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A 10-Minute Conversation with the Brains Behind ExOfficio's New Cotton Performance Underwear

3/20/17 by Matt Wastradowski

When considering performance clothing, cotton—clammy, heavy, a few-degrees-too-warm cotton—is usually an afterthought, assuming it’s even thought of at all. One of the first lessons many active types learn about layering and temperature regulation is to ditch the cotton.

But the latest additions to ExOfficio’s Sol Cool line aim to change all that.

This spring, ExOfficio unveiled cotton underwear designed to hold up on the trail as well as it does the nightclub. Engineered to keep travelers cool in hot climates, the underwear uses a technical, two-layer cotton and nylon mix that breathes easy, wicks away moisture, regulates temperature, and keeps users cool.

The process took shape two years ago, when Johanna Rundquist, design materials manager with ExOfficio, and Tim Brodesser, men’s apparel and accessory designer, first wondered if such an innovation was even possible. The duo partnered with a knitting outfit, art supplier, and chemical supplier to make the material work and ensure comfort in various conditions.

According to Johanna, the underwear holds up well while bridging an active traveler’s day— "performance casual," as she calls it. Johanna says it’s not ideal for a long cycling trip, for instance. Yet the underwear holds up on casual hikes and basic aerobic activity, all while keeping travelers cool and comfortable at dinner and during a night on the town.

We chatted with Johanna and Tim about how it all came together—and what travelers can expect from ExOfficio’s latest innovation.

What consumer need does this Sol Cool underwear fulfill?

This new underwear design makes cotton a viable option for performance wear.
This new underwear design makes cotton a viable option for performance wear. Photo courtesy of ExOfficio

Tim: We already have a couple lines of men’s underwear, and they’re synthetic. Not everybody wants to wear synthetic for whatever reason; I personally prefer cotton and always have, so I wanted to create a technical cotton that actually performed—and didn’t get clammy. I wanted to do something that was unheard of. I would prefer cotton, but cotton generally doesn’t have the performance I want, and the performance I want is something that wicks super well, and keeps me cool and dry.

Johanna: It was really fun to make, because it’s totally unique. Most people don’t expect cotton to keep them cool, so how do you accomplish that? We had to explain to suppliers early on: "This is why we want to build it this way." Whenever you’re trying something totally new, you have to explain the market and the performance you’re going after.

What was it like, trying to convince a knitting partner to stitch this new material?

Johanna: We explained the concept, and one mill openly laughed: "You can’t do that, it would be crazy expensive." But I loved the challenge of it. Once we really explained it, they got on board.

How did you approach this underwear differently, from a performance perspective?

The fit of this new underwear regulates temps, provides needed support, and keeps you comfortable no matter what you are doing.
The fit of this new underwear regulates temps, provides needed support, and keeps you comfortable no matter what you are doing. Photo courtesy of ExOfficio

Johanna: This uses the most advanced thermal regulating material on the market. It’s meant to keep the heat when you need it, and release the heat when you need that. It’s a really cool finish that provides a lot of comfort.

Tim: I put a little more technology into the garment. The fabric was challenging to fit, because the way it stretches is slightly different. But it also aids something really important: Support in the front pouch. It gives you more support than most underwear. The bottoms all have a very technical waistband called contour elastic that conforms to your body. It’s ribbed, so not only does it channel moisture away, it doesn’t leave marks on your skin. Contour elastic is also a non-roll type of elastic; by its very construction, it refuses to crease in half and roll over.

What makes this especially ideal for travelers?

While chafing can be an issue with other underwears on the market, the smooth materials in this design keep friction at bay.
While chafing can be an issue with other underwears on the market, the smooth materials in this design keep friction at bay. Photo courtesy of ExOfficio

Tim: The nylon feels slick against your skin, which equates to it being non-chafing. No matter what you’re doing, whether you’re hiking, running, or casually walking, it’s going to be a lot more comfortable because you’re not going to have any drag against your skin.

Johanna: The whole goal is to keep you cool and comfortable, with no friction. We all love cotton, so this is a way to get that feeling and still have all the performance you need.

Originally written by RootsRated for ExOfficio.