Just 422 people climbed Mount Everest in 2008. That's a blip of a market for a $4 billion sportswear company, so why is Hanesbrands outfitting mountaineer Jamie Clarke for his planned April trek? For the same reason Clarke is hiking Everest: to push the boundaries. Its R&D team has developed a Super Suit that exceeds down's warmth and is just 3 mm thick (versus 40 mm for an Everest-grade down coat). Now comes the challenge. "We have to bring the technology to our brand," says Charlie Stack, Hanesbrands's Everest project manager. And then to athletes everywhere.
To prevent sores, no SEAM (1) overlaps with another in any of the suit's five layers. The design will be incorporated into Hanes's consumer lines this fall.
The seamless BASE LAYER (2) is knit to cater to the body's needs, such as dense construction in the chest for extra warmth. The garments are for sale under the Duofold brand.
The jacket is insulated with AEROGEL (3), puffed glass that resembles smoke and is the lightest solid on earth. It's wind-resistant, waterproof, and protects against extreme temperatures (between — 450º F and 1,000º F). Today, an aerogel jacket could cost as much as $2,000. Hanes has worked with materials firm Element 21 to trim costs, with an eye toward launching products in 2011.
Hanes plans to insulate the machines in its factories with aerogel to conserve energy and water. "This will pay dividends for years," says CEO Rich Noll.
An INNER SOCK (4) using yarn made from liquid-filled microcapsules absorbs, stores, and returns heat to the body by changing from a solid to a liquid to a solid again. Hanes is working on increasing the technology's life before releasing a commercial version.
A thin layer of Radiant Foil (5) was placed inside the insulation to capture the body's heat and reflect it back to the climber.
Backstory: Birth of the Super Suit
Hanesbrands CEO Rich Noll met Jamie Clarke years ago at a corporate event where Clarke was speaking. In 2006, they reconnected to dream up the expedition to showcase Hanesbrands's technical expertise.
A version of this article appeared in the February 2010 issue of Fast Company magazine.