We already had a taste of the heat before Spring Equinox even hit, which could indicate an even hotter, sweaty summer awaits. And while warmer months usually call for less layers, Brrr!’s newest fabrics can keep you cool, even in a 3-piece suit. We recently sat down with Tosha Hays and Mary-Cathryn Kolb, two former Spanx execs turned startup co-founders, to find out how their textile technology will keep you cool and comfortable.
What’s unique about Brrr! and how did you come across your cooling textile technology?
TH: What’s different about our fabric is that the cooling is in the DNA of the fiber. It’s not a topical solution or a wicking mechanism, it’s a physical component within the fiber that keeps it cool all the time.
I grew up in the textile industry. My father actually owned the oldest running cotton gin in the world until the mid-90s when he retired, so I’ve always had a love of design and fabrics. I was always fascinated by cooling, and as MC always says ‘the world has wrapped up to stay warm, so let’s wrap up to cool down.’ I came across the right partners to have exclusivity and to bring this technology to the world, and that’s how it all got started.
How long did it take to develop the technology and put it to market?
TH: Our fabric went through a lot of rigorous testing – almost a year to get through all the testing requirements that we need.
MCK: Scientifically as well as legally, to support our claims, if we say it’s permanent, then we have to have the documents that show it won’t wash out. If we say it is truly cooling, then we have to go through different kinds of testing – everything from thermal imaging to the actual fabrics ambient temperature – to test the levels over an amount of time as someone wears it, and then compare that to a control group and measure the temperature. Through all that testing, It’s taken about 14 months.
So you are going into the marketplace, where are some of the places Brrr! is featured?
MCK: We started off designing our own products, like the maxi skirt and tank top. We did that because we wanted to leverage our retail contacts and design experience and use it as a test kitchen to understand how this technology can really be infused into a natural intersection where fashion meets function.
And so we created two different design capsules Brrr! Collection featured at Neiman Marcus here in Atlanta, and Brrr! Basics and that collection is located in Dillard’s locations east coast to west coast.
We’ve learned a lot from that and have found that the data points show there is a demand for cooling in your everyday fashion wear and that people are willing to pay for it. There are performance textiles in the athletic and the outdoors world, but there really isn’t that type of performance in everyday casual wear and we are trying to prove there was a need for that. So now we have moved from creating our own retail line to licensing with global brands that are leading in their categories of their expertise. We look forward to seeing our Brrr! logo on labels like say, like Ralph Lauren, that can show Brrr! is the intel inside their clothing. Clothing that is already great, but better with Brrr!.
In terms of QVC, what’s that process and what do you plan to do with it?
MCK: You heard us speak about the retail line we had at Dillard’s and Neimen Marcus. And the licensing has become such a business model in and of itself, that we’ve redirected our own fashion lines for Brrr! to QVC. It’s a great platform to reach millions of viewers. It has a platform to tell a story, not just to sell a dress, but to give us the ability to talk about why you’d want this dress with our technology and how it can make you feel your best self. To empower you to have a full day of running errands to having a nice dinner, all while feeling clean and cool and refreshed throughout the entire day.
Why take the leap going from an enterprise into startup life, how has that transition been?
MCK: It has been a rollercoaster – which is more than a cliche. You hear startups are like rollercoasters, and it really is. You have your highs and your lows and it’s a good thing but on the days where she has a low, I have a high, so we are never on a low together.
TH: Tough days and great days – there really is never an in-between.
MCK: We are really there to keep each other motivated which is the most important thing. We both had a real desire to build something that could help change an industry. From the beginning of time people have been using textiles as protection, from the climate, from the sun. As time has evolved with the technology boom there really hasn’t been a revolution of textiles. The clothing we’ve been using from 2,000 years ago, like cottons and linens, have remained unchanged, so there is the right space for us to integrate the technology that is out there to amp up the textiles industry.
The second reason is that we feel like there is a very relevant time to set an example of the way career women can live. You can have it all.
TH: It’s the ‘third choice,’ you don’t have to be in just one space. You don’t have to be a career woman and not be a family woman – and you don’t have to be all in the family and not have a career. You can figure out how to have both – but it is not easy.
MCK: We refuse to have to choose between a career and family when both are doable and important to us. So we wanted to build something and we wanted a chance to crack the code in the third choice option so to speak.
Do you have any competition in terms of others creating similar cooling textiles?
TH: There’s competition out there in the sense that they make a lot of marketing claims, but do they really perform like Brrr!?, I don’t think so. The consumer has to learn a lot more about cooling technology – ‘Is it wicking? Does it really cool?’ – and so I think there’s a lot to teach the consumer about what is truly physically cooling your skin versus what is just wicking the moisture away. In the end, I think people just want something that works so we want to show them something that actually does work.
Why did you choose to have a company here in Atlanta?
TH: Well we’re Georgia girls. I’m raised in central GA, small town, unincorporated and I flew the coop. I’ve lived in NY, Seattle, and London but I wanted to raise my family here and Atlanta is an amazing city. It’s close to my roots and so I wanted to build something in here in Georgia.
MCK: And this is just another part of a chapter of our serendipitous story because that’s exactly my story. I’m from south GA, very small rural town and I flew the coop as well, living in LA, NY, and Chicago and you know there is a lot of great things about Atlanta. And the internet really erases zip codes and allows us to become a global company right here in our own backyard.