Case Western Reserve University - Weatherhead School of Management
Athlos’ innovation is twofold: production technology and operations. Athlos aims to disrupt the environmentally- damaging apparel industry by using sustainable and fair-trade bamboo fabric sourced from China’s Sichuan province. The fabric is then infused with silver ions using patented Agion technology to control odors and prevent microbial buildup, thus producing high-performance athletic wear that withstands multiple wears and washes.
A second innovation is the lean supply chain that Athlos uses to deliver its products to its consumers. In an emerging economy like India, Athlos apparel is offered exclusively online, thus eliminating a retail supply chain and consequently, its overall carbon footprint. Athlos ensures that its factory workers continue to be engaged and satisfied by providing a safe and wholesome work environment.
In 2013, Pravin took a sabbatical from his Silicon Valley desk job to backpack across Europe. The Nike and Lululemon gear he wore during the time was made of synthetic nylon fabric which retained odors and felt irritating on the skin over time. “Why was no one making clothes that can be worn day-after-day without having to be thrown out after awhile, particularly in hot and humid countries like India?” said Pravin.
With the apparel industry being one of the most environmentally damaging industries, he wanted to explore cost-efficient and sustainable alternatives to petroleum-derivative fabrics. He came across an article describing the benefits of using bamboo as a sustainable fabric and partnered with the team at Sciessent, which owns the Agion technology. Thus began the quest for a naturally sourced, durable fabric that actively inhibits microbial growth while keeping the wearer cool and dry.
Pravin started to develop the technology for infusing the silver ions into fabric to produce the initial prototypes in India. Unsatisfied with the classic “sweatshop” approach to manufacturing using middlemen, Pravin then approached manufacturers all over India directly, who could produce this fabric in a cost-effective and ethical way. By using a local Mumbai-based factory to cut and sew the garments, Athlos is also helping the economic growth of the local community.
Athlos has conceptualized the idea of an apparel supply chain that can be sustainable without compromising the business or its profitability. Athlos has thus built a strong and productive partnership with every team that contributes to their success – starting from the mill that sources the bamboo fabric to the production facility that cuts and sews the fabric into apparel. The silver infusion technology is toxicology certified and has no negative impact on the environment or on the wearer.
Athlos insists that its factory workers be treated fairly, are given reasonable wages and perform their tasks under good working conditions. This is mostly possible because Athlos has eliminated middlemen, does not operate through retail channels and maintains a relationship of trust with the manufacturers and suppliers. Athlos takes this relationship-building culture to its customers and using the direct-to-consumer model and a very lean supply chain with no middlemen, is able to interact with its consumers directly and incorporate customer feedback with great agility.
Athlos has experienced steady growth and revenue in the past year at about 1.5 lakh (150,000 rupees) INR. Athlos has 30% repeat orders within Mumbai alone and 15% repeat orders nationwide. Their unique value proposition helped Athlos stand out, and created a barrier to entry for seasoned players like Nike and Adidas. They are also able to control the pricing as well as the production process, thus keeping operating costs down. Currently, Athlos is able to break-even month over month with an operating profit of approximately 40-50% per t-shirt and is projecting strong sales growth over the next few production cycles as well.
“At the end of the day, we just want people to be active. Climb stairs, take a walk, run for 30 minutes – we just want people to move. We want to break the barrier to physical activity by divorcing the dirty part of working out i.e. sweating from the surge of adrenaline and the myriad positive benefits that come from being active.” says Pravin. By taking the tediousness of clothing changes and post-workout showers out of the process of maintaining an active lifestyle, Pravin hopes that customers will be motivated to adopt a healthy lifestyle.
Synthetic fibers such as polyester, nylon and acrylic are derived from petroleum, which has horrific effects on the world’s oceans and sea-life. Organic cotton is a safe and natural alternative, however cotton farms account for over 75% of the world’s pesticide residue (pesticides are also petroleum derivatives) lodged in the soil and require over 3 times as much water as bamboo does. Bamboo, on the other hand, is a grass that requires little to no cultivation and grows in abundance all over the world. In fact, it requires to be controlled since it can be problematic for even landowners to access all their land due to its high growth rate (some types of bamboo can grow up to 90 cm per day). Bamboo can even withstand drought-like conditions and thus contributes to Athlos’ net-positive impact on the environment.
Pravin Dhake, Founder, Athlos
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Mumbai, Maharashtra, IN
Business Website: http://www.goathlos.com
Year Founded: 2015
Number of Employees: 2 to 10