By Stan Alcorn
Mac Bishop raised more than $300,000 on Kickstarter by wearing a stylish button-down shirt for 100 days straight and forcing friends and strangers to smell it. "That looks like it's been dry-cleaned, your shirt," a man in his Kickstarter video says, after being coerced into touching its sleeve. "This shirt hasn't been washed or dry cleaned in about 150 wears," Bishop replies. Cue the sound of a needle being dragged off a spinning record.
The pitch has gotten him in newspapers, NPR and in Jay Leno's monologue--twice. "I was on a morning show in Australia, live," Bishop told me. "It's nuts." "No Wash Shirt Is Perfect For Lazy Dudes Who Hate Laundry," ran a typical headline in the Huffington Post.
But if you want to buy what HuffPo calls a "magical shirt," you don't have to wait until Wool & Prince is open for business. The "prototype" he wore for 100 days is available for purchase today from a company run by his dad.
Bishop sounded a bit sheepish discussing this fact. "I wish we had made our own shirt instead of me just wearing a Pendleton shirt," he told me. "It would have been a little bit better in terms of telling our story."
The story is this: Mac Bishop grew up wearing wool as a sixth-generation member of the family that owns Pendleton Woolen Mills, an Oregon company that happens to control, according to Bishop, 85% of the American wool button-down market. Their staple shirt, though, looks more lumberjack than J. Crew. "They seem like big squares to a lot of people," admits Dylan Eckman, retail director of New York boutique Epaulet. (The shirt Bishop wore in the Kickstarter video was a lighter, "Sir Pendleton" shirt, and was altered to give a slimmer fit.)
The Wool & Prince project was most directly inspired by a now-discontinued experiment with a lighter wool that Pendleton called the "Airloom," which was itself inspired by a wool shirt sent to Pendleton by a mill in China--the same mill that is now the supplier for Wool & Prince. "It was this triangle, I guess you could say," says Bishop.
In other words, neither the "100-day" shirt nor the new Wool & Prince shirts are about a radical new material (though the Wool & Prince website does refer to their wool weave as "Cotton Soft (TM)"). "In terms of creating anything substantially new? No," Bishop says. "It's not proprietary technology. It really is rebranding wool."
This isn't to say that the odor-fighting, wrinkle-fighting properties of wool aren't real. Bishop assures me the 100-day test was real, and included everything from pre- and post-workout bike rides to jumping in a lake. Wool has become a favorite fiber of the backpacking community, and its odor and wrinkle-fighting properties are quietly trumpeted by Pendleton, too. "We are not surprised that our Sir Pendleton wool shirt stayed fresh for 100 days," Pendleton's head of corporate communication, Linda Parker, told me.
Still, the 100-day test is obviously extreme, and Bishop notes that mileage may vary depending on a person's innate odor. In an expectations-managing update to his Kickstarter backers, Bishop pointed out "Some of you are smelly, active dudes and will want to clean it sooner than 100 days." On the other hand, he told me he was "probably pretty average in terms of smelliness."
In a typical response, James Hollstein wrote on Wool & Prince's Facebook page: "If your shirt is half of what you say, [it] should revolutionize clothing." At the very least, it may encourage Pendleton to take a harder look at the light, fitted button-down market, which was Bishop's intent all along; he only started the Kickstarter after the family business turned his idea down.
He describes Wool & Prince's current business relationship with Pendleton as "Entirely separate... with the hope that something happens down the road."
It's not quite as good a story as an "invented," "magical," "no-wash" miracle, but if the shirt fits, looks good and doesn't smell, I'll buy it from any member of the Bishop family.
Copyright 2013 by Fast Company. Reprinted with permission.