Thankfully, men’s underwear has been moving into the future where the sweat stops here. Powered by ElastaFuse Tech, Noble Titan—an innovative new underwear brand, designed to capture sweat, prevent chafing, and maximize comfort—has exclusively launched online at America’s biggest retailer, Walmart. A female-founded startup reinventing men’s underwear and a mass retailer may seem like an unlikely pair to bring new technologies to market, but, fortunately, today’s playing field favors new opportunities that can be discovered in unexpected places. Men’s underwear being one of them.
For years now, clothing manufacturers have been focusing on new fabrics that wick away perspiration, but what about the waistband that could actually work in conjunction with those fabrics and absorb the moisture? It seems rather intuitive right? But utilizing a sweatband type of elastic trim at the waist and torso; however, it didn’t exist before ElastaFuse Tech (EFT) was patented in multiple apparel categories.
The fashion industry regularly references ‘white space,’ and EFT is a new elastic option that certainly fills that need as a fashionable and functional innovation with the capability of becoming a staple in everybody’s wardrobe. Elastic is a functional ingredient that usually has one job: to hold garments in place. Elastic is a fastener—just like a zipper, a button, or a piece of Velcro—that has long been ripe for disruption. Sure, there have been updates with different nylons and widths, but the elastic has fundamentally remained the same since 1820, when Thomas Hancock invented it!
ElastaFuse Tech (EFT) is an ingredient brand, which means that it gets embedded into other products and isn’t necessarily marketed directly to consumers. Incorporating an ingredient brand (think: Gore-Tex, YKK, and Polartec) adds value that becomes inherently understood. EFT is an essential component that immediately enhances the Noble Titan brand by adding unique qualities to the underwear, activewear, and loungewear. By understanding the benefits of EFT, consumers know they are going to look, feel, and perform better when wearing the brand.
The power of ingredient brands lies in their potential for longevity, because they are not as susceptible to trend risk. The desire to have EFT in products won’t vary much from year to year because the benefits remain a constant. Noble Titan is the first consumer-facing brand to bring EFT’s patented innovation to the market, but the plan is to license ElastaFuse Tech across many brands and categories. This is where is gets more and more intriguing.
I recently talked with Stacey Blume, Founder and CEO, Noble Titan/ElastaFuse Tec about what are men seeking today in athletic lifestyle EFT underwear, how the brand has worked with fitness instructors and athletes in order to understand their needs and get real feedback and how computer-aided design helped in the development of the brand!
Joseph DeAcetis: Talk to Forbes about the history and development of your brand?
Stacey Blume: My first venture, Blume, launched in 2003 with headlines when People magazine and the Today show reported that Jennifer Lopez celebrated her engagement to Ben Affleck by getting “Ben” name-patch thong underwear. It was the height of the “Bennifer” phenomenon, so the media outlets were happy to report the sexy scoop. The orders were piling in faster than the seamstresses could sew and an unconventional new brand was born. Blume expanded into other categories and created additional fashion-forward styles that became celebrity favorites. The Hollywood fans and constant press features fueled demand from online customers as well as high-end retailers like Barneys, Saks, Bloomingdale’s, and Nordstrom. Blume was up and running and I enthusiastically jumped into my new life as a fashion entrepreneur.
While the Blume business was growing, we were getting requests from some of our biggest accounts to expand into the men’s category. So, I researched other underwear brands and noticed that the waistbands were almost always emblazoned with designer names (like Calvin Klein, Ralph Lauren, and Tommy Hilfiger) and that struck me as really odd. A man’s torso is a prominent piece of real estate so why should it be used to advertise another man’s name? Why isn’t the waistband being used in a more functional way? That’s when the idea of sweatband elastic hit me. I realized that it would not only be a more fashionable option, but it would also capture sweat, prevent chafing, and be extremely comfortable. That ‘a-ha’ moment was the impetus for me to develop the concept, make rough sample garments, and secure global patents.
The strong intellectual property that protected the idea gave me the confidence and security to pitch a global athletic company. I met with their design, product, and business development teams, who declared in validating words: “Innovation drives the market, and sweatband elastic is innovative.” But to get them to move from ‘wow’ to ‘now,’ they needed to see it proven in the marketplace.
That led me to partner with the largest elastic companies in the world, who re-engineered machines in order to manufacture working prototypes of sweatband elastic. This new technology, now trademarked as ElastaFuse Tech (EFT), needed a consumer-facing brand to deliver the revolutionary ingredient and thus I pivoted once again on my entrepreneurial journey to create Noble Titan.
The first Noble Titan boxer brief was launched with a crowdfunding campaign. The brand identity embodies strength and purpose while also appealing to everyday ‘warriors’—people who appreciate performance benefits and comfort whether they are running marathons or running errands. Our first brand video was conceived with a ‘Nike meets Old Spice’ vibe in an effort to combine the serious performance information of EFT with a light-hearted sense of humor.
Fortunately, the campaign was a success, resonating with people who stay active and appreciate unique apparel. It also caught the attention of Marty and Craig Litt, the owners of Pico, a leading men’s underwear business established in 1931 with global manufacturing facilities and mass retail distribution. They loved Noble Titan; but, even more important, they recognized the value of EFT’s patented innovation.
I partnered with Pico, who invested time and resources. Pico’s experienced teams were able to expand the designs and improve upon the original product at an economical price point. And, with the right infrastructure and ability to scale and deliver, Noble Titan officially launched online with Walmart.
Joseph DeAcetis: In your words, what is your competitive advantage in development and specialized product.
Stacey Blume: There are no other products on the market like Noble Titan. We revolutionized underwear to make it more comfortable, more functional and more stylish. ElastaFuse Tech (EFT) is the first and only use case of sweatband material being utilized as a functional piece of elastic. Regular elastic bands can be restrictive, with briefs or bras that rub against the skin and cause irritations. The soft yarns, light density, and unique crochet construction of EFT provides a much-needed solution to sweat absorption and skin irritation, taking the pain points out of active living. The global patents in multiple categories are defensible and protectable. No other company can make garments that incorporate sweatband elastic at the torso, waist, or as shoulder straps for accessories.
Joseph DeAcetis: In your words, what are men seeking today in athletic lifestyle underwear?
Stacey Blume: Since the moment we launched, we have worked with fitness instructors and athletes in order to understand their needs and get real feedback. Comfort (staying in place, no digging at the waist) and performance were consistently referenced as top priorities. These guys battle-tested the underwear during professional sweat sessions and reported that Noble Titan exceeded their expectations, maintaining a high quality at an affordable price point. We have received glowing customer reviews about the great feel of the smooth moisture-wicking polyester fabric and the effectiveness of EFT. One college basketball player shared that his underwear is usually drenched after games, but Noble Titan captures all the sweat that drips down his back, leaving him completely dry. He is now hooked and can’t wait for us to expand on the product offerings.
Joseph DeAcetis: What is the most-asked question you get from consumers and how do you tend to their needs?
Stacey Blume: Without fail, I am constantly asked about additional products that will incorporate ElastaFuse Tech. Our current customers who love the boxer brief are asking about more underwear options and other styles, like activity shorts and sweatpants. Athletes are requesting compression options and sliders. Skiers are asking for EFT to be incorporated into more base layers, like thermals and long underwear. None of this even comes close to what I’m hearing from women who are asking about sports bras and yoga pants that incorporate EFT. It’s exciting to know that there is a customer base anxiously waiting for new collections to launch.
Joseph DeAcetis: Talk to Forbes in detail about the current collection and why it is important for consumers to be aware of this brand.
Stacey Blume: Noble Titan and ElastaFuse Tech have completely re-invented one of the most essential garments in everyone’s wardrobe. Underwear is literally a foundation of your day, and Noble Titan has transformed that experience, whether people are working out in the gym or working 9–5 in an office. EFT’s patented waistband is a game changer that helps wearers ‘stay dry and feel fly.’ Aside from our quest to create quality EFT apparel, we also want to use business as a force for good. Noble Titan’s brand mission is to give back in meaningful ways, and this is accomplished by supporting a variety of organizations. We partner with athletes, influential people in the fitness community, and everyday heroes, dubbing these individuals ‘Noble Titans.’ They embody physical strength as well as a sense of purpose. We then align with each Titan’s specific ‘Noble’ cause by donating product, helping to fundraise, or participating in special events.I believe today’s socially conscious consumers want to use their purchasing power to support brands that share their values and beliefs. Prior to becoming an ‘underwear technician,’ I received my Masters of Social Work, so the brand’s altruistic initiatives are a part of my DNA. I love connecting with new Titans, learning about their Noble causes, and figuring out the best way to contribute and help advance their missions.
Joseph DeAcetis: If you could choose one celebrity to wear your brand, who would it be, and why?
Stacey Blume: We are currently in the process of forming an Athlete Advisory Board that includes professional players, whose feedback on product development is especially valuable. But our goal is not about the traditional celebrity endorsement; it’s about Titans who are leading their communities and fighting the good fight.
We want to align with athletes who are dedicated to important causes that improve lives, like Derek Jeter and his Turn 2 Foundation, Allan Houston and The FISLL Project, and Richard Sherman’s Family Foundation. Another example would be Steph Curry, who recently fundraised to help fight hunger during the Coronavirus health crisis, donated to the unemployed arena workers, and leveraged his influential platform to share information on the best ways to combat the pandemic. Those are the kinds of Noble Titans who represent the ethos behind the brand.
Joseph DeAcetis: Talk to Forbes about how computer-aided design helped in the development of your brand, both product make-up and e-commerce.
Stacey Blume: In terms of product design, Pico’s design teams work with advanced modeling software to mock up, fine-tune, and finalize styles, precise cuts, and colors. On the e-commerce front, we launched with one of the largest online retail platforms and work with Walmart Media Group to bring to life ad campaigns that help drive targeted awareness of Noble Titan’s products.
Joseph DeAcetis: What are your day–to-day responsibilities?
Stacey Blume: I focus on the creative aspects of the brand—primarily design and marketing, as well as community building and identifying our Noble Titans. I am fortunate to have great manufacturing partners, and their experienced teams handle manufacturing and delivery of the products. This also frees me up to work on business development. I am excited to bring the other categories to market and am in talks with global athletic brands as well as sports leagues to do so. The hope and vision is that ElastaFuse Tech will become an ingredient brand as ubiquitous as Gore-Tex, and the plan is to do that one item, one athlete, and one retailer at a time.
Joseph DeAcetis: Where is the product made, and why?
Stacey Blume: The product is made in a state-of-the-art facility in India. Arvind, our manufacturing partner, is a leader in sustainability practices, and they share our philosophy of the importance of being socially responsible. They are the largest provider of recycled polyester, and we are excited to expand our collections with sustainable products that have a great hand feel to boot. We are also proud to inspire confidence with the OEKO-TEX certification, which verifies the safety of products and their production processes for both heath and the environment.