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Start Your Business Success Stories

When Cleaning and Pro Sports Collide: How An Athlete Disrupted the Laundry Market

When Cleaning and Pro Sports Collide: How An Athlete Disrupted the Laundry Market Credit: HEX Performance

If you had asked me 10 years ago what I thought of the laundry detergent market, I'd have laughed. Why would a professional lacrosse player have any interest in laundry? But what I didn't know was that I was just around the corner from discovering a problem that detergent companies have been ignoring for decades.

Athletes wear quality fabrics. Uniforms and workout clothes over the last decade have shifted from cottons to synthetics, providing the best performance on any field or court. But anyone who works out, runs, hikes or is active knows that these clothes have one downside: they smell awful.

You soak the gear in sweat, and no matter how soon or often you wash it, it's always filthy. What's worse? Many of us actually end up throwing away good apparel just because we can't clean the stink out.

As a 10-year professional athlete, I know this problem well. Traditional detergents couldn't adequately clean my new, cutting-edge gear. Additionally, there were the locker room outbreaks of MRSA or Staph infections, and my teammates faced potentially career-ending infections – all because something, whether it be their uniform, locker room, or turf, wasn't being cleaned correctly.

That's when I realized we needed to find a way to keep athletes and their gear clean and safe. 

HEX didn't start as a quest for a laundry detergent, but rather as a way to keep pro-athletes in all sports healthy and safe. I didn't have a background in chemistry or product development, but in my pursuit, I met someone who did.

Together, along with a team of chemists, we formulated a product to clean and protect facilities and turf. In our research, we found the ingredients we were working with were dramatically different than what was in the cleaning aisle for consumers. That's when I thought about my issue with laundry detergents.

Detergents were made half a century ago, but we're not wearing the same clothes people wore in the 40s. Standard, outdated detergent formulas can't clean sweat and bacterial stink from synthetic fibers. Instead, they try to mask the smell with heavy fragrances.

Most athleisure clothing, everything from yoga pants to stretchy jeans, are made of synthetic fabrics. By our estimations, more than 60 percent of what people wash today are made of these fabrics instead of the more traditional cotton or wool blends. But while they're comfortable and more convenient for active individuals, they are also more difficult to clean.

We recently studied the effects of laundering sweaty, synthetic t-shirts in regular detergent versus HEX. The results were astonishing. The regular detergent brand you trust actually made odors caused by bacteria worse, while HEX cleaned the fabric and eliminated those odors. That means your clothing gets better the more you use HEX. And with the dramatic shift from cotton to synthetic fabrics over the last few decades, this is crucial for today's laundry.

HEX is made to battle one of the toughest laundry problems: odor. HEX doesn't just clean new fabrics, but all laundry from sweat, stains and odors caused by bacteria. It's clear, biodegradable, has no dyes or fillers, and can clean with or without a fragrance.

It's not just the formula that we were concerned about, but the packaging as well. I wanted to offer HEX customers a truly unique experience. Rather than use the typical large plastic bottle typical of standard laundry detergents, we designed HEX in a bag with a tap – similar to a wine bag, making it easier to use and more eco-friendly.

We launched the brand back in spring of 2016, and distribution is growing in grocery stores across the country, including Wegmans, Target and ShopRite. The largest challenge we still face is getting people to try a new detergent and find us on the shelf. There are a lot of brands that dominate the shelves, but I know that once people find HEX and try it, our consumers will not be disappointed. I am incredibly proud to have been able to introduce this product to the world.

About the author: Drew Westervelt is the founder and COO of HEX Performance, a new laundry detergent that is designed to actually clean bacterial odors trapped in synthetic fibers rather than just mask them. Before starting his own company, Drew was a professional lacrosse player playing for both the MLL and NLL.

Edited for brevity and clarity by Sammi Caramela.