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Koup: A cinnamon-based, sustainable shirt for climbers & adventurers

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Koup challenges the status quo in performance apparel with sustainable and innovative solutions. Their cinnamon-based Koup t-shirt can be used over several days and still smell fresh, while being completely sustainable and eco-friendly.

We caught up with their co-founder, Brian Chuang, to hear about the brand’s vision and future.

Koup Club Logo

Zushan Hashmi: A shirt made of Cinnamon that is completely novel and eco-friendly, how and why did you think of making this product? Do you have a background in the textile space personally?

Brian Chuang: I used to work in the performance textile industry (for nearly 10 years) and have seen first-hand the harmful impacts of the chemicals that are used to enhance textile performance on the planet (such as anti-microbial function and water repellent function etc).

Upon the arrival of my first child, I started to think more about what I can do to help provide future generations with a better planet to live in.

With my background in textiles, this has prompted me to search for eco-friendly textile technologies that can make a difference. After months of R&D and market searching, I came across this novel anti-microbial textile technology based on cinnamon.

As a big fan of sports and a cinnamon roll lover, this caught my eye straight away as I hated the odour problem of sports clothing after workouts, so I started testing the technology myself along with some friends.

During the testing period, my wife noticed the smell of my workout clothing (and my body odour after a workout) drastically reduced, and after she learned about the technology and also the sustainability feature, she told me we need to take this to the market and let the world know about it.

This is when the cinnamon t-shirt idea was born.

By using cinnamon as a natural antimicrobial agent for its anti-odour property, it reduces the frequency of washing the t-shirt (I’ve been through 10 days of a workout without washing and still smelling ok!) which saves water and energy.

You’ve had a few experiences in fundraising campaigns with Koup, tell me a little bit about those?

We had 2 Kickstarter campaigns. The first-time around we focused on the pollution and waste issue of the textile industry and how our technology can help solve the problem (using recycled plastic, cinnamon technology, circular economy processes, durability etc.). Although we gained a lot of attention, the campaign was not successful.

We later concluded that our strategy of merely presenting the fact without stating user benefit was not convincing enough. Having learned from the failure of the first campaign, we went back to the drawing board and relooked at our product and our unique value proposition. This is when we realised that cinnamon should become the key focus to attract the attention of our target audience and create a more approachable and optimistic tone to the campaign.

We also rebranded our product to be a travel t-shirt instead of a sports t-shirt to better align our t-shirt features (lightweight, anti-microbial/anti-odour, quick-dry and eco-friendly) to our target audience.

The response to our second campaign was significantly better as we were selected by Kickstarter as a “project we love” and we were fully funded within a day. We ended up with 565 backers and over £30,000 GBP in backer funds.

We also attracted a lot of media attention organically, such as Thomas Reuters and Euronews.

So, what is it about cinnamon that makes it fight against sweat and microbes?

Cinnamon has long been used since the Egyptian times for its preservative property. It contains a natural compound called Cinnamaldehyde, which has natural antimicrobial properties and is widely used in products such as toothpaste and chewing gum.

Sweat in itself does not carry odour; it is actually the bacteria on your skin (such as Staphylococcus Aureus) that produce odour as they feed on sweat.

The way cinnamon works is that it inhibits the growth of sweat eating bacteria, so the odour is not produced, hence keeping you smelling fresh.

Vloggers have been very handy in terms of promoting your product. How have they found the shirt to be?

They have been very impressed with the cinnamon t-shirt. Most of them were curious and sceptical at the beginning but having tried out the cinnamon t-shirt for themselves they have been won over by its lightness, packability, comfort and performance (anti-odour, quick-dry).

One of the vloggers even took it with him on his biking trip in Peru.

From what I understand the Koup T-shirt is ideal for trekkers, campers and climbers, particularly those spending significant time in the outdoors, why is this?

The Koup cinnamon t-shirt is super lightweight (30% lighter than an average cotton t-shirt) and ultra-packable (smaller than your rolled socks) which means it significantly reduces the burden when people venture outdoor.

The natural anti-odour and quick-dry performance mean you only need to bring this as the only t-shirt on your trip, which further reduces your gear.

The moisture-wicking property means the t-shirt keeps you dry and comfortable when you are on the go and thermal regulate your body.

Brian Chuang with his wife Crystal Lin founders of Koup Club
Brian & Crystal, founders of Koup Club

Tell me a little bit more about how it is ideal for climbers, particularly those who climb outdoors or on traditional routes?

Climbers can benefit immensely from the lightness of the t-shirt so they can move freely during their climb.

The moisture-wicking property also keeps them dry and comfortable so they can focus on their climb as well.

As a climber, I might argue that I don’t need a shirt in the first place, how do you respond to that, particularly in how the Koup T-shirt can benefit climbers too?

I would argue that it is important for climbers to have a t-shirt that has such an array of performance benefits.

As a climber, you would encounter fluctuations in temperature between day and night and also being in the same clothes for days.

With the cinnamon t-shirt, it would help thermal regulate your body by wicking the sweat away to keep your body dry.

The anti-odour feature will help you stay fresh in days and not distract you with odour you get from a typical t-shirt.

You are a part of the Hype Accelerator in Taiwan, tell me about that experience?

HYPE has been very useful for us as a start-up in that we got to meet so many mentors in different areas of business and also connect with different companies and have the chance to collaborate.

It is also very international, so it opens up more opportunities and scope for us.

How did you come up with the name of Koup? And what’s your goal?

The name Koup derives from “Coup d’état” in French, meaning the overthrow of power and a revolution.

We subbed the C in coup with a K, signifying the new millennium. We want to revolutionise the apparel industry and our mission is to become the Tesla of performance wear.

How is the cinnamon t-shirt more sustainable and better than other t-shirts on the market?

The cinnamon t-shirt is made entirely from recycled bottles (on average 8 bottles per t-shirt) so we reduce waste and the burden of single-use plastics on the planet.

By using cinnamon as a natural antimicrobial agent for its anti-odour property, it reduces the frequency of washing the t-shirt (I’ve been through 10 days of a workout without washing and still smelling ok!) which saves water and energy.

In comparison to other anti-odour t-shirts made with short-lasting harmful chemicals (some lasts only 5 washes), our t-shirt has permanent performance and is not harmful to the environment.

Most important of all, our t-shirt is fully recyclable so it can be recycled back into raw materials, ready to be made into new clothing.

There is a lot of criticism of fast fashion and hype on the circular economy. How does Koup play a role in this?

At Koup, we see the circular economy as an important goal, this is why we design our t-shirt with only recycled polyester, rather a mix blend of different fibres.

This is so that the t-shirt can be fully recycled at the end of its life, and can be turned back into raw materials, ready to be used again. This way, we further limit the waste and landfill problem.

We are against fast fashion and believe clothing should be designed to be as seasonless as possible.

This is why we focus on creating things that are durable and that can transcend seasons.


You can follow Koup on Facebook and Instagram.
For more Climbing content, visit Sportageous.
Saqib Tanveer assisted in the curation of this article. You can follow him here on LinkedIn.

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