Thursday, June 07, 2007

How To Get Rich With Ultraviolet-Protective Clothing

Cabana Life LLC, a maker of ultraviolet-protective clothing, is less than two years old, posted revenue of just $250,000 last year and is barely a blip on the New York fashion scene.

Yet the start-up has scored a notable partnership with a $13 billion chemical giant, Huntsman Corp., whose products are included in apparel made by the likes of Polo Ralph Lauren and Patagonia.

While the partnership is relatively informal, both companies are already receiving what they say is valuable aid from the other.

In addition to selling Cabana Life the additives to make its clothing sun-repellant, Huntsman is giving the tiny company help manufacturing in China and beginning in December will give Cabana Life exclusive one-year rights to sell clothes using a new brand of its technology for kids' apparel. Cabana Life expects sales to double to $500,000 this year and again in 2008, helped, in part, by the Huntsman alliance. And the firm says it expects being first to market with the new High IQ kids brand will give it an important edge in the marketplace.

The roots of Cabana Life's deal began in 2005 with the company's now 32-year-old founder, Melissa Papock, who battled skin cancer at age 26. In her quest to make a fashionable line of lightweight UV-protective clothing, Ms. Papock, a former merchandising editor for fashion, entertainment and lifestyle magazines including Vanity Fair, Self and Allure, scoured the Internet for companies that specialized in sun-repellant technology. "I didn't even know what the terminology was at that point," she says.

Ms. Papock eventually stumbled upon Ciba Specialty Chemicals Inc., a giant Swiss manufacturer of chemical effects for everything from color to moisture-control strength used in things like paper, automobiles and clothing. Several telephone calls to the company got her through to the company's textile effects division in High Point, N.C., where a representative explained how Ciba's "Tinofast Cel" additive could boost Ms. Papock's apparel to the 50+UV protection she wanted. (Ciba's textile effects business was acquired by Huntsman in July of 2006.)

What Ms. Papock didn't know is that Ciba was in the process of trying to rebrand its technology to make it more consumer-friendly. What she did know was that a big chemical company would have a hard time getting the time of day from a Vogue or Glamour magazine.

"These fashion editors aren't going to be talking about this 'textile effect,' because there's nothing very sexy about it," she says. "But when you add it to a stylish tunic, suddenly it has more legs."

Figuring she might have something to offer, Ms. Papock asked for a face-to-face meeting with Craig White, Ciba's marketing head of apparel. There she proposed a broader marketing partnership where Cabana Life would help drive awareness of Ciba's technology among consumers. In return, she hoped for help from the bigger player, be it with discounts on additives or other aid.

Says Mr. White, now with Huntsman: "Obviously your first reaction is that she has a lot of gumption. But quite honestly, we are not the best at advertising and media. What I saw in Melissa was an opportunity to give us exposure through what she was trying to do."

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Sun Protection For Life: Your Guide To A Lifetime Of Healthy & Beautiful Skin