The idea for Unbound Merino was hatched on a trip to Hydra Greece, a hilly city where Co-Founder Dan Demsky found himself “sweating bullets” hauling his suitcases up a hill. It was at the moment he made the connection that would launch is business.
Suitcases are a problem.
Or to be more specific, the things we put into suitcases are a problem. The issue wasn’t that luggage isn’t as well designed as it could be, he realized — the problem with luggage is that it exists at all and acts as an anchor to any traveler moving around with it.
“I decided then and there that we needed to find a way to travel with only carry-on luggage, beginning on our next trip abroad,” Demsky told Forbes.
The world, of course, is full of people who are well-versed in living the backpacking life — super-minimalist travelers who set out to every destination armed with only the clothes on their backs, a toothbrush and a smartphone. It’s a good way to go, according to Demsky, but absent a particularly flexible relationship with personal hygiene, it is not one the average person is going to enjoy.
But what if that minimalist amount of clothing didn’t’ need to be washed very often?
That is the founding concept behind Unbound Merino, a line of travel merino wool travel socks, shirts and underwear that can be worn multiple times. Many multiple times — the concept behind the clothing is that it can be worn not for two or three days in a row but for several weeks without washing. When making the video for the firm’s inaugural IndieGoGo campaign, Demskey wore the same black T-shirt , underwear and socks for 46 consecutive days.
And while even Demsky conceded he knew exactly how that sounded, the reality was, “The shirt was just as clean, just as pleasant smelling and just as in shape on day 47 as it was on the day I put it on,” he said.
The secret to that, he explained, is the wool itself. Merino is a popular fabric for making outdoor performance wear — specifically cold-weather socks and long underwear — because it is a good insulator, tends to hold its shape well, dries quickly and repels odors. There is a reason it is so popular with outdoor gear makers, Demsky noted, as it works fantastically for that purpose. It’s just that merino could have a much much bigger purpose.
“Base layers are great and perform well, but they serve a different purpose than what we make,” says Demsky. “Our clothing is designed as everyday clothing.”
Everyday clothing that comes with a slightly higher than everyday price cost. An Unbound t-shirt starts at $65, the underwear starts at $40. It is possible to net some savings in bundling the goods, but the gear is not inexpensive.
But, Demsky noted, it is specialized, the firm is committed to paying its wool producers a fair wage and, perhaps most important, the clothing lasts longer. Constant washing in harsh detergent wears down clothing pretty quickly. It is why the phrase “wash ‘n’ toss” tends to be associated with cheaply-made fashion items. Moreover, even wearers who are not avid travelers looking to collapse as much as of their wardrobe into a single backpack as possible can still save themselves a lot of time, money and water by slowing down their clothing washing cycle. Washing machines account for 17 percent of home water usage, and a full quarter of a piece of apparel’s carbon footprint will be generated by washing it over the course of its lifetime.
But will people remember not to over-wash their Unbound Merino clothing if they don’t happen to be backpacking across Morocco while wearing it? That might be a tougher question. According to washing machine company AEG, consumers are so hardwired to wash that it is estimated 90 percent of clothes tossed in the laundry aren’t actually dirty enough to be washed.
But Demsky is confident that consumers can be habituated to something both simpler and less wasteful. It is why the company is starting to expand into a women’s line (coming soon, other than a ladies’ v-neck T-shirt) and expanding its marketing efforts.
Because in a world full of interesting things to do and see, Unbound Merino wants to make sure people aren’t too busy washing and schlepping their clothes to enjoy them.