Aegle Gear takes aim at a market ready for disruption
Sports shoes have Nike, the company named for the Greek goddess of victory. The commercial pantheon is about to get a little bigger. Chattanooga transplant George Brown is preparing to launch Aegle Gear—pronounced “ay-gla”—named for the Greek goddess of radiant health.
He’s aiming for that goal of so many startups—using technology to disrupt a market—by targeting a common product that’s ripe for replacement by a smarter version. Leveraging his experience in sporting goods marketing and healthcare, he’s building a better scrub for nurses and doctors.
There’s a fascinating organic quality to the threads that weave together in Brown’s startup.
From 2004 to 2014, he worked for Meditract, becoming president in 2010. The company helps hospitals manage contract compliance. Headquarters were in New Jersey, but he traveled often to offices in Chattanooga. When the company was recapitalized, new owners gave him the opportunity to work in Chattanooga, which he gladly accepted. Eventually, he got restless and left the company to find a new startup opportunity.
As a volunteer with Gig Tank, he connected 3-D printed shoe maker Feetz with Uli Becker—former CEO of Reebok and a friend from Brown’s days as a star sales person at Adidas, which owned Reebok. Becker became a board member of Feetz, a huge coup for a startup.
And here are some of those connecting threads: Becker also has deep Chattanooga ties. He’s from Chattanooga’s sister city, Hamm, Germany, and decades ago was a high school exchange student here with a host family related to the Brock clan. In 2013, he introduced Brown to Krue Brock, who took him to Co.Lab and suggested he volunteer with Gig Tank. Brown became an investor in startups Roots Rated and Granola, but he still wanted to build his own company.
How do you combine a 20-year career in sports marketing, including a top salesman award at Adidas, and 10 years building a healthcare company? At first, there seemed to be no connection—but then he found it.
“Healthcare workers wear uniformed clothing, and the athletic industry sells uniforms,” he says.
The connections kept coming. From his healthcare career, he knew that controlling hospital-acquired infections is a huge issue that costs hospitals $40 billion a year. In his semi-retirement, he had started wearing Lululemon athletic wear pretty much all the time, because it’s comfortable and the fabric has antimicrobial properties, so you can wear it all day and not stink. Could he build a company around making scrubs from high-tech fabric with antimicrobial properties? Bingo.
“We didn’t only want to build scrubs with antimicrobial behavior, we wanted to build healthcare performance apparel that make the nurse feel better, that make the doctor feel better,” he says. “We wanted to build scrubs that have that aura of yoga apparel like Lululemon, but could still be functional as a medical uniform.”
Brown is two weeks away from receiving his second round of prototype garments. He’s pushing for antimicrobial fiber better than anything available now. He has already achieved 99.9 percent pathogen reduction and is pushing for 99.9 percent reduction after one hour of exposure.
“A lot of antimicrobial is a chemical additive, so it washes out,” he says. “Ours is changing the molecular structure of the yarn, so it’s embedded in the fabric. It is using a certain polymer within the fabric, altering the structure so that this additive is part of the yarn.”
He’s approaching garment design like a sports marketer, asking, “How can we enhance performance?” rather than just making the cheapest possible item.
“We spend millions of dollars developing fabrics for athletes so they can run the 100-yard dash half a second faster, but we spend nothing on people that are saving lives,” he says. “We’re giving them, essentially, fabric that is no better than bed sheet fabric, and we’re sewing it into garments that are no better than pajamas.”
Scrubs available now are cheap, but to make this product work, it has to be significantly more expensive. Rather than ask nurses and doctors to spend more, he plans to sell the product to the hospitals. The pitch:
“We’re going to help your Medicare reimbursement rates, reduce hospital-acquired infections, make nurses feel better and give you an advertising vehicle,” a place for logos, another practice from the sports world.
More connections: The Aegle Gear name and core branding were created by Peter Moore, another of Brown’s Adidas connections, who also designed Nike’s Air Jordan launch campaign, known as the most successful shoe launch in history.
“Aegle is the goddess of radiant health and beauty,” Brown says. “Her role is to pay honor to the medical profession.”
An image of the goddess Aegle was created by someone at Co.Lab.
“Co.Lab saved my life,” he deadpans. “I was at a point where I was just not really wanting to do anything, floating around not knowing what I wanted to do. I saw these young kids and these ideas, and it got my juices flowing.”
If everything goes well with fabric development, Brown could launch as early as the third quarter of this year.
Rich Bailey is a professional writer, editor and (sometimes) PR consultant. He led a project to create Chattanooga’s first civic web site in 1995 before even owning a modem. Now he covers Chattanooga technology for The Pulse and blogs about it at CircleChattanooga.com. He splits his time between Chattanooga and Brooklyn.