Technology and engineering companies are ramping up innovation in cooling to design workwear and clothing that can stand up to the challenge posed by extreme heat.

From construction workers to delivery drivers, maintenance crews to kitchen staff, heat stress is not just an inconvenience, it’s a health risk, causing disorientation, dehydration and even death. There’s also a financial toll: high temperatures impede productivity. The global insurer Allianz has shared an estimate suggesting that 2023’s heatwaves have cost the global economy 0.6 per cent of GDP so far, equivalent to a half day of strike action. A Lancet study has revealed that 295 billion hours of potential work were lost due to heat exposure in 2020.

While some nations have been combating heat stress for many years, our changing climate means this is a global workplace issue. Now businesses are investing in cooling tech for their employees - specially engineered workwear that harnesses innovative technology to keep workers safe and cool.

UK-based smart clothing business TechNiche specialises in thermoregulation technology and delivered “the largest rollout in human history of cooling workwear to date,” supplying cooling garments to 150,000 blue collar construction workers for the Qatar World Cup. The company is in talks with several major multinational companies about how best to protect their workers.

Two Asian men in dark sunglasses and wearing bright orange and blue shirts stand with their arms folded facing the camera in front of a stadium under construction
TechNiche supplied 150,000 blue collar workers with cooling garments at the Qatar World Cup.

VML Intelligence spoke to James Russell, Managing Director and thermoregulation heat stress expert, who says that years of work informed its “revolutionary cooling technology that uses a secret variation of super absorbent polymer fibre technology, which helps reduced perceived temperature by up to 15 degrees.” Products are water-activated and can deliver hours of relief in the harshest of climates, preventing overheating and helping to optimize worker output.

Russell predicts that the future will see these products embedded with wearable predictive technology: “We’re currently developing printed biometric sensors that provide low power feedback to blue collar workers and HSSE teams (health, safety, security and environment). The sensors pick up various biometric data points and with the help of AI we can then predict if a worker is likely to need medical attention.”

US-based Qore Performance supplies cooling vests to enterprises including Boeing, Shake Shack, Chick-fil-A and FedEx, not to mention the US Air Force, and has seen its business grow by 300% since 2020. The tech powering these vests is ICEPLATE®Curve, “the world’s first consumable themoregulation tool.” Co-founder and CEO Justin Li, a former California law enforcement officer, explains to VML Intelligence that, “by cooling the body with frozen drinking water worn close to the body, ICEPLATE® Curve makes powerful cooling accessible to more people than ever before because it gets lighter as you wear it over time.”

An Asian female with long brown pony tail and glasses She wears a red polo short yellow hi vis vest and wears a headset Shes holding a device and stands beside a silver car window to take an order
Qore Performance counts Chick-fil-A as one of its enterprise customers.

Accessibility will be increasingly key to this category, with heat stress a growing issue in many low-income nations. Tiffany Yeh is both a materials engineer from MIT and a physician trained at the University of Pennysylvania who gave up residency to build her company Eztia. The Philadelphia-based start-up is engineering low-cost wearables for on-the-go cooling. Scheduled for release in late spring 2024, the company’s Arctic Patch wearables are based on Yeh’s proprietary cooling platform material dubbed HydraVolt. The wearables adhere to skin, absorb body heat, and never need a fridge. And because they are reusable by soaking in water, the additional energy burden on the planet is also minimized.

A dark haired Asian female in black sweater is studying a piece of thin transparent flexible material
Tiffany Yeh, founder of Eztia, is developing products based on her proprietary cooling material named HydraVolt.

Yeh elaborates, "Extreme heat is a health and economic threat that disproportionately affects those who are most vulnerable. Air conditioning is unavailable to many, expensive, and taxing on the environment. Eztia is working to deliver an accessible solution that protects individuals while they're working so that they don't need to sacrifice their health in order to put food on the table."

As we enter the era of climate boiling and responding to heat stress becomes a business imperative, cooling tech is set for growth. Looking to the future, embedded smart technology will enable companies to monitor and protect worker welfare more closely. As TechNiche’s MD Russell says, “the opportunity for real innovation is huge.”

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