Winter 2011
Sizzling Sales Under the Sun

Solar Active’s products might constantly change color but their profits are always red hot.

After graduating with degrees in psychology and business, entrepreneur Debra Mattes didn’t quite expect that a T-shirt would change her career path. But it did. Mattes chanced upon a color-changing T-shirt that a friend had brought back from Japan. It intrigued her enough that Mattes did her research, found the products and started a distributorship. “Before I knew it, I started selling at trade shows,” Mattes says.

When it was launched 18 years ago, the company, Solar Active International, offered four color-changing pigments in products such as nail polish, T-shirts and plastics. Now the Tarzana, California-based company features 28 different colors in an ever-expanding line of products that change color in the sun. Customers include stores, apparel manufacturers, and toy and shoe companies.

Standing apart

Despite competition, Mattes, who is the president, CEO and developer for Solar Active, says the company distinguishes itself from its competitors in many ways. For one thing, Solar Active even makes thread that changes colors. Mattes says the lacquers used for the nail polish are the finest in the market and that all products are made in the United States.

The technology is proprietary information. Mattes will say that the company uses a special pigment that allows sunlight to pass through the product. This causes the piece to change color before your eyes. “There is always UV present in the environment,” she adds. “No matter what time of the year or where you are, our products have the ability to change colors. It could be snowing and very cold and the product will still change colors.”

Targeting an audience ranging in age from young children to senior citizens, Solar Active International’s wide variety of products is sold throughout the world. As the company continues to expand and refine its color change technology, increasing numbers of retailers and distributors have expressed interest in the products. “We have worked with companies such as Disney, Hasbro and [the] American Cancer Society on various promotional items such as T-shirts, lunch boxes and sport bottles,” says Mattes.

Glowing sales in specialty retail

The specialty retail market has also been a good vehicle for the company’s products. “We sell our product to cart owners at special wholesale pricing, and then they are really left to run with it.” Mattes says the company provides specialty retailers with help as needed—whether it be signage or training about the technology involved.

In the coming months, Mattes says she looks forward to unveiling more innovative products, including color-changing embroidery threads and buttons. The embroidery threads change color from white to one of seven colors—red, yellow, orange, green, purple, magenta, or blue.

Mattes is delighted with the success the company continues to enjoy. She attributes it to reasonable price points—nail polish retails for around $12 and T-shirts average $25. “If people are spending their hard earned money, they want to spend it on something different that everyone will like,” says Mattes.

She also points out that the products stand out in the marketplace. “It’s the closest thing to magic that there is,” Mattes says.

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Tricia Despres

Freelance writer Tricia Despres resides in the Chicago suburbs with her husband Paul and daughters Taylor and Amanda. Her work has been published in a number of magazines, including Hemispheres, Advertising Age, Shopper Marketing and Today's Chicago Woman.
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