IPO Corner: Climate Fashion

According to the National Weather Service, we’re swiftly moving into temperatures that could obliterate heat records. Forecasters are predicting a sweltering spring and summer, ushered in by a high-pressure system already significantly warming the Great Plains, Midwest, and Northeast United States. According to them, highs between 10 and 20 degrees above normal are here, it’s already looking a lot like June.

Of course, It’s not just the United States. Argentina has been struggling through record-breaking heatwaves that have caused crops to fail and wildfires to spread. They’ve broken records with temperatures up to 10 degrees Celsius above normal… and it has lasted for months. In Greenland, temperatures are soaring up to 50 degrees above normal. It seems even one of the coldest places on earth is heating up.

So what are we to do? That’s a problem that plenty of people are working on right now. One solution rising in popularity is the idea of climate survival clothing… and the idea that’s rising with it may spell a fundamental shift in how we think about climate control. That’s because the idea of heating and cooling entire buildings may become less popular. Instead, folks are starting to think it might be more feasible to regulate our individual body temperatures.

This isn’t a new idea… certain professions and regions already do this through clothing. For example, construction workers may wear special jackets with heat-reflecting lining, heavy insulation, and hand-warming pockets. However, what’s different about this new iteration of proposed climate survival clothing is that it’s being taken out of the box. What we have isn’t going far enough, so we’re ramping up the technology in preparing for extremes.

Personal Thermostats

It may be that, to some degree, we stop trying to climate control buildings… instead of trying to heat and cool these massive structures, we may be moving toward a society where we regulate our individual temperatures with our clothes and other means. We’re seeing a concept once thought of as niche, clothes that help us survive extreme temperatures, becoming necessary for the average person.

Seeing room to solve problems, some are experimenting with novel solutions. One such man is Stanford Professor Yi Cui, inventor of the WarmLife jacket and founder of Sunnyvale, California material sciences startup LifeLabs. Professor Cui couldn’t find the material he was looking for, so he invented it. Examining one of his jackets, you’ll find a garment not leaning on mesh weaves (holes) to free trapped body heat.

Where other jackets simply deal with sweat after it happens, this fabric is preemptive, preventing sweat rather than simply pulling it away from the body… the thought is that it can be more effective and useful to prevent a problem, than to fix it. The WarmLife jacket traps human infrared radiation via a special coating weaved into the garment, which uses about as much aluminum as a paper clip. The entire thing is made from over 90% recycled material, with the final goal being 100%.

They’ve made everything imaginable available in the fabric, including shorts, pants, pajamas, and bedding. If the body is kept cool, the air conditioning unit isn’t used as much, and energy is saved. Their fabric helps by keeping wearers nearly 3°F cooler than other available options. The young company only recently secured $6 million in early-stage funding, but we’re excited to see the tenacity of taking on companies like Sony and Under Armour.

It might be a great time to jump into this space, if the idea is right. Sustainable, functioning materials that protect us from climate extremes have, so far, not been necessary on a large scale… there’s plenty of room to help shape what the space will look like. Changes are already underway that are driving what our clothes look and feel like, what they’re made of, how we use them, and where their materials come from.

What may come with this shift is a newfound appreciation for longevity… again. Once upon a time, clothing was carefully crafted for durability and function. We may once again be looking at a time when clothing is more utilitarian and less decorative. Additionally, now that we’re phasing out perfluorinated chemicals (PFAS) traditionally used in this type of clothing, we’ll need alternatives. Come back next week, we’ll have more from the IPO space.