‘Shark Tank’: Does ‘Unshrinkit’ Get A Deal? Can It Really Fix Your Wool Sweater Laundry Mishaps?
Fans of Shark Tank who have ever shrunk a beloved wool sweater in the laundry will have a visceral reaction to one of the products pitched Friday night, the aptly-named “Unshrinkit.” This solution, created by two graduates of Harvard Business School, claims to be able to get that wool sweater back to the right size after an unfortunate tumble through the dryer. Anyone who’s been there probably wants to know where to get that product, and quickly.
As co-creator Desiree Stolar told CBS News, she partnered up with classmate Nate Barbera after she inadvertently shrunk her supply of winter sweaters and discovered there was no existing way to undo the damage. Barbera happened to have a history in product development, notably with Johnson & Johnson. The students went to work mixing solutions until they found the right formula.
But not after first doing some research. As UVA Today reported, Barbera contacted Cornell University’s Department of Fiber Science and Apparel Design to learn about wool fibers. The university also hooked them up with ingredients they could mix and match in their dorm rooms, trying to find a winner. Eventually, they did, and Unshrinkit was soon a reality.
They bottled first at their university but eventually upgraded to a South Carolina bottling plant. Online e-commerce site The Grommet was their first commercial success, bringing them 200 sales — all of the inventory they’d produced for the order. Stolar told the Richmond Times-Dispatch the 200 bottles were sold out in an hour, when they’d expected it to take at least a week to move.
The Times-Dispatch reported Thursday that the entrepreneurs have sold about 8,000 bottles to date of Unshrinkit. The product is available on Amazon and through a small number of brick-and-mortar retail stores. Since the Shark Tank episode would have been taped several months back, the company’s limited distribution and modest sales could lead viewers to suspect they didn’t get the backing of a shark.
But if the company’s Instagram account is any indication, they remain on at least good terms with shark Robert Herjavec. Stolar, Barbera and the internet security mogul took a selfie at a convention in San Jose just last week.
But if Unshrinkit is at a modest stage of growth, it’s likely in good company on Friday night’s episode. The program is dedicated to millennial entrepreneurs and features a “shark visit” to the White House, where the investors meet with President Barack Obama and Daymond John gets a special honor.
Stolar told UVA Today they have more value than just sales. That research that went into the product creation is still an asset they own. They envision themselves expanding beyond the basic Unshrinkit solution.
“When we were still in the research-and-design phase, we made a point of retaining the intellectual property on a number of new clothing care materials that are safe on fabrics as well as hands, so other products are definitely in our pipeline.”
The company has kept its manufacturing stateside, despite the option that often hangs over entrepreneurs to make their goods more cheaply overseas. Stolar said there is a community-minded motivation behind that choice.
“We’re all from relatively small towns and we’ve seen how critical it is to keep thriving industry in this country. At no point was it ever discussed that we set up manufacturing anywhere except the United States.”
Despite its recent start — Unshrinkit launched in September 2014 — the product has gotten significant press. In February 2015, Good Housekeeping published a product review. The verdict was “skip it,” because, although the merino wool gained back most of its lost length, the regular wool and cashmere only gained back some. The publication also noted the product had an unpleasant odor. As of November 2015, the product had a 4.9/5 rating on Amazon, based on 15 reviews.
You can see how Unshrinkit fares during its Shark Tank pitch Friday night at 9 p.m. on ABC.
[Main photo by ABC via University of Virginia]