From cod­ing to sweat-proof cloth­ing

National Post (Latest Edition) - - FINANCIAL POST - Joe O’con­nor

Chanakya Ramdev is a joy­ful, plain­spo­ken 28- yearold en­tre­pre­neur who isn’t afraid of telling it like it is when shar­ing war sto­ries about his days as an en­gi­neer­ing co- op stu­dent at the Uni­ver­sity of Water­loo in

On­tario, and his work terms as a coder for Black­berry Ltd. and Bom­bardier Inc..

That is, sit­ting at a com­puter and pound­ing away at code for eight hours a day, a desk- teth­ered ex­is­tence that pro­vided the im­mi­grant from north­ern In­dia some pro­fes­sional ex­pe­ri­ence, but also in­sight into what he didn’t want to be do­ing for the rest of his life. “Cod­ing was su­per bor­ing,” Ramdev said. “When I’d get bored at Bom­bardier, I could at least go to the man­u­fac­tur­ing floor and see planes get­ting built, which was amaz­ing.”

For­tu­itously, be­fore his em­ploy­ment fu­ture was forever cast, an­other in­tern­ship took Ramdev to Hong Kong with the uni­ver­sity’s alumni out­reach of­fice. Wear­ing a suit to work was a re­quire­ment. He packed two for the trip, one black, one grey, nei­ther of which sur­vived the hu­mid­ity.

“Ev­ery day I was drenched in sweat, and so I wound up ru­in­ing both suits,” he said. “It frus­trated me think­ing here we are, in the 21st cen­tury, and clothes can still get ru­ined by sweat be­cause salt sticks to fab­rics, which seemed to me like a prob­lem that should be solved.”

That, in short, is how the founder of Sweat Free Ap­parel went from cod­ing to cloth­ing. In­stead of in­vent­ing a new-fan­gled app, as Water­loo techies tend to do, Ramdev cre­ated a sweat- proof fab­ric with the help of a uni­ver­sity lab — and a good deal of gump­tion.

When the pan­demic hit, Ramdev and his busi­ness part­ner — a. k. a. his dad, Yash, who re­mains locked down in north­ern In­dia with Ramdev’s mom, Nisha, — were plan­ning their spring launch as an on­line re­tailer of sus­tain­able sweat- proof ap­parel.

Of course, their plans changed, as did the world, and they piv­oted the busi­ness (along with their fab­ric tech­nol­ogy) to pro­duce wash­able, re­us­able, non-med­i­cal-grade multi- lay­ered fab­ric masks that pre­vent droplets from pass­ing through the ma­te­rial.

With the help of some con­nec­tions in the Water­loo tech scene, Ramdev scored a video- pitch meet­ing with some de­ci­sion- mak­ers at Metrolinx, the re­gional tran­sit agency serv­ing On­tario’s Golden Horse­shoe re­gion and Ot­tawa. Metrolinx liked what they heard, re­quested some sam­ple masks and, ul­ti­mately, con­tracted Ramdev to pro­vide 10,000 masks, an or­der he de­liv­ered last week, right around the time he pinched him­self.

“It is crazy,” he said. “We are a tiny, tiny im­mi­grant startup, and Metrolinx gave us a mas­sive op­por­tu­nity. We were hop­ing just to get the word out on the masks. Now we have a ma­jor client.”

Metrolinx staffers were in pan­demic plan­ning mode as far back as Jan­uary. By March, many were in masks, a va­ri­ety that, it was agreed, were “un­com­fort­able,” ac­cord­ing to spokesper­son Anne Marie Aikins.

Metrolinx shifted to dis­pos­able masks, but as the hori­zon for mask- wear­ing pro­to­cols kept stretch­ing fur­ther and fur­ther out, churn­ing through dis­pos­able masks seemed waste­ful, not to men­tion costly.

Then Ramdev ap­peared. “He didn’t have a track record of mak­ing masks, but we liked his story and we liked his pitch,” Aikins said. “And the masks them­selves, they are as soft as a baby’s di­a­per, and not a soiled one.”

In­di­vid­ual masks cost $ 19.99 on Sweat Free Ap­parel’s web­site, and, for now, they only come in green and grey. Metrolinx bought its 10,000 at a steep dis­count, Ramdev said, since putting his com­pany’s name on the map seemed more valu­able than putting some nick­els in his pocket.

Sweat Free Ap­parel’s pro­duc­tion was based in In­dia un­til ev­ery­thing closed, send­ing Ramdev scram­bling to find man­u­fac­tur­ers, fi­nally se­cur­ing one in China.

“I couldn’t find a fac­tory in Canada that could pro­duce our masks, to be hon­est,” Ramdev said. “It would be a lot less stress­ful for me hav­ing the masks made in Canada, and so if any of your read­ers know of a Cana­dian man­u­fac­turer, I’d re­ally love to hear from them.”

Any­one?

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