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Carlsbad-based TechNiche International leads climate-control field

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TechNiche International started out serving the industrial safety sector, but its climate-control products such as cooling vests, cooling headwear, hands-free water packs and various warming apparel are starting to be increasingly in demand at the consumer level, too.

TechNiche was founded in Carlsbad, in 1999 by Doug Frost, the current CEO. The company headquarters are still in North County, with manufacturing operations in four countries and distributors in a few locations around the world. Like many San Diego companies, technology led the way.

"I tend to think of San Diego as a place that is big for industries like biotech, but not necessarily manufacturing," said Ioannis Anastasakis, president of TechNiche International. "But I do think the lifestyle of the area draws a certain type of person who often tends to be entrepreneurial."

TechNiche's innovation came largely in the form of fabric. Via evaporative cooling, the company's HyperKewl fabric combines with water to create a garment that gradually releases water for evaporation. A bit more advanced, its phase-change cooling technology uses specially designed inserts with its Phase Change Material (PCM). These inserts are able to maintain a precise, constant temperature of 58 degrees Fahrenheit. These two fabrics are used primarily for cooling products such as vests, headwear, neckbands, neck shades and even wrist wraps. A third offering is circulatory cooling, which uses advanced technology to pump water throughout a garment.

TechNiche's TechKewl Cooling Vest, featuring a built-in hydration system, is commonly used under high heat protective clothing, hazardous material suits, military body armor and mascot costumes.

On the opposite end of the temperature spectrum, TechNiche makes warming apparel as well. The two types of heating technology are air-activated and battery-powered electrical. The former uses elements such as iron powder, vermiculite and carbon to create an exothermic reaction. Via specially designed lithium ion batteries and carbon filaments, the battery-powered electrical heating approach generates a holistic heat throughout the piece of clothing.

For now, products are sold via distributors and are being used by professionals ranging from military helicopter squadrons wearing military cooling vests to the U.S. Postal Service Hazmat Inspection Team using the TechKewl vest. The COOL-U Misting Fan was actually created for industrial use, but units are also being sold to the restaurant and entertainment industries - including poolside resorts in Las Vegas. Consumer sales are just now coming into greater prominence.

"We are still a small company," Anastasakis said. "We get a lot of calls for retail orders, but we don't have retail distribution quite yet."

Products are available for personal use for outdoor recreation on sites like Stay Warm, Stay Cool. And Anastasakis expects TechNiche's biggest growth over the next few years to come from a specific niche in the recreation market: motorcycling. He also anticipates a regional rise in sales in Europe.

While the military remains its third-largest sector, TechNiche products tend to be sold or even donated at the squadron level; philanthropies are also purchasing cooling vests to donate to the military to help troops combat extreme temperatures during field operations.

"We would be happy to place large orders for the military at the government level," Anastasakis said, "but they tend to be purchasing bullet-proof vests instead -- you can't argue with their priorities."

Blackford is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer.

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