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2/8/2004

Embedded textiles

By Tony Kindelspire
The Daily Times-Call

LONGMONT — Remember when Gore-Tex and Lycra were found only in high-end sporting goods stores? Now, they’re everywhere.

So-called “performance fabrics” have gone mainstream, and a small Longmont company is banking on the trend continuing.

Traptek LLC is a six-person company started in 2001 by Gregory Hagg-quist, a scientist with a doctorate in physical chemistry whose patented technology is the foundation of the company.

“We incorporate the technology into fabrics and yarns,” Haggquist said. “It’s embedded inside the yarn — it’s a composite.

“Anyone can put activated carbon or any particle into a product, but the trick is, how do you keep it active?”

Haggquist’s technology does just that — and the potential applications are vast. On the consumer side, Traptek is partnering with companies that make socks, T-shirts and underwear, using the technology to adsorb, or trap, odor and moisture and to retard the damage done to the fabric by ultraviolet rays — hence the name of the company. Particles are removed later, in the wash, “and the washing process renews the product,” Haggquist said.

Timberland boots is another Traptek partner, using the technology in the lining of its new boots. Haggquist declined to name any of the company’s other clients but said products with Traptek’s technology will be on store shelves by this fall.

“The garment industry today is moving toward all performance features,” Haggquist said. “The consumer doesn’t want to buy something that’s all cotton or all polyester.”

An example of Traptek’s potential can be found in Maryland-based Under Armour Performance Apparel. The company was founded in 1996 by Kevin Plank, a player on the University of Maryland football team, who was frustrated with having to change his sweat-soaked T-shirt three or four times every game. After graduation, Plank invented a microfiber T-shirt that was sweat resistant.

Today, Under Armour is the official undergarment supplier for Major League Baseball, the National Hockey League and the U.S. Ski Team. Between 1997 and 2003, the company grew more than 12,700 percent, and its products are now found in more than 3,000 retail stores nationwide.

One industry analyst, who declined to be named for this story, likens the emergence of performance apparel to power windows in a car: What was an expensive option a few years ago is now ubiquitous.

“(Consumers) want a lot of value out of that product,” said the analyst. “It needs to do things.”

Aside from the consumer market, Hagg-quist has other irons in the fire.

“We’re working with the military on chemical and biological warfare suits,” he said. “It’s the same technology, but it’s taken to a higher extreme. It’s expensive testing, and you have to get a grant from the government to do that kind of testing.”

If successful, the military market could be huge for Traptek.

Employing just four people locally, and with one person each in New York City and Dallas, Traptek runs a lean operation. It sits in a nondescript office building on Boston Avenue, and the lab in the back features a large putting green for when Haggquist and his co-workers need a break.

The company doesn’t do any manufacturing but is strictly research and development. It partners with other companies for the finished garments, and Haggquist said that’s the way his company will continue to operate.

The 21/2-year-old company is privately funded by “angel” investors.

“I would say we’re on schedule right now,” Haggquist said. “This year will be a telling year. The third and fourth quarter of this year is when we expect to see product on the shelves, and that’s right on track. By 2005, we should be profitable if we continue to fit our model.”

That’s good news for Richard Cardin, one of Traptek’s angels.

“My wife and I were the first (investors),” speaking by telephone from his home in Florida. “I heard about the product and it struck me as a first-class concept. I thought the prospects were excellent.

While it’s true that Haggquist happens to be his wife’s nephew, Cardin said it wasn’t family relations that spurred his investment.

Cardin said he is excited that companies like Timberland are buying into the technology, and can’t wait to see the company hit a “home run” — such as landing a military contract.

For now, however, he understands the uphill battle Traptek is facing.

“It’s very difficult to brand a new product,” Cardin said. “I would say we’re halfway into the first phase of the business plan.”

Tony Kindelspire can be reached at 303-776-2244, Ext. 291, or by e-mail at tkindelspire@times-call.com.