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North Face, Stanford Experts Innovate New Thermoregulating Fabric Tech

Mitigating the effects of climate change has become an increasingly high priority—not just for international governing bodies, but also the corporations often responsible for the high energy use and carbon output at the heart of global warming.

But according to LifeLabs, while the majority of impact comes from large polluters, individual choices have a role to play in curbing climate change. The material science company, which recently launched with a new temperature-regulating textile technology, believes that saving the energy that people usually devote to heating and cooling homes, offices and other establishments could have a monumental effect on the environment. Americans spend more than 90 percent of their time indoors, and indoor temperature control accounts for 12 percent of total energy consumption across the country, according to the company’s research.

Dr. Yi Cui, the Stanford professor and chairman of the Precourt Institute for Energy who founded LifeLabs, made two significant discoveries when he received a grant from the Department of Energy ARPA-E to uncover how to use textiles to reduce energy usage. According to LifeLabs CEO Scott Mellin, a The North Face alum and creator of the brand’s breathable, waterproof FutureLight technology, Cui was granted the contract specifically for the purpose of discovering how apparel “could reduce the heavy burden of HVAC systems on the energy grid.”

In 2019, following six years of research, the scientist developed and patented LifeLabs’ CoolLife and WarmLife technologies, why leverage micro-materials applied to a fabric to change its performance propertied.

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“Technically, WarmLife is a finishing technique,” Mellin said. “It uses a nano-coating of a metallized substrate that can be deployed against any fabric,” including polyester, nylon, cotton and material blends, and reflects heat emitted by the body back toward the skin, creating a warming effect that keeps the wearer as much as more than 80 degrees warmer.

LifeLabs' WarmLife unisex jacket.
LifeLabs’ WarmLife unisex jacket. LifeLabs

The result of the coating is a “very thermally efficient garment that allows you to stay warmer with less ambient heat in the room,” he added. The technology is also highly applicable for outerwear—a prospect that excited Mellin based on his previous experience creating products for exploring the elements. “It’s really kind of flexible in terms of how you nominate the face fabric solution,” he said, meaning that the technology can be used on virtually any material—an organic cotton or a high-performance synthetic to be used on athletic apparel, for example—and it limits the need for bulky insulators.

Conversely, the company’s CoolLife technology relies on a technique that directly weaves a low-density polyethylene—a plastic—into the yarn used in knit fabrics in “infinite variations,” from merino wool to polyester. “The polymer itself has 100-percent heat and infrared transparency, meaning it allows all heat to escape through the fabric” much like a mesh, Mellin said. What’s more, the technology’s constant cooling effect at the next-to-skin level can lower temperature by more than 30 degrees.

LifeLabs' cooling T-shirt.
LifeLabs’ cooling T-shirt. LifeLabs

Mellin sees several applications for CoolLife. “We’re currently deploying it in the sleep sector, in bedding like sheets and duvet covers,” as well as everyday apparel staples like T-shirts, pants and underwear. “It creates this overall cooling effect that allows you to turn your thermostat down and use less air conditioning to keep just as cool,” he added.

LifeLabs is launching with its own unisex garments, including sleep tops, T-shirts, sleep pants, lightweight jackets and vests priced between $73-$283 and produced in Taiwan, South Korea and Vietnam. But the company is poised to expand to serve diverse clients from home and apparel to automotive with its supply chain partners, Mellin said. “From feedstock to yarn to knitting and weaving, I don’t see that we’re going exhaust their capacities in the next five years, which gives us ample time to scale additional production partners,” he added.