In the first part of our Oros interview, the company discussed the genesis of using spacesuit insulation in outdoor clothing and how aerogel actually works. In this second part, company co-founder Michael Markesbery outlines how the company’s development cycle changed between its first Kickstarter campaign and its latest, and whether aerogel has implications for layering.
You’ve only had one year between the Endeavour jacket and new Orion line. How did the Orion line’s development cycle compare from your previous product’s?
Orion’s line development was actually a bit shorter. By that time, we had more resources, more designers, and had been through the development process already with the Endeavour jacket. We were more prepared to take on the Orion line.
What inspired you to expand from a single jacket into a jacket, pants, gloves and a beanie?
Requests from the backers of the Endeavour. We would get emails saying things like “Hey! Thanks for creating the jacket. But my hands are cold. When are you making gloves?” After enough of these emails, we decided to make the pants, gloves, and beanies.
The SolarCore is incredibly thin (3mm) yet still provides an impressive cold rating (-58 degrees Fahrenheit). Have you considered making an even thinner insulation for spring and summer clothing?
We’re definitely interested in the performance apparel space — Solarcore insulated quarter zips, yoga pants, head bands. It’ll be interesting to see our 2017/2018 season line.
Are the clothes in your new Orion line really machine washable and dryable? That sort of care seems so (wonderfully) pedestrian for an advanced material. It’s not like NASA busts out Tide and Bounce dryer sheets on the International Space Station….
Totally machine washable and dryable!
Considering the wide range of temperatures the Orion lineup seems to support, does wearing this clothing eliminate or reduce the need for layering? Or do you still recommend layers underneath and/or above the jacket and pants?
The Orion lineup heavily reduces the need for layers. The need for layers is influenced by your level of physical activity. Your body releases heat. The more active you are, the more heat your body releases. All insulations work the same way: they trap that heat in the cavity between your body and the jacket, keeping you warm. Aerogel just does a better job at trapping in the heat than other insulations (aerogel has what is called a lower thermal conductivity). But, even with aerogel, if you’re just sitting still for hours in the freezing cold, you won’t be releasing much heat for the aerogel to contain. You may want another layer.
Other apparel made from synthetic materials is pretty thin, and down is warm but has much more loft. What do you see as SolarCore aerogel’s advantages and disadvantages over other fibers?
Most insulations require loft — that puffiness, the Michelin man look, the volume — to maintain their thermal performance. If you compress these insulations, like goose down, they lose their thermal performance. Solarcore is one of the few insulations in the world that doesn’t require loft to maintain its thermal performance. At 15 PSI it maintains 95% of its thermal performance. That’s crazy.
Some people think of synthetics and conjure up mental images of environmentally evil production processes and disposal. What’s the process like for manufacturing SolarCore aerogel? Are there any toxics or other sensitive materials involved, either in manufacturing or as a byproduct? What happens to the products at their end of life? Are there any environmental impacts?
Good question! Our Materials and Saftey Data Sheets (MSDS) indicate no harmful toxins or pollutants. Fortunately, this makes for a greener product.
Michael, I’m sorry you were subjected to that liquid nitrogen temperature test (shown below). Did you lose a bet or draw the short straw? How’d that whole test come about?
Hahaha. It’s actually an interesting story. Right around the time of our first Kickstarter, we get a call from Canada’s Discovery Channel. They’re in town and they want to film the jackets. Without hesitation, we say heck yes! That’s not the type of opportunity you turn down.
Well, one problem: it’s Spring time in Oxford, Ohio. The average temperature is mid-60’s. How do you show off a cold-weather performance product in mid-60’s weather? We had no idea, and only 24 hours before the film session. Luckily, Rithvik [fellow co-founder] worked in a lab with access to liquid nitrogen. Getting sprayed with liquid nitrogen while wearing the jacket was the best option we had! It was a Hail Mary that just happened to pan out. Even when you’re scientifically confident in the idea, it was definitely a little frightening the first time.
Thanks to Michael and the rest of the team for participating in this two-part Oros interview series. I hope to be able to share some hands-on (and legs-on, and torso-on) impressions of the new Orion line in the months ahead.