The men’s activewear market hardly seems in need of disruption, yet in the two short years since it launched, Rhone has managed to do just that, thanks to a relentless focus on design, fabric innovation, and its exclusive odor-neutralizing technology. Now, working with crowdfunding platform Indiegogo, the startup just announced GoldFusion, a revolutionary new collection for spring 2017. And its customers are listening: Rhone nearly doubled its fundraising goal in the first 24 hours. We spoke with cofounder and CEO Nate Checketts about the new collection and how a small company can innovate its way into the big leagues.
Why launch a performance-wear company when it’s arguably an already crowded space?
Working at the NFL in business development and sponsorship strategy, I was receiving a lot of free product. I kept noticing how quickly it would fall apart or start to smell, and I realized there was no one in the space creating premium performance wear for men. A healthy, fit lifestyle is an important part of who guys are today, and they aren’t spending thousands on dress clothes and professional clothes just to wear their old college gym shorts to work out.
How do you compete against the industry giants in this space?
We look at our size as an advantage. Yes, these bigger brands have massive marketing and research-and-development budgets. But we don’t have an “in-house mentality”–that is, a culture that limits us to only that which we can come up with in-house. Anything out there that we think is better, we can move on quickly.
Last year, our SilverTech line, which weaves antimicrobial silver thread directly into the fabric, was the best odor-fighting product on the market. The benefit of that is that people were constantly reaching out to us to say they were doing something similar but in a different market. That’s how we came across this unbelievable technology that uses gold nanoparticles to protect plants from agricultural crop disease. And because they’ve developed it for use in the food chain, it’s eco-friendly and non-toxic. We thought: What if we applied that to apparel? That’s where GoldFusion came from. And we really believe that the new technology in GoldFusion is going to be an absolute game-changer for our customers and for our business.
Conceptually, it’s a big leap to go from fighting crop disease to manufacturing clothing. What did the creative process look like?
We actually started by testing. Most chemical odor-neutralizers are applied topically and last 15 to 20 washes. After that, the clothes start to smell. Our SilverTech lasts 50 washes, so we decided to test the new fabric technology at 25, 50, and 100 washes. The results showed that after 100 washes, GoldFusion was still 99% effective. We don’t really know what the upper limit is. To test moisture-wicking, we soaked an industry garment in water and hung it in a wind turbine. It took 25 minutes to dry. The GoldFusion fabric dried in 8.5 minutes. These are remarkable results!
Why was it important to you that GoldFusion also be eco-friendly?
We all need to be looking at how we can minimize the destruction of our environment. Every other brand that offers odor-neutralizing product is using something that has environmental impact and what the EPA calls an “acceptable level” of toxicity. But is any level of toxicity acceptable? We wanted to improve on that. In our very first meeting with the scientist, he literally picked up the bottle of the solution and drank it.
Why did you decide to partner with Indiegogo on the launch?
When we think about the kind of community that actively supports innovation, it’s these crowdfunding platforms–and Indiegogo is an industry leader. They’ve built a community of people who are eager to learn about and invest in innovation. The Rhone customer wants the latest and greatest in technology, and they’re willing to try an experiment. Like our existing customers, they’re early adopters. So it was another way to expose people to the brand who otherwise might not have heard of it.
Producing a tech-based premium product like yours is obviously a marriage of style and science. What else goes into the mix?
It’s a very collaborative process, and we’re always looking for the best textiles and fabrics as well as the style trends. But we also analyze a lot of data. We evaluate search engine entries: What are our customers searching for and when? What does that volume look like? When should we be delivering the product? On top of that, we use tools such as MakerSights to send out surveys to our customer database and ask them directly about their wants and needs. We blend the science and the art to deliver the most on-point product possible.
In your business, how important is it to be talking to the customer?
It’s everything. In fact, I recently sent out a personal note to our entire customer database that said if there’s anything that you want me to know—any feedback you have about our packaging, our product, our fit—here’s my personal email address. The great thing about being the size that we are is that we can actually address those points if they make sense. We try and balance what we think our customers will want and love before they even know it with also listening to them and responding accordingly.
Are you going to keep pushing the technology?
One of the differences between us and the big guys is that they’re on the defensive whereas Rhone can afford to take risks. That’s part of the company and the culture that we’ve built. Our internal mantra is “Forever Forward.” It’s about getting better each day. It absolutely applies to our products and, hopefully, it’s representative of how we try to act as people as well.
This article was created and commissioned by Rhone, and the views expressed are their own.