Waterproof – of – Concept
WORDS Kate DeWitt
Raj Shah, co-founder of Ably Apparel and Filium technology, is no stranger to the textile and apparel industry. He and his brother Akhil Shah have launched a series of brands that have exploded in the marketplace, including Shah Safari, International News and MECCA USA. After over forty years of pioneering their way through the fashion world, the visionary brothers are at it again – this time with their groundbreaking Filium technology and award-winning Ably Apparel.
Eager to revolutionize the apparel and fashion industries, the Shahs became deeply concerned with the prevalence of synthetics in everyday fashion and performance apparel. After several years of research & development, the brothers recently unveiled Filium. The first-ever eco-friendly technology enhances natural fabrics (like cotton, wool, linen and silk) with super properties that can outperform synthetics.
The Ably Apparel line activated with Filium technology offers a growing array of cotton performance, athleisure and wardrobe essentials and also serves as the technology’s proof-of-concept. Ably Apparel repels liquids, stains and odors and dries up to 40% faster than synthetics – without compromising breathability or feel. Garments stay clean, fresh, odor free and require infrequent washing often lasting weeks and months between washes. Ably Apparel can be worn on any given day from one activity to the next and is ideal for travelers, active professionals, modern parents, athletes and fitness lovers.
Portland Interview recently caught up with Raj Shah to learn more about his latest breakthrough.
You and your brother Akhil have worked in the textile and apparel industry for over four decades beginning with Shah Safari. What were early days like? From a very early age, Akhil and I were very passionate about fashion and business. When we launched Shah Safari, I was only 19 years-old and Akhil was 18. During that time, fashion denim took the fashion world by storm. Designers were introducing patchwork jeans and were experimenting with all kinds of interesting treatments. No one was really focused on tops so we intentionally designed shirts to go with the growing trend of statement denim. Before we knew it, Shah Safari began to grow at a rapid rate. The demand for our shirts skyrocketed and put us in a leadership position in a very short period of time. At one point, we gained and held the highest market share for tops in the country.
Back then, I remember being told on countless occasions how tough and competitive the apparel industry was. When Shah Safari took off, people marveled at how well we were doing in an industry that is known by many to be incredibly unforgiving, challenging and difficult to navigate. We never saw the industry in this light. We only saw possibility when many saw impossibility. We probably couldn’t see it because we were so young, had no baggage coming into it and most of all we just really enjoyed what we were doing. Having our initial success served as the boost we needed to expand quickly. We were driven by the idea of just how far we could go.
Throughout your career, you have launched a multitude of clothing brands, including Shah Safari, International News and MECCA, that have seen tremendous worldwide acclaim and success. Naturally then, your initial Kickstarter campaign that introduced Ably Apparel in 2016 exceeded its goal by 30 times, what do you believe this can be attributed to? We exceeded our Kickstarter goal within 24 hours and the pledges kept coming. Our Filium technology was what really gained people’s attention. Eco-friendly, cotton clothing that can outperform synthetics? Natural fabrics that can repel liquids, stains and odors? Ketchup rolls off a shirt leaving no visible mark? Clothing that no longer needs frequent washes? Save water, energy and time? I owe our unexpected Kickstarter success to our breakthrough innovation but above all, to our dedicated and passionate team.
What was your inspiration behind the creation of Filium technology? How and why did you arrive at this innovation? Over several decades, we started to become distressed with the trend toward more and more synthetic clothing. The movement toward synthetics started many years ago. It came about as a way of producing less expensive clothing for the mass market. Natural fabrics are actually much more costly to produce. Long ago, polyester suits and the like were positioned for the lower-end market. Later, synthetics exploded again because of the performance apparel industry.
The thing is, synthetics cannot compete with natural fabrics for breathability and soft touch. They also are notorious for retaining odor even after washing. So we started to ask ourselves, “why hasn’t anyone ever developed a way to give natural fabrics the liquid, stain, and odor resisting properties of synthetics?” We didn’t have an answer, so we asked “why not?” And thus started several years of meticulous R&D and a lot of trial and error. Finally, in 2015, we hit upon a process that can outperform synthetics while imparting these super characteristics to natural fabrics. We call this technology FILIUM, and it’s currently patent-pending.
Why did you create the Ably Apparel line? After putting so much time and effort into creating the Filium technology – and truly understanding its DNA – we thought the best way to bring it to the world was to create our own line of Filium-activated clothing. Who better? Sure, we are currently negotiating licenses for Filium with well-known multinational brands – and in fact, we have agreed on the first two of such licenses – but there is no organization that better understands the features and benefits that Filium-activation brings to natural clothing.
With over four decades of apparel industry experience, and a vertically integrated international supply chain, there are few organizations that could design and manufacture Filium-activated apparel as quickly and as efficiently as we could. Our thorough understanding of Filium (as its creator) made us the best and most obvious choice for creating the world’s first line of cotton apparel activated with our breakthrough technology.
Why are you so passionate about promoting natural fabrics over synthetics? The reasons are simple. Human beings are natural and so are cotton, wool, linen and silk. Natural fabrics feel better on your skin. They breathe, just as our skin does. Intuitively, we know that natural fabrics are better for us and the planet. Synthetic clothing is made in a lab, is most often petroleum based, can leach into our skin and the environment and takes hundreds of thousands of years to biodegrade.
For this holiday season, you are encouraging shoppers to go beyond the mall and to gift meaningfully. Why is this? We are living in the age of climate change, rising sea levels, air and water pollution, shrinking wildlife and vegetation, and staggering increases to our population. Sadly, the apparel industry is known to be the second largest polluting industry in the world and greatly contributes to the environmental issues we are currently challenged with. From creation to disposal, we have found a way to positively remove our influence from this vicious equation by offering premium eco-friendly apparel that requires very little maintenance or washing. Our Ably Apparel line is high-quality and is made so durably as a way to help people purchase less over the long term. I absolutely love the holidays and I’ve been around long enough to know that hastily made and impersonal gift-giving for the sake of giving is just not sustainable in today’s world. Gifting Ably gives our customers the opportunity to make a difference. Not only is Ably proven to improve quality-of-life, but purchasing Ably Apparel promotes a healthy and sustainable planet.
What is your vision for Ably Apparel and Filium? The real question here is whether I think a T-shirt can change the world? Our initial launch really validated the fact that people “get it.” There couldn’t be a better time to have introduced Filium technology to the world. In less than a year, we have shipped thousands upon thousands of units of Ably Apparel to very satisfied and returning supporters. My hope is for people to gradually balance their wardrobes with Filium activated clothing. Depending on activity level and preference, individuals can go weeks and months without having to wash their clothes. This dramatically decreases the amount of water, carbon emissions, money and time spent on clothing upkeep. The more Filium activated pieces people have, the more we improve lifestyle and environmental standards. This also means more energy, money and time saved on a massive scale. It’s power in numbers. So, do I think a T-shirt can change the world? Yes, I know it can.
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