman some office-friendly options, now that he’s put retirement on hold.

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