SPACE TO GROW: Six years after Oros sold its first jacket, the brand has returned to Kickstarter to sell its ultra-thin Gemini jacket.
With an insulated vest and waterproof shell, the versatile style has the company’s proprietary Solarcore insulation. A collaborative NASA version is being offered exclusively to Kickstarter backers. The funding goal of $10,000 was reached within an hour, according to Oros cofounder Michael Markesbery. As of Wednesday afternoon, nearly $100,000 had been raised.
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The idea for the company came to life in 2013. While backpacking in Europe as a Miami University sophomore, Markesbery climbed Mt. Santis, which he described as “a really incredible experience,” aside from the fact that he looked like the Michelin Man.
He said, “I’m a science geek. It just didn’t make any sense to me. There seemed to be all this innovation going on in the world. We had just started playing around with the CRISPR-Cas9 genome system, editing genomes, and space travel looked like it was about to be a reality. And here I was in this big bulky jacket made from animal byproducts — goose down.”
Once back in the U.S., he ended up getting the Astronaut Scholarship, which was created by the Mercury 7 astronauts. Through that, he learned about NASA technology, aerogel, that was being used at that time to insulate spacecraft in the negative-450-degree Fahrenheit conditions of space. Excited about the prospect of how aerogel could be used to replace the bulked up insulated styles offered in the $13 billion outerwear industry, he and Oros cofounder Rithvik Venna became “obsessed” about making aerogel flexible and durable enough to be used in apparel.
After starting Oros in 2013, two years passed before they figured how to do that with Solarcore, which is used in all of the brand’s products. Their predevelopment research led them to learn that much of the insulation that was being used in the outdoor industry was a closed cell foam. They opted to embed aerogel in closed cell foam.
More than 100,000 units have been sold since Oros launched products in 2015. Early on the two founders used Kickstarter to raise $100,000 to introduce their first product, the Endeavor jacket, and tripled that goal. By using Kickstarter, the company wants to glean consumer feedback and data before going to the mass market in the fall with the Gemini jacket, Markesbery said.
Clearance to use the NASA logo involved being able to follow NASA’s guidelines and submitting designs to the agency’s team for approval. Every new style requires NASA’s approval. Last year Oros sold out of a limited run of the 39A flight jacket that was signed by Kathy Sullivan, the first woman to spacewalk who is in the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame. Four hundred units sold out in less than an hour and there was a waiting list of more than 23,000 people, Markesbery said. As for the latest jacket, he said, “This isn’t the first time of doing an Oros NASA collab and it certainly won’t be our last.”
Plans to move into a new office in Portland’s warehouse district, where many makers are based, were put on hold due to the pandemic. But the team of 12 that is expected to increase to 20 will move in before the end of the year, Markesbery said.
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