Columbia Sportswear has its own silver bullet: Omni-Heat, thermal reflective technology that will be unveiled today.

This story first appeared in the November 10, 2009 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Omni-Heat is “the most significant investment the company has made in its history,” Mick McCormick, executive vice president of global sales and marketing, said in an interview Friday.

The almost $1.3 billion firm decided a couple of years ago that “as a brand we needed to innovate with meaningful solutions” rather than turn out products that would compete with its competitors’ existing ones, he said.

A patent for Omni-Heat is pending.

Neither McCormick nor Mark Koppes, vice president of global merchandising, would discuss how much Columbia has invested in Omni-Heat or first-year projected volume.

Senior executives arrived in New York from the company’s Portland, Ore., offices to show off the technology in an ice sculpture park created for the occasion in Long Island City, Queens.

The research and development team set out to craft a new technology that would keep consumers warm and that they would easily understand. The space blankets that marathoners are wrapped in upon crossing the finish line provided some inspiration for the team, McCormick said. Developed by NASA in the Sixties, their silver interiors help rein in the heat that radiates from runners’ bodies after a race. Unlike space blankets, which are made of Mylar, a thin strong polyester film, Omni-Heat uses a visible reflective lining made of small aluminum-covered dots to help retain heat while offering breatheability and avoiding overheating. The product is said to boost heat retention by 20 percent on average. The proprietary insulation is also designed to feel like lightweight down to try to avoid bulk, Koppes said.

There are three variations. Thermal reflective technology helps regulate body temperature by reflecting and retaining the warmth the wearer’s body generates. Thermal insulation helps maintain warmth and prevent heat loss with what is said to be the highest heat retention per gram for outerwear in the industry. Thermal electric is electric-powered technology for footwear that allows consumers to warm up their feet at the push of a button. Women’s retail prices range from $68 for the Mighty Lite Vest to $270 for the Prism Ice Parka.

Omni-Heat is being used in 36 styles, including sweaters, soft shell jackets and gloves. Columbia will launch the label worldwide on Oct. 10, 2010, and there will be “a significant ad campaign” touting the 10/10/10 unveiling, McCormick said. Over the last few years, the company has concluded it is more prudent to focus on a major one-day launch instead if a series of smaller ones. It is also more appealing to retail partners with co-op dollars to spend, McCormick said.

Hang tags will highlight Omni-Heat’s technology. “It doesn’t take a Ph.D to understand this,” McCormick said. “As a consumer, you will be able to say, ‘I get this.’”

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