The fashion industry has undergone a forced makeover due to the pandemic. As an industry that thrived on novelty and offering watches for personal expression, mode of consumer suddenly awaited clothes he wears. They demanded comfort and performance first. Less important was the fashion that looked good on the outside, but the fashion that felt good and was good on the wearer.
Consumers have found the answer in the broadest $ 240 billion global sportswear market, classified by McKinsey into three sub-segments: sports-inspired clothing (40% of total market), performance (45%) and outerwear (15%).
Of these, athleisure / sports-inspired clothing saw the strongest growth, up 3.9% CAGR from 2019 to 2023, compared to 3.1% growth in the other two categories.
“The boundaries between sportswear and classic clothing are becoming less and less distinct, with sportswear brands introducing everyday styles and general fashion brands incorporating performance fabrics and venturing into sports. “, Indicates the McKinsey” Sports Goods 2021 “report.
The report adds that while traditional fashion brands gain advantage through shorter development cycles, sporting goods companies are “well positioned to innovate in design and materials and strike the right balance between usability and comfort.” “.
It is at the intersection of innovative materials that offer greater ease of use and greater comfort that the company Oros Apparel is located. Science comes first for Oros, which was founded in 2013 by self-proclaimed science geeks, Michael Markesbery and Rithvik Venna, as well as outdoor sports enthusiasts.
Appointed to Forbes 30 Under 30 List In 2018, they took airgel technology developed by NASA for spacecraft insulation and created patented Solarcore insulation for clothing.
Solarcore tested and has proven to be the hottest insulating material on the planet, without most of the traditional insulating materials, like goose down. The result is ultra-fine, body-conscious fashion that works in sub-freezing temperatures.
First introduced in outerwear capable of withstanding a jet of liquid nitrogen (-321 ° F) and maintaining an internal temperature of 89 ° F, the company’s Orion parka and Endeavor ski jacket are its flagship products. But the company has applied the same technology to a wide range of sportswear for men and women.
CEO Markesbery has identified three main categories that the company’s product line addresses: super-tech clothing competing with Nike ACG (all-weather gear) and The North Face Black series; Raised sportswear like Lululemon; and Progressive Outdoor, which outperforms Canada Goose in heat without bulk, not to mention the price. It’s Orion Parka is priced at $ 440 and Endeavor goes for $ 480 in silhouettes for men and women.
“Oros sits in the middle of these three categories from a product design perspective,” said Markesbery, adding that while its progressive outerwear offerings generate the most revenue, its quality sportswear products Superior have been the fastest growing category over the past three years.
“In the very near future, raised sportswear will eclipse the outerwear category,” he confidently predicts.
This is because Oros is currently developing even more radical insulating technology that will be incorporated into the fabric itself, and not added as an insulating layer like Solarcore, no matter how thin it is.
“Imagine a technology that allows a consumer to wear a long-sleeved shirt that will keep them warm in sub-freezing temperatures,” Markesbery teased.
While he held the details of the next NASA-inspired materials innovation near his vest, a new $ 14.5 million Series A funding round, led by Elizabeth Street Ventures and Enlightenment Capital, will be used to bring the new product line to market, which is slated to launch in 2022. It will also be applied to open a new manufacturing facility in the Boston area that uses advanced 3D knitting technology to significantly eliminate waste.
“In traditional clothing manufacturing, you use patterns to cut the fabric that leaves more than 20% of the fabric waste on the factory floor,” says Markesbery. “With our 3D knitting technology, we will eliminate this process so that there is no waste, which is extremely important from an environmental point of view. In addition, our entire supply chain for the foreseeable future for all fiber garments using this next-generation technology will be entirely in the United States.
In addition to the new funding round, Oros is powered by a carefully selected team of managers, board members and advisors who are inspired by technological advancements and the company’s paradigm-shifting vision for the category. sportswear and outerwear.
Topping the list is industry veteran Hal Klopp, who made The North Face the brand it is today.
“Oros is not imbued with the same beliefs that traditional outdoor companies, such as the idea that outerwear thicker mean better clothes outside,” said Klopp in a statement. “Oros has changed the paradigm by having an entirely new concept in which thinness is equated with heat. The brand’s ability to take an existing idea and turn it around is what excites me the most about working with them.
Another alumnus of The North Face, Jeff Nash, who served as director of advanced products and materials there, is the chief technology officer and vice president of products at Oros. Beside her as Director of Design, Alistair Hather, who was previously Senior Designer of the Adidas Future Team and Grace Jehan, Vice President of Brand Marketing, from Athleta where she was Senior Creative Director and before this creative director at The North Face and Pomme.
And Rachel Ulman of Elizabeth Street Venture, who is joining the board, brings her expertise in digital retail. His resume includes four years with e-commerce Wal-Mart, two years with Amazon, and president and chief operating officer of native digital shoe company Greats, which was acquired by Steven Madden, as well as years of consulting for retail and consumer brands, including as founder and CEO of 27 Edge, based in New York City.
With the new funding round and a top-notch team in place, Markesbery is confident that the NASA-inspired vision of Oros of taking another “giant leap” to keep people warm without the clutter will be realized.
To date, selling its existing product line of Solarcore insulating clothing has proven to be effective in reaching consumers directly online. It may take longer to convince them that a long-sleeved shirt can do what only a coat could do before.
So far, Oros has tested a pop-up store early last year, but the Covid pandemic has shut it down. The company is bracing for more physical exposure, including another trial of popups, as well as retail distribution in Japan which now generates around 10% of revenue. “Japan is an ambitious market for outerwear and technical performance clothing,” he says.
To present the new generation of paradigm-shifting Oros products, Markesbery will rely heavily on the creative expertise of VP Marketing Grace Jehan. With a degree in fine arts, coupled with professional creative work for over 20 years, she will provide the right brain creative vision to the scientifically oriented left brain corporate culture of Oros to bring the next series to market. of innovative products.
Markesbery doesn’t say how she will do it, but suggests, “Grace’s go-to-market strategies and how she will express this paradigm shift to consumers are really, really cool. Fortunately, we have smarter people than me leading this consumer education, ”he concludes.