Wen Muenyi thinks you change your underwear too often.
“People think this is the grossest idea in the world,” said Muenyi, a 27-year-old African immigrant who lives in St. Paul, and launched a line of laundry-minimal clothing.
He suggests customers wash his HercLeon underwear every three days and other garments once a month. The low-wash duds landed him a spot on the ABC-TV series “Shark Tank,” in which entrepreneurs pitch their ideas to investors. The show will air at 7 p.m. Friday on KSTP-TV.
Underwear is particularly harmful to the environment, he said, because people often wash it every day. That wastes water, fuel for heating the water, and soap. It also wears out the underwear more quickly.
“Underwear is the most polluting clothing we have,” Muenyi said.
Muenyi was born in the Central African nation of Cameroon, before his mother immigrated to America.
“She was a single black mother with four kids working low-paying jobs the whole time,” Muenyi said. Yet she was able to help him get through college, and today he is entrepreneur and author of two books.
He says his mother kindled his enterprising spirit. “She taught me if you are black in America, you gotta do it yourself,” Muenyi said. She died in 2017, after an eight-year struggle with breast cancer.
He considered various careers, but none of them fit. “I am a terrible rapper,” Muenyi said.
He stumbled on the idea of laundry-free clothing when he saw people in crisis on TV — fleeing fires in California or typhoons in Japan.
He figured that they would not have daily access to washing machines, and could use clothing designed to minimize smells.
Muenyi developed a material that blends bamboo, synthetic and other fibers. It is embedded with tiny particles of copper and silver, he said, to fight bacteria that cause odors.
The first reviews of HercLeon products only focused on the idea of smelly undies.
“People sent me throwing-up emojis,” he said. “They said, ‘Why would anyone do this? You people are perpetrating bad behavior.”
He answers with sarcasm: “I am so sorry,” he said. “I am so sorry I am eco-friendly. I am so sorry I am reducing our carbon footprint.”
To film the “Shark Tank” episode, he flew to Las Vegas last autumn.
For 10 days, he stayed alone in a hotel room for the required COVID-19 quarantine. He took COVID-19 tests five times over the course of the filming.
In the rehearsal, he was nervous, and didn’t do well. “I talk really fast, and sound stupid,” he said.
He had a panic attack. “There was this iPad, and all these lights and I started to talk faster. I kept thinking: Is this really worth it?”
He signed an agreement not to reveal how the “Shark Tank” investors liked his idea. Fans of HercLeon will have to wait until the show airs to find out.
In the meantime, he’s developing new clothing. A HercLeon bra should be ready this year, he said, inspired by his mother’s fight against breast cancer.
It’s designed to be laundry-resistant, with metal particles that he claims protect breasts from cancer-causing radiation.
Muenyi said his clothing enables people to be inconspicuously green — right down to their underwear.
“If that is gross,” he said, “then I am happy to be gross.”
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