When most people think about cutting-edge technology, they picture electronics, software, robotics, medicine.
Raj Shah thinks fashion.
“There is so much room to constantly work on innovation in color, designs, styles,” Shah said. “As a company we’ve been great at those things, but we’ve always looked at, what else can we do?”
It turns out that after 40 years each in the apparel business, Shah and his brother Akhil decided that their groundbreaking “what else” was creating a fabric technology called Filium that makes natural fibers like cotton, linen and merino wool into “super natural fabric.”
So in 2015, the brothers founded Ably, which creates and sells an apparel line using Filium technology that makes the fabric water and stain resistant, reducing how often it needs to be washed and making it high performance.
Last month Ably launched a pop-up store in Seattle’s lower Queen Anne neighborhood, and this month will release its first clothing made from Filium-enhanced merino wool. Also this month they’re announcing a second major license to another brand that will be using Filium fabrics. Shah wouldn’t say who it is, but said that the products are geared toward the athletic industry and that the clothing has won praise from professional athletes who tested the items.
Working with apparel scientists, the brothers developed Filium and began selling clothes 2 years ago. The technology is a trade secret, Shah said, and would only reveal that the stain- and odor-resistant qualities are imbued at the level of the fabrics’ fibers through a multi-step process.
The Seattle-based company sells its products through its website and Amazon. It has 10 employees. Ably offers a full clothing line for men and women, with t-shirts priced at $40-60 and pants and sweatpants for $85-125.
Shah said they were motivated to develop Filium after observing an odd fashion trend.
Shah and his brother noticed “there is something really strange going on here where more and more of the petroleum-based and oil-based fabrics were ending up in the better end of the market,” Shah said. “Traditionally these were fabrics meant for the lowest end of the market.” Those materials include nylon, polyester, spandex and acrylic (those cheap “pashmina” scarves — acrylic.).
“We found it very strange that they were making such big inroads and we felt that the consumers were talked into a type of textile that we wouldn’t personally wear,” he said. “And we didn’t think they should be limited to that choice.”
We caught up with Shah for this Startup Spotlight, a regular GeekWire feature. Continue reading for his answers to our questionnaire.
Explain what you do so our parents can understand it: I co-created an apparel brand called Ably, which is a collection of classic men’s and women’s apparel, made from natural materials, that repels liquid, odor and stains.
Inspiration hit us when: Inspiration hit my brother and me during one of our many trips overseas. From years of working in the apparel industry, we searched high and low for better ways to make clothing that wouldn’t be so harmful to the environment, but still be functional for travelers. We wanted to create a clothing line of apparel that was truly breathable and fashionable.
We created a team of stellar apparel scientists and experts to develop our trade-secret technology, Filium, which powers the technology of our apparel. We felt passionate about launching Filium with a project of our own rather than licensing it out to others first. We know this has the potential to revolutionize the textile industry, and it became our passion project. Ably is a collection of timeless apparel staples made from natural materials that repels liquids, stains and resists odor without sacrificing softness or breathability. Through Ably, we were able to make a product that helps our customer’s lead more convenient and sustainable lives.
VC, Angel or Bootstrap: Ably’s Kickstarter project drew 4,900 backers who pledged a total of $540,112 to help bring the Ably to life and available on the market. It was the No. 1 apparel Kickstarter project at the time, and the No. 2 Kickstarter project overall. Ably ended up shipping more than 15,000 units to customers in more than 80 countries.
Our ‘secret sauce’ is: Our Filium technology. Filium is the world’s most advanced performance technology for natural fabrics. It allows our customers to travel with no baggage, come home spill free from a dirty job, remain fresh and sweat stain free after a hard workout, it keeps moms with toddlers stain free and helps families skip laundry day for a month, or longer.
The smartest move we’ve made so far: Staying true to our mission providing our customers with quality, natural apparel options without compromising style. Ably customers are equipped with functional and stylish clothing that allows for a minimal wardrobe and reduces their carbon footprint. Wearing Ably removes stress and mundane tasks from our customers’ lives.
The biggest mistake we’ve made so far: At first, we only offered t-shirts and our signature hoodie. We underestimated just how much consumers would want the Filium technology in a complete outfit. So now we offer a collection of tops, bottoms, sweats, casual everyday wear and outerwear — and even socks and blankets.
Which leading entrepreneur or executive would you most want working in your corner? From a business and impact standpoint, I’d love to have [Bill] Gates in my corner. Much like my mission to provide sustainable clothing options to the masses and help to reduce each customer’s carbon footprint (and my personal passion to donate to global causes that support peaceful and healthy communities), Gates has displayed this type of mission and leadership through his foundation, which works to help all people lead healthy, productive lives.
Our favorite team-building activity is: Ordering in spicy food as we sit around the conference table and design next season’s Ably offerings!
The biggest thing we look for when hiring is: A passion for the work we do. We look for team members dedicated to seeking out and building quality, sustainability and impact. Passion and enthusiasm will help Ably continue to grow and open a string of possibility for more customers. And don’t forget a sense of humor!
What’s the one piece of advice you’d give to other entrepreneurs just starting out: Passion about your product must be combined with a higher purpose, and know it’s going to take longer and require more resources than you thought in order to get the best results.