5 Questions with Boulder’s Cocona CEO Jeff Bowman

5 questions with Boulder’s Cocona CEO Jeff Bowman

By Sarah Kuta / September 9, 2017
It’s a nearly universal experience: You climb into bed and snuggle up with your pillow. Three minutes later, you’re too hot so you stick one foot out from under the blankets.
The team at Boulder-based Cocona has figured out a solution to that problem. They’ve developed a technology that can be incorporated into sheets, clothes, shoes, towels and other items to keep your body at a comfortable temperature—37.5 degrees Celsius, to be exact.
In fact, that temperature was the inspiration for the company’s fabric technology arm, 37.5 Technology. The company takes activated carbon from coconut shells or volcanic sands and infuses it into fibers that are then used in apparel, bedding, footwear, accessories and other products.
We sat down with Jeff Bowman, CEO of Cocona, to learn more about this innovative idea.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
How does the 37.5 technology work?
It’s doing two things. It’s attracting and releasing moisture vapor, which is the primary mechanism that your body uses to control its core temperature. So, for example, you’re probably comfortable now but if you put a plastic bag over your body, you would very quickly become uncomfortable because moisture accumulates in the microclimate between you and your clothing and you get hot and uncomfortable. The other thing the particles do is absorb the infrared energy that your body puts off all the time. It’s capturing energy and attracting and releasing moisture vapor, which enables you to stay more comfortable in a broader range of conditions.

How does the technology work when you’re cold?
Your body is constantly trying to maintain a core temperature of 37.5, hence the name. And one of the primary ways that it does that is by controlling the humidity level next to your skin. And so, if you’re hot, then the body is releasing lots of moisture vapor and trying to keep itself cool. Eventually, if you work hard enough, that moisture vapor turns into sweat. What our technology does in any situation where you’re essentially overheating is it’s increasing the time before you start sweating by more efficiently removing the moisture vapor. If you do get to the point that you’re sweating, it helps you dry out more quickly. In a cold situation, you’re not producing all that moisture vapor and those same particles then are just absorbing the infrared light from your body and returning it to you as heat.
Who can benefit from this technology?
When we first started, it was really focused strictly on the athletic market. But if you think about what you do on a daily basis, this is an issue for everybody all the time. All the clothing you wear, all the bedding you sleep in—that removal of moisture is an issue 24 hours a day, every day of the week. Our business has really taken off in the last 18 months in particular. We’re getting very large adoptions in the markets that we didn’t participate in before. Bed, Bath & Beyond has got it in bedding. Men’s Warehouse and now Jos. A. Bank (are using it). Kenneth Cole has it in its footwear. The U.S. Army just adopted the technology for use in its new tropical weather uniforms. It’s really just taken off.
What goes on at your facility in Boulder?
First and foremost is making sure that anybody who puts the technology into their products, that they’re doing it in a way that delivers on the brand promise. We have a laboratory here and anybody who wants to use the technology has to submit samples of their fabric and we test them to make sure they actually meet our quality standards. We’ve also got a very experienced textile team, so we’re continuously helping our customers figure out how to incorporate our technology into their products. For example, Tommy Bahama, they’re historically a silk shirt company. Silk shirts have historically been kind of hot and uncomfortable to wear. Our technology transforms a silk shirt and it’s been a huge best-seller for them. But to figure out how to incorporate our technology into a silk yarn took some doing.
Cocona recently opened a temporary pop-up shop 300 feet in the air on the Bastille Wall in Eldorado Canyon that was only accessible to climbers. What was that all about?
The pop-up shop idea was presented to us late last year by our ad agency, Work In Progress, and we thought it was a cool idea. And then in July, we decided to pull out of the Outdoor Retailer show in Salt Lake City in protest of the state of Utah’s decision to support the privatization of some of Bears Ears National Monument. We thought the pop-up was a good way to get the message out about public lands and bring some awareness to the issue. We partnered with the Access Fund, the American Alpine Club and the Action Committee for Eldorado. The primary thing (the committee) does is replace the fixed anchors throughout the canyon that people use for climbing, because over time they get old and loose and dangerous. We made a donation (to the committee) for everybody who climbed the route.

Lab Manager Devin Muldoon tests the dry rate of a fabric in an air flow device in the Cocona 37.5 labs in Boulder on Friday Sept. 1, 2017. (Paul Aiken / Staff Photographer)