Behind the Scenes: Element Pure

Through sustainable design, this brand is helping to keep your most sensitive bits nice and dry

by Laura Maurer

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What’s worse than the feeling of a sweat-soaked shirt on your skin after a workout, a walk to the office on a particularly hot day, or a rough night’s sleep? Pretty much nothing. Luckily the team at Element Pure, makers of sustainable high performance athleisure wear have found a solution. With their first Kickstarter campaign (which was a massive success), they created the perfect thermal baselayers. For their second Kickstarter, which launches today, they’re focusing on underwear. Because remember what we said about there being nothing worse than wearing a sweat-soaked shirt? There’s definitely something worse.

We sat down with Element Pure’s founders to get the inside scoop on their latest campaign, what makes their fabric so unique, and what’s next for the brand.

What is Element Pure? And what was the impetus for launching the brand?

Element Pure is a clothing brand dedicated to creating high performance clothing that strives to be as comfortable and as earth friendly as possible. We started the brand when the team – a group of old school friends – discovered a nanotech fiber called Tencel that blows traditional fabrics out of the water in terms of functionality, and is also incredibly eco-friendly. A myriad of possibilities were dreamed up then and there.

Our first experience with the fabric was when founder Michael Chen slept over at a friend’s house. That person had a close connection to the manufacturer we ended up using, who also manufacturers the bedding and linens for Four Seasons Shanghai. After that first heavenly sleep in the ultra soft Tencel fabric, he also woke up completely dry. Since he’s someone who often wakes up in a sweat, this was revolutionary to him and he had to find out what this material was.

Tell us about your first Kickstarter campaign and how you’ve evolved since then to launch this new campaign.

For the first Kickstarter, we created thermal baselayers for winter activities (skiing, hiking, biking, backpacking, etc.). While we believed in the comfort and performance of our products, we weren’t sure how many others shared our ethos for sustainable clothing. But the many sleepless nights paid off and we were absolutely floored by the reception we received, raising over $100k, more than 600% of our original goal.

Since then we’ve focused on refining our existing products, and also on establishing a solid logistics backbone for the company so we can expand our product lines in the future without anything buckling beneath us.

With the stage set, we began R&D on the products that our customers wanted to see most from us next: amazingly comfortable underwear and lounge pants that inherit the same DNA of performance and sustainability. Factoring in all the properties of our fabric, it made a lot of sense that the item you’d want to be super soft, bacteria resistant, and stretchy would be underwear. And now we’ve launched them in our new campaign.

It made a lot of sense that the item you’d want to be super soft, bacteria resistant, and stretchy would be underwear.

Tell us about the fabrics you use and and how they benefit the wearer and the planet.

Our clothes are made from a special fabric called Tencel, it’s made from responsibly managed PEFC certified Eucalyptus wood in Austria. It uses 20x less water to produce than cotton, and generating 5x less carbon emissions than polyester.

Since it biodegrades in just 12 days under compost conditions, it allows us to follow the “Cradle to Cradle” philosophy of sustainable design. We use 95% Tencel and only 5% elastane in our clothes out of necessity, but we are trying to find a natural alternative for perfect biodegradability.

The fabric is hypoallergenic, and uses only a single organic and biodegradable solvent during its 100% non-toxic award winning “closed-loop” manufacturing process. The ultrafine nano structure not only makes it super soft, but also means incredible breathability, sweat absorbency and moisture wicking as well.

How does the fabric actually keep you dry better than the competitors?

Each fiber is actually bundled together like the insides of a fiber optics cable. There are 1.33 million nano-fibrils in each 13 micron fiber in our fabric, leading to a massive amount of nano capillaries. This enormous amount of intra fiber surface area leads to high hydrostatic pressure and sweat and moisture from your skin being sucked in straight through the interior of each fiber and transferred out. Since this is a function of the fiber structure, the performance does not fade with washes or mechanical damage.

Competitors tend to use synthetics such as polyester and claim fast drying or moisture wicking. Unfortunately, synthetics are basically plastics. While they seem to dry fast on the surface, they are actually unable to absorb any sweat or moisture from your skin, because the fibers themselves are hydrophobic and repels water. What ends up happening is all your sweat ends up unabsorbed on your skin or on the fiber surface, which actually makes you sweaty, wet, and uncomfortable as you perspire. Even though the fabric may dry fast, it does not keep your skin dry, which is actually what matters for comfort and odour.

What’s your advice for someone launching their own brand or a Kickstarter campaign?

First, create something you’ll want to wear/use yourself. Getting multiple rounds of prototypes and samples made before launching is extremely important because it’ll allow you to gauge the manufacturing quality as well as production costs. It’s also important to price out products with the MOQ (minimum order quantity). Do a very comprehensive cost analysis before pricing out the products and leave enough margin for miscellaneous costs.

The biggest thing is definitely don’t bite off more than you can chew, because there’s a high chance you’ll run into problems ESPECIALLY on the manufacturing side of things. We had close shaves a few times and ultimately overcame the challenges, but a lot of Kickstarters promised too much to their backers only to end up with delivering nothing.

Who’s on the Element Pure team?

We’re a lean team of three grade school friends from design, life science, and finance backgrounds. Although none of us comes from a fashion or garment background, we ended up having the key skills to make this happen. On the design side, visual communication, marketing, and brand development skills are important for a consumer product. From the finance side, we had the ability and experience to ensure pricing on all aspects is fair and thoughtful– many Kickstarters and new businesses don’t have this skill and that will bite you in the ass. On the life sciences side, we had the ability to understand the science behind Tencel and it’s properties, and how it might be blended with other fibers.
We decided to start Element Pure with baselayers since no-nonsense functionality was the kind of product we wear ourselves and want, and we had the best shot at taking that on as opposed to a high fashion design.

Where do you see the brand in the next few years?

We will continue to expand our basics products for everyday wear. Possibly adding socks, tank tops, and athleisure shirts.
We’re also striving to be more unique as a company, and in order to do that, we want to marry our products with technology that we are introducing later this year. We are keeping things under wraps right now but we think it could shake up the entire fashion industry… so stay tuned.

If you could share one thing about sustainable design, what would it be?

There’s a lack of awareness about the importance of textile sustainability. For example, organic cotton is marketed as a sustainable solution, and it is relative to synthetics, but it requires bleaching to get the colours people expect, and a huge amount of water to produce just one shirt.

Clothing consumption is accelerating, and that’s a complex cultural phenomenon, so if we can have performance and comfort that is not only viable but better while using environmental resources more sustainably and healthily, we have got to implement that. We feel that just makes sense, and it’s exciting to be on the front wave of that.

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