- Layla Bellows, Living Intown Magazine
The season for neighborhood festivals, poolside barbecues and outdoor concerts has arrived, and with it the skinny strap sundresses and gauzy skirts designed to keep cute and cool. But when the summer sun is beating down, it becomes pretty clear that such outfits don’t help you beat the heat so much as endure it.
This story originally appeared in the May/June 2016 edition of Living Intown Magazine.
Mary-Cathryn Kolb and Tosha Hays are looking to change that with Brrr!, a patent-pending textile designed to literally cool your skin. In 2014, the pair founded the company (brrr.com), with Kolb as CEO and Hays as chief innovation officer, with the goal of rethinking what wearable tech can mean. In 2015, they began launching products that differ from those with athletic-wear-style wicking, which just draws moisture away from your body.
“Our fabric has a physical cold feeling and a cold reaction,” Hays says. Think of that brisk sensation when you rub Vick’s VapoRub against your skin. “The way the technology works is that it pulls heat away from your skin, and as it absorbs the heat and moves it away from you, when air moves through it, it recalibrates to its coldest temperature.” Brrr! has invested in third-party testing that shows the fabric can cool your skin up to 5 degrees.
The “trade-secret recipe,” as Hays likes to call it, makes the company’s signature product, the CoolWrap, a fitting accessory for hot, sunny days. The diaphanous knit has a stretchy, silky drape that makes it an effective summer scarf or wrap to protect your shoulders from afternoon sun. Feeling a little muggy? Wave it through the breeze for a moment and put it back on to counteract the warmth.
This May, anyone who wants to keep cool can tune into QVC, where Hays and Kolb will be tell their story, describe their fabric and offer the CoolWrap in bright raspberry, solid black or a watercolor-like floral print called “bloom.” The wraps will be sold as a QVC-exclusive set with Brrr!’s CoolClutch, a party-ready silver purse lined with the cooling fabric, for $69.95.
The fashion industry veterans met at Spanx, where Kolb was director of sales and Hays was senior director of product design and development. “Her name is on most of if not all of their patents,” Kolb says of her counterpart, who often keeps a low profile until it comes time to talk tech. Kolb herself was the first hire at TOMS Shoes and helped build it from a startup to a household name.
“We decided there’s a white space in the fashion industry, which is wearable technology that isn’t just a Fitbit or an Apple Watch,” Kolb says. “In everyday wear, people need to have their clothes working for them.”
Kolb’s experience building out brands pairs perfectly with Hays’ lifelong background in the textile industry. “I literally grew up next to a cotton gin,” says Hays, whose father was a cotton fiber executive.
It was only natural that she should develop a passion for fiber, which she channeled into a career in the fashion industry. The work has taken her around the world and into the mills where fabrics are made. “I had my finger on the pulse of mills and what was out in the market, and I really had this fascination with textiles that can cool,” she says. “Not ones that wick, but that are physically cold.”
This attribute is “baked into the DNA of the fabric,” as the two like to say. Brrr! has caught the attention of the tech world and been named one of the Technology Association of Georgia’s Top 40 Innovative Technology Companies.
Hays and Kolb are thinking big for the fabric’s long-term potential. “We are in testing phases with companies that are everything from ready-to-wear fashion to fishing companies,” Kolb says.
Hays envisions a world where items as disparate as suits, bedding and medical scrubs can stay a little cooler with Brrr! fabric.
In their Buckhead office, the two play with all the possibilities for Brrr! A sewing machine is set up in one room, where Hays creates prototypes for potential uses, like pillowcases or lined jeans. They’ve also tested the fabric the old-fashioned way by trying them out on themselves and their loved ones.
“For my wedding, Tosha lined my husband’s tuxedo with Brrr! fabric,” Kolb says. “He was literally the coolest guy there.”