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Company Attempts Air-Conditioned Clothing

Imagine being able to create a personal temperature-bubble – being able to decide whether it's warm or cold at any given time.

A company in Japan is attempting to make this a reality.

Meadownics, a self-proclaimed eco-friendly producer of green products, is making "air-conditioned" shirts, jackets, and pants that will allow people to cool off wherever they go. But at this point, the styles are limited and the costs high, which could hinder quick adoption.

Your Own Personal Air Conditioner

The concept of kuchofuku, or air-conditioned clothing, is to start with the cooling system each of us was born with — and help it along a little bit. Everyone sweats when their muscles overheat, and this sweat cools the body as it evaporates. Up to a point, this natural system works pretty well. But the hotter someone gets, the more they sweat — and only so much of that sweat can evaporate at a time. After awhile, it starts to build up — and then begins beading on the skin. Soon enough, clothes end up absorbing the dampness and it becomes hard to appear cool and sweat-free.

With its products, Meadownics aims to help the evaporation along — speeding it up a bit says Meadownics spokesperson Sumiko Imagaw. The company's clothes are not air-conditioned in the sense that many of us are used to; they haven't shrunk down window-units and stitched them into shirts and pants. But they've done something close. The clothes are equipped with two small fans, about 10 centimeters across, that pull air in and pass it up against the body. This additional air-flow directly against the skin increases the rate of evaporation. A small dial can be cranked up to increase air-flow and evaporation, based on the heat level.

While it's not quite like living in a sci-fi movie, the small fans — sewn into the sides of polyester, or cotton, jackets and shirts – are visible for the world to see. The dial is hidden away on the inside of the clothes.

Saving Money?

Meadownics is marketing kuchofuku as a cost-effective alternative to traditional air-conditioning. But the clothes are not cheap. Shirts cost $107, jackets run from $117 to $164, and pants are about $127. An energy bill would need to equal more than $1,638 for the months of June through September, which is the cost of seven shirts and pants sets, to be a money-saving option.

Meadownics suggests that a factory of 1,000 square meters with 50 employees can save hundreds of thousands of dollars in both initial startup costs and monthly electricity bills by outfitting employees in air-conditioned clothes rather than relying on traditional central air. This may explain why they have marketed primarily to large companies in Japan thus far. Although the company is expanding, their clothes are not yet available in U.S. stores.

A New Source of Energy?

In line with the company's eco-friendly pitch, Imagaw points out that kuchofuku clothes run on rechargeable lithium ion batteries, or AA rechargeable nickel-hydride batteries, not the mercury-filled batteries of yore. And because they are rechargeable, they have to be replaced less often; with the fan set to high, the batteries will last about five hours. Although some rechargeable batteries do contain harmful heavy metals, like cadmium, the metals in nickel-hydride and lithium ion are considered nontoxic. There is also a battery alternative for people with desk jobs: USB power cords to plug into your computer.

So far, Meadownics stands alone in the air-conditioned clothing market. Although companies worldwide are developing lightweight, cooler clothing lines, Meadownics is the only one to actually put "air-conditioning" units into their clothes. And they're not stopping at clothes. According to their Web site, bed pads and chair cushions will also soon be available. And for winter wear, the company has developed battery-powered heated gloves.

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Erin Marie Williams