Desirée Davis Stolar, a native of Midlothian, will appear on ABC’s “Shark Tank” tonight at 9 p.m.
The 30-year-old Harvard Business School graduate will be pitching Unshrinkit, a product that “unshrinks” wool clothing that has been shrunk by mistake.
She came up with the idea at Harvard, when she experienced a wool-washing mishap.
“When I moved up to Boston, everyone warned me, ‘Boston’s very cold. Take lots of sweaters,’ ” said Stolar, a graduate of Midlothian High School and the University of Virginia. “It didn’t occur to me that I needed to be careful with those sweaters.
“My sister gave me this gorgeous cashmere sweater. I received compliments whenever I wore it. I proceeded to put it in the dryer and shrink it. It went from a medium to a small,” Stolar said.
Frustrated and angry at herself for making the mistake, she went to the Internet to try to fix it. She watched a video on YouTube that offered a solution by soaking the sweater in water and conditioner.
Stolar did that. And it worked. At first.
She wore the sweater to class but, by the end of the day, she said her gorgeous white cashmere sweater had turned into a crop top.
“Harvard Business School is pretty casual, but it’s not that casual,” Stolar said with a laugh. “I had to borrow my friend’s jacket and wear it for the rest of the day.”
Stolar went back to the video and saw that it had over a million views on YouTube.
“I thought, this is crazy. It doesn’t work.”
She went to Google, looking for a product that would fix her shrunken sweater, but she couldn’t find one.
“I thought, I’m not a chemist, but I’m going to solve this. It’s too common a problem not to have a solution,” she said.
She found an opportunity to use her idea when Stolar and four other classmates were given $5,000 by the Harvard Business School to start as a microbusiness. It was part of the “Field Method,” a yearlong course that gives students the chance to do something outside of the classroom. Stolar convinced her group, mostly made up of men, to create this clothing care product.
One of her classmates, Nate Barbera, had done product work for Johnson & Johnson. He ordered a bunch of active ingredients from Cornell University, and they started testing solutions in their dorm room.
“We found one that worked really well. It was safe. It got the garment back to its original size. It didn’t damage the product; it actually made it softer,” Stolar said.
They began selling the first bottles of Unshrinkit in September 2014. Shortly after, they were contacted by The Grommet, an e-commerce site.
“They asked us for 200 bottles and expected to sell them the first week. We sold 200 bottles in the first hour,” Stolar said.
At first, Stolar and her team were bottling Unshrinkit in their dorm bathrooms and kitchens. But the company quickly pivoted and found their first bottling plant in South Carolina. Unshrinkit is currently being bottled in Massachusetts.
And Stolar, a true millennial, has found success getting out the word about her product on Twitter.
She decided early on that she did not want to spend a big part of her budget on advertising.
Instead, she started reaching out to people on Twitter who posted that they had shrunk their sweaters. Word of mouth began to build for the product online. She even landed a spot on the “Today” show through Twitter.
To date, they have sold 8,000 bottles.
The product is currently available for purchase on Amazon. She hopes that it will be carried soon in smaller “mom-and-pop” stores like hardware stores and clothing boutiques.
But first she’s taking Unshrinkit to the sharks.
Stolar and co-founder Barbera will pitch their product to big-time investors Mark Cuban and Kevin O’Leary tonight.
“‘Shark Tank’ is the very big cherry on top,” Stolar said.