Innovation, the kind your customers can touch, see, and easily understand, has become one of the largest factors in riders' decisions to update their kits, and helps products command premium prices when the upgrades easily translate to a better time on the hill, in the water, or at the park. Even during the height of the recession, groundbreaking products that told an easy to translate tale at retail, continued to move while inventory skyrocketed.
While easily visible techs like reverse camber and stretch fabric have become the poster children for these upsells, technical stories like Merino wool have helped move the apparel sales needle when coupled with compelling back stories and POS displays. Boulder, Colorado-based Cocona recently launched with some of the fastest drying fabrics on the market and is taking technology and story telling to the next level to help its partners sell more gear.
Dr. Gregory Haggquist cut his teeth as a polymer photo physical chemist with the Air Force, where he worked on combining materials with polymers to enhance their characteristics. This eventually led to an entrepreneurial venture looking for a better solution to odor-eliminating fabrics using activated carbon, the same substance that water treatment companies use to filter drinking water. Along his research journey, Haggquist stumbled on an interesting property of activated carbon. During testing, he began to get reports on how quickly the fabric dried and how cool it kept athletes.
Haggquist's dry erase marker flies through equations on a whiteboard in Cocona's Longmont, Colorado labs as he explains to me how the crystalline lattice of the activated carbon works, taking me back to Chemistry class as he sketches out the ultimate result.
Haggquist shows how instead of just wicking moisture, fabrics infused with activated carbon made from burnt coconut shells, not only move water away from a heat source, but helped dissipate it—the ultimate goal for getting rid of moisture—the holy grail for keeping you cool when it's hot, and warm when it's cold.
"It's all about making clothing more comfortable in a wide range of environments," explains Haggquist, who perfected integrating activated carbon in yarn—the concept behind Cocona technology. "We create systems that work in your car, in the lodge, and on the top of the peak without adjusting your layering. Cocona works synergistically with your body to get rid of heat and moisture, maintaining a constant temperature and humidity level."
Cocona has since come up with multiple ways to infuse activated carbon in different materials and laminates and has begun working with a similar compound, volcanic sand, to create fabrics that dry incredibly fast, reduce odors, and stand the test of time. And perhaps just as importantly, Cocona has come up with several ways to easily demonstrate these attributes to clients and ultimately customers at retail.
Haggquist, an avid backcountry skier, developed several tests that demonstrate and measure how Cocona interacts with the human body and the outside elements, creating data and visuals showing it outperforming top competitors and actually removing moisture, not just moving it. Another huge benefit of the tests is the ability to show the benefits of proper layering, a great tool for retailers looking to upsell customers to full systems.
With Cocona's launch, Haggquist locked in an executive team from the outdoor and apparel industry, tapping key members from GORE-TEX, eVent, and Outlast, including CEO Brad Poorman, and developed a strategic plan to work with strong brands in multiple categories to create a relationship that grows both partners’ presence in the category.
Cocona has become a large force in the Outdoor industry, where they work with brands like The North Face and Marmot; is growing in surf, teaming up with Rip Curl and Reef; and launched in snowboarding with Homeschool and Nitro in Europe, before teaming up with Ride Snowboards for next year's line of midlayers and outerwear.
“As we continue to expand and diversify our outerwear offerings, we wanted to partner with a company that can help take our gear to the next level technically, while keeping the same tried and true Ride style and function,” said Scott Mavis, VP of Global Marketing at Ride Snowboards, who shuttled key retailers to tour Cocona's labs during SIA. “Cocona is the perfect partner for Ride. Their particle technology in both base layer knits and waterproof/breathable fabrics has given the Ride products a level of comfort you won't find in other products. As Cocona’s largest partner in the snowboard industry, we are excited to bring riders high-quality gear to help them have more fun on the hill.”
"Our goal is to create true partnerships with brands like Ride," adds Cocona VP of Sales Gordon Roe, a gregarious outdoor industry vet who founded eVent, as we drive from the company's lab to its Boulder flagship store and offices. "They help us learn the space and we can help them differentiate themselves," he continues, adding that their partnership will grow to include baselayers and more for '14/15. "It takes time to do it right. For many snowboarders, tech and performance is an afterthought in their clothes, but we're helping change that for our partners and retailers."
"We look for great brands in each sector," adds Roe, citing the company’s partnership with Harley Davidson in the moto world and its growth to over $2 billion (with a B) in annual apparel sales. "We like getting on things for a ride with our partners and helping them educate the whole space about the technology."
Ride is also working diligently to explain the fabric to its customers. “At the consumer and retail level, we will be looking to educate people about Cocona in what we hope is an engaging and user-friendly way using POP, hangtags, and other informational tools,” says Mavis.
Roe says Cocona plans to wait several years before taking on any new partners in the snowboard space to allow Ride to reap the rewards, and continue working with them on newer technologies before trickling the old ones down to newer partners.
“The Cocona technology and story is really resonating well with our retail partners and many have already had success selling the technology in counter-seasonal products from other major brands that feature Cocona," adds Mavis, citing its use by adidas, Golite, New Balance, and Puma, to name a few. "Because of that, we've seen a high level of interest in our Cocona outerwear and mid-layer pieces and our orders are certainly reflective of that. We've been very pleased with the performance of the category."