Entrepreneurs

Start-up invents a cotton shirt that's resistant to coffee, wine and sweat

Imagine spilling coffee on your shirt and not thinking twice about it, or going confidently from a sweaty work out to your desk.

That's what apparel start-up Ably promises customers with its new "everything resistant" shirt.

Brothers Raj and Akhil Shah, who created several fashion brands under their previous company Shah Safari, have invented a technology they claim makes cotton, silk and other fabrics stain and sweat-resistant.

The technology, which they call Filium, "activates" hydrophobic properties in natural fabrics using a trade secret they would not disclose. It doesn't use any synthetic or nanotechnology materials.

If you spill wine on your shirt, the droplets bounce right off, they say. Any residue can be easily cleaned by adding a small amount of water.

CNBC tested the T-shirts, wearing them for three straight days — through work outs, meals and sleeping. Two of the three staff members were happy with the product's sweat and water resistance, while one staffer said the shirt retained some sweat.

The pair recently closed a Kickstarter campaign, which drew 4,900 backers who pledged $540,112 in funding. Additionally, Akhil and Raj have personally invested seven figures in developing Filium technology and the Ably brand.

They have begun shipping products to backers and are looking into retail sales.

Raj and Akhil Shah, co-founders of Ably, said they are in talks with some of fashion’s biggest names.
Source: Ably
Raj and Akhil Shah, co-founders of Ably, said they are in talks with some of fashion’s biggest names.

Despite being crowded by brands like Under Armour, Nike and Lululemon, the entrepreneurs decided athletic wear was the perfect market for their tech.

"People love natural fabrics, but in the last 10 years or so, we kept hearing in the market that there is one drawback about natural fabrics — they absorb very quickly," Raj told CNBC. "We also learned that there was tremendous discussion about how people hate synthetic apparel because it retains odor."

Originally from Kenya, Raj and Akhil have been designing fashion since they were teenagers.

"We've always been good at finding niches," Raj said. "We've always been good at filling in holes or gaps in the fashion industry."

And even though they are industry veterans, they're always looking to innovate.

"The value of expertise can never be undermined. However, I think you must stay very open-minded," Raj said.

"If we look at the history, some of the most incredible innovations came through accidents," he added. "So having an open mind, in addition to having expertise, is very important."

Ably shirts are made using a secret process that transforms natural fabric like cotton and silk into water-resistant clothing.
Source: Ably
Ably shirts are made using a secret process that transforms natural fabric like cotton and silk into water-resistant clothing.

The founders also hope their products make a positive environmental impact, since Filium fabrics require much less care, time and water to maintain than regular clothing.

"In many parts of the world, people have to prioritize: Do I use this bucket of water for my hygiene, drinking or my clothes?" he said. And "there are people in [the U.S.] that don't have the luxury of time to do laundry. They'd rather be spending time with their children after work."

"This to me," Raj said, "is my small, good dent in the universe."

Video by Sophie Bearman.