Miami U. grad brings NASA tech to winter coats

Posted at 6:00 AM, Feb 04, 2016
and last updated 2016-02-04 06:00:14-05

CINCINNATI – Michael Markesbery remembers the thrill of reaching the summit of Säntis, the highest mountain in the Swiss Alps, two years ago with his friend Max Squire as if it had happened yesterday.

They also remember being less than thrilled with the climbing attire they wore to protect themselves from the extreme cold of the mountainous terrain.

“We looked exactly like Ralphie in ‘A Christmas Story,’” Markesbery said.

The experience sparked a conversation between Markesbery, a Miami University graduate, and Squire on how to find a better way to dress for cold-weather expeditions. After the trip and an unrelated medical research project, Markesbery landed at the Brandery, a small business incubator in Over-the-Rhine, where he and Squire are now preparing to launch Oros, a winter wear clothing line.

“We came across aerogel,” Markesbery said.

Solarcore aerogel is an extremely lightweight material that is 90 percent air and one of the lowest thermal conductors on the planet. Markesbery discovered NASA used aerogel, an open-source use material, to insulate space suits, space shuttle tiles and sensitive electronics aboard the Mars Rover. He then decided to try incorporate it into clothing.

Markesbery and Squire formed Oros (Greek for mountain) and turned the somewhat brittle material into flexible sheets to line jackets, hats and gloves.

The results, he said, are remarkable. Oros shaved more than two pounds off the weight of its second-generation heavy-duty hiking coats once aerogel was weaved into other materials. The first generation of Markesbery's coats were branded under the name Lukla. The company is now close to making insulated fabric thin enough to make yoga pants and other winter active wear.

Now ready to mass produce the jackets, hats and gloves for retail sale, Oros launched a Kickstarter campaign on Monday to raise $310,000 in financing. Markesbery and Squire hope to shop the clothing line around to boutique retail outlets by year’s end.

Markesbery said Oros is shooting for the stars with its product, which he swears will woo anyone who has worn bulky layers of clothing like he did while climbing the Alps.

“We want to disrupt the market,” Markesbery said. “The biggest thing with retail is we are using something new. There is a large amount of consumer education, and we want to make sure we attract the right retail partners.”

For more information about Oros, go here.