By Barry Janoff
June 6, 2016: In May, Mission AthleteCare gathered its roster of brand ambassadors-investors — led here by Dwyane Wade, Reggie Bush and David Villa — to launch a multi-platform effort to support VaporActive, part of a thermoregulation category that puts the company onto a sports apparel playing field that includes the likes of Under Armour, Nike and adidas.
Founded some eight years ago, Mission AthleteCare's roster also includes Serena Williams, Drew Brees, Carli Lloyd, Mia Hamm, Gretchen Bleiler, John Tavares, David Wright and Sergio Garcia.
What differentiates this group from other product athlete endorsers is that, according to New York-based Mission AthleteCare, they are investors in the company and, as such, are involved in product concept, development and testing, only then aligning their names with specific products.
Mission AthleteCare has been building on the success of its EnduraCool towel and accessories, which after being submerged in water and then wringed out, stay cool for hours on an athlete's body. Serena Williams has been most closely associated with the line, wearing the towels and other items during nationally broadcast tennis matches, on TV talk shows, in fashion magazines and, most recently, in a video with the guys from Dude Perfect that received some 100,000 views on YouTube and was featured on ESPN and elsewhere during its first week.
Mission AthleteCare has now gone to market with VaporActive, which "addresses the two biggest complaints we've heard from athletes using other competitive products: that wicking merely moves moisture around, and that topically applied technologies just wash out, ultimately quitting on the athlete," according to company founder and CEO Josh Shaw.
The new Mission VaporActive line, powered by innovative technology from Boulder, Colo.-based 37.5, "hits both of these problems head on — physically removing moisture from the textile, making it drier, cooler and lighter, and the technology is embedded at the fiber level, so it is designed to never wash out or quit on the athlete."
According to Mission AthleteCare, this enables an athlete to spend less "metabolic energy on cooling their body, and more energy on peak performance." The number refers to the idea that, "for the average person, the body strives to maintain an ideal core body temperature of 37.5°C," per the company.
Marketing uses the theme, "Vaporize Your Sweat," with such proclamations as "Introducing VaporActive, powered by 37.5 technology, (which) works to evaporate sweat as fast as you can produce it — keeping you cool, dry and comfortable."
Mission AthleteCare was featured on several national telecasts in May, including ABC's Good Morning America, with Serena as spokeswoman as part of Mission's Heat Safety Week.
Mission Athletecare also last month unveiled a ten-year agreement for funding of a state-of-the-art thermoregulation performance lab at the University of Connecticut's Korey Stringer Institute, named for the Minnesota Vikings offensive lineman who in August 2001 died due to the results of exertional heat stroke. The Mission Performance & Safety Lab will be used to "understand how to best treat exertional heat illness and how to optimize performance in the heat for athletes of all levels."
The facility will be available for use by outside companies and organizations to maximize research opportunities in heat safety awareness as well as other areas of temperature extremes.
NYSportsJournalism spoke with Josh Shaw regarding the new VaporActive line, working with athletes including Serena Williams, Dwyane Wade and Drew Brees and the challenges of taking on such brands as Under Armour, Nike and adidas.
NYSportsJournalism.com: Why did VaporActive become a priority for Mission AthleteCare?
Josh Shaw: The category of over-heating is second in priority to concussion. We launched our thermacool category in 2012 and it became a runaway success. The first product, the EnduraCool towel, led to a broader array of accessories and gear: sweatbands, wristbands, sleeves. All of those products used a wet-to-cool technology. You wet it, wring it out and snap it, and it stays cool for two hours. We became a market leader in cooling.
That led to a tremendous number of questions, inquires and ideas that people wanted to plug into the platform. One of the biggest requests we had, probably starting about a year after we launched our first line of cooling accessories, was from athletes asking if we could get this technology into sports bras or underwear or socks? The reality is you wouldn't want wet-to-cool underwear or socks. You want something super-dry that keeps you cool.
NYSJ: Where did it go from there?
JS: We spent the better part of two years looking for the best dry-cool technology. What we found is that, by and large, most of the marketplace uses wicking. That's been around for more than a decade. But all that really does is move the moisture around the garment. It doesn't really remove it. The second thing we found is that the vast majority of these companies are using something that is topically applied to give a cooling effect to the garment, which is short-lived. So when you look at the big boys — be it Under Armour, Columbia or any of the others that have 'wearable tech' they claim is cooling — they're either using wicking and/or they're using something that is topically applied or sprayed on that generally washes out of the garment after 25 washings and literally quits on the athlete.
We found what we believe, after a lot of testing, 37.5, what is far and away the best technology in the marketing place for dry-cool. Our vision is to own temperature at the highest level. Within that is cooling. And within cooling there is wet-to-cool, which is what we've had. Now we are launching dry-cool with VaporActive. Our VaporActive is embedded at the fiber level. So it never washes out. It never quits. It stays with the athlete as long as the garment is intact.
NYSJ: How important was it to find 37.5 and incorporate their technology?
JS: We have a great partnership with them. They have an exceptional group. Their CEO, Jeff Bowman, is awesome. When we were out there looking for the best technology, one of our board members, Ken 'Hap' Klopp, who is the co-founder of The North Face, told us about 37.5. We went into negotiations and testing with them, along with other companies we found around the world. They won, hands down. They outperformed the others.
NYSJ: How do you explain what VaporActive powered by 37.5 does for an athlete?
JS: What is so interesting is that it's not rocket science. Start with the basics. The big boys use wicking, which is a decade old; and a lot of them use topically applied technology, which washes out. But we feel that if you can give an athlete a product that helps regulate the temperature of their skin, they can save their energy for performance. That's the easiest way to understand it. So you can easily draw a connection between better thermal regulation and better performance. Our products help you thermal-regulate, so you will have better performance because you can use your energy to perform instead to cool your skin.
NYSJ: You have established that your roster of brand ambassadors, who also are investors, are part of product development and testing. Who was involved here and how involved were they?
JS: From Day One, when I started the company, I always said that this is an athlete-owned and an athlete-engineered business. Athletes are the beginning, the middle and the end result of this company. They are the DNA of our brand. We will not launch a product without it going through extremely vigorous tests by athletes. Dwyane Wade, Reggie Bush and David Villa were very involved. And to their credit, they would not put their name on it until they tested it and felt as if it truly worked. So it wasn't just a matter of them saying 'Let us give you some ideas.' They would say, 'Give us the product and let us test it. We want to know it works.' And when they gave it their stamp of approval, they also wanted to be part of the marketing.
NYSJ: Have you been able to convey to consumers, as well as other athletes, that it is not just athletes randomly endorsing products but that your brand ambassadors are really involved in the entire process?
JS: On the surface, consumers see our roster of athletes and immediately know that it is authentic and legitimate. But only during press and media interviews are we able to convey how truly engaged our athletes are with product development and with the brand. It is a very important message. And the more we can share that message, the more consumers will believe it and jump on board. We are all about the athlete and all about technology. We will only put the best in class in market.
"This is an athlete-owned and an athlete-engineered business. Athletes are the beginning, the middle and the end result of this company."
NYSJ: David Villa and Carli Lloyd were recently added to your roster. Given the problems that current and former athletes have had, why do you invest in the athletes who become part of Mission AthleteCare and not align with others?
JS: The process is very important. We get pitched weekly by athletes or their agents who want to join Mission. I can tell you that we have decided not to work with between 50 and 75 athletes during our eight years who wanted to become part of the Mission platform. We are very, very deliberate and focused regarding the athletes we bring on board. We look at not just who they are on the field, but also who they are off the field. Community contributions. What do they do socially, and by that I don't mean social media. What do they stand for and represent outside of their sport. And, of course, how impactful have they been within sports. So it is a combination of criteria.
It is a very elite group who we allow to join the Mission family. We will continue to look at and assess our needs going forward to determine when it's right to bring on new athletes. We are hard-working, and have dedicated people. But, honestly, we have dodged a few bullets. There were some well-known celebrities and athletes that other companies jumped at who we decided not to, and they wound up going the (wrong) way.
NYSJ: What are you doing for marketing support for VaporActive with Dwyane Wade, Reggie Bush and David Villa others and beyond?
JS: When you are getting into the marketplace in a new category, we want to get the message out that this is not wicking for your grandmother. It is not topically applied technology that will quit on you after a couple of weeks of washing. It is a truly technologically advanced fabric that helps thermal-regulate your skin for better performance. We have our three athletes, and others who will join, to get the message out via multi-media, social, digital, grass-roots, guerrilla, in-store, demos. We are as good as identifying and bringing to market technology as we are at telling stories. Our target audience is core athletes and weekend warriors, but we have a had strong halo effect and are reaching more and more casual athletes.
NYSJ: What's next?
JS: This fall and winter we plan to launch a line of heating accessories and gear, which we are very excited about. We plan to be as disruptive in that category as we have been in the cooling category. And you can use your imagination on where we plan to go in 2017 with apparel and gear. Getting Dwayne, Reggie and David involved was not just for a socks and an underwear push. And we will never quit, unlike the other guys where, after 25 washings, they quit on the athlete.
D-Wade, Reggie Bush, David Villa Star In Mission AthleteCare VaporActive Push
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