Meet Elliot, the man behind the Australian take on the sweat proof undershirt.
I caught up with brand founder Elliot to have a quick chat about the founding of Chester Barkly as well as suits, style icons, entrepreneurship and wristwatches. If you missed my review of the Chester Barkly ‘Sweat Free Tee’, you can read it here.
To kick things off, tell us a bit about your background!
I have moved around a lot. I was born and raised in Adelaide, South Australia. When I was 16, my dad was offered a job in Singapore; we packed up and moved abroad. It was a very big change compared to little old Adelaide! I did my Year 11 and 12 there to finish high school. After graduating high school, I struck out on my own and moved to China to learn Mandarin and get involved in the commerce scene there. I stayed for one and a half years, then moved back to Adelaide. I lasted for five months before moving to Melbourne on a whim; I fell in love with the city and have been here ever since. During my time back in Australia I studied a marketing degree online and am now working in digital marketing here in Melbourne.
What about your interests? And what got you interested in business?
I like to build things in an entrepreneurial sense, and always have. I enjoy the process of envisioning a thought, entertaining the notion and then making it a reality. My first ever venture was selling lemons by the suburban roadside with a friend at age 9. We were given a bag of them for free, and we decided to see if we could make some money selling them to passers by. We set up a stand with the help of my parents, and within two hours we had sold out. Total income? Twenty bucks. From that day, I was hooked.
That is a lot of money for a nine year old to take to the sweetshop!
Sure is. The sweetshop just happens to be the first place me and my friend went with our twenty bucks.
What made you decide to start Chester Barkly?
I’m a sweaty boy. For as long as I can remember, I would always have my nice shirts ruined by sweat stains within an hour of going anywhere. My move to Singapore as a teenager made this even worse with the tropical heat. The effect wasn’t just visual, it was mental. The visual side affected my ability in job interviews, people had bad impressions (‘What, did he run here? Is he panicking? Why is he drenched?’). The mental side affected me everywhere; at school, going out with friends, going on dates, everywhere! I realised that I desperately needed a solution.
The psychological ramifications of excess sweating can be pretty brutal. It makes you feel self conscious and embarrassed; many events that should be fun can be easily ruined by it. I have been there too, and we both benefit greatly from your product! Would you tell us about how your idea originally began?
I originally wanted to make a sweat proof business shirt as my product. During my marketing degree, one course required us to come up with a fictional product and deliver a marketing pitch for it. I used my business shirt idea, and began to research the actual cost of the idea. To my shock, it was going to cost $300 to manufacture one shirt! I found an existing brand selling one for nearly $200 so I shelled out the money for a sample to test it, and found out that the supposedly sweat proof fabric didn’t work. I found a workaround by adding an extra layer into the underarm of the shirt, but when I pitched the idea to many people in the real world there was zero interest. I was dejected and shelved the idea (I still finished the Uni project of course).
However my sweat problem kept going, and I became more desparate for a fix. I discovered the idea of sweat proof undershirts instead, for which there was demand. I explored the idea and the technical designs behind them, since companies offering these products were flourishing internationally. I found that there was no Australian offering, and because of this the price of buying a sweat proof undershirt was very high. I decided to bring the product to Australia, and the time I spent living in China was a benefit for this as I was able to use old contacts to hook up with a firm who could manufacture a great quality product for me. And here we are!
As someone with an entrepreneurial spirit, I think it is great that you decided to solve the problem by becoming the solution. Judging by the testimonials on the Chester Barkly site, it looks like several fellow Australians are glad that you decided to become the solution too.
How did you come up with the name?
All I can say for the record is, it’s not just another fancy name picked to sound luxurious (Here’s looking at you, Daniel Wellington). It stems from an in-joke between me and a longtime friend.
There is a humorous (and unwise to publish) backstory here; readers will have to ask one of us about it in person someday!
Moving on: what is your ideal suit?
I like a classic two button single breasted suit, with a single vent at the rear. I used to wear a waistcoat often and rock the three piece look, but have not done for some time. I don’t know what changed, I just gravitated towards the two piece.
With tie, or sans tie?
I don’t tend to wear a tie, thanks to my time spent in Singapore; going tie-less is a norm over there thanks to the tropical heat! People at all levels used to only wear a tie a couple of times a year while I was there. If everyone at the office was wearing their collars buttoned and had a tie on, it usually meant the company CEO was in town and expected to visit. This has been the norm there for many years.
It is quite interesting that going tie-less has been a norm in Asia for some time, given the trend towards more casual dress in Western workplaces in recent years. Which leads me to think of a hot topic in menswear these days:
What do you think of workplace dress becoming more casual?
I think it is good that you have the choice to be more laid back if you want, but I do wish men would willingly dress up more. I like to dress up, it makes me feel good. At my previous workplace, I tried starting a ‘Dapper Thursday’ in contrast to the Casual Friday trend. I would come in each week on Thursdays dressed to the nines in a suit with tie and pocket square or some other type of classy/dressy outfit, and I felt great wearing it. Dapper Thursday never really took off, and I was usually the only one doing it most weeks; I may have looked a bit weird to my colleagues but hey, I was enjoying myself!
I like the dapper day idea, and more importantly the fact that you did it to enjoy the experience for yourself. We are in an age where dressing up is more of a ‘because I want to’ thing, rather than ‘because I have to’ and it is great to see people dressing up purely for the experience and feeling of it!
Do you have any product line extensions planned for Chester Barkly?
Yes, I want to offer a nude colour of the undershirt soon as it will be good for wearing under more transparent fabrics. I also want to branch out and offer a female version.
A nude colour will be a welcome addition. Hope to see it soon!
Do you have a style icon? Who and why?
In real life: My dad’s best man. As a kid I always thought he dressed awesomely. He always wore nice suits, nice jumpers, did his hair immaculately, great taste in watches too. I always thought ‘this is a fashionable man’. I still try to live that today, thinking ‘How would Stuart style this’? I have always liked the classic menswear look.
Not many others must have that kind of story. Very unique!
In fiction: James Bond, enough said.
Cannot go wrong with that choice.
I know that you are a watch aficionado. What is your current favourite watch, and what is your dream watch?
My current favourite is the Omega Speedmaster Moonwatch. I pestered my parents for two whole years to get me one as a graduation present!
Omega make great pieces. My favourite is my late ’70s gold De Ville.
I love that!
What is your grail watch?
It is not in production yet, but there is a new full platinum Grand Seiko (Seiko’s luxury division) Spring Drive watch with beautiful snowflake dial. I want that, with a less flex-y case. At ~$70,000USD, I’ll be saving for a while…
Time to buy a lotto ticket?
Just have to sell a few more shirts!
That’s all for today!
It was great to catch up with Elliot, a gentleman doing good things! It is important to support local business as fellow Australians, so if you find yourself in need of a helping hand in the battle against sweaty underarms make sure you go to https://chesterbarkly.com.au.
Make sure to enter STS15OFF at checkout for 15% off your total order.
You can also find Chester Barkly on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/SweatFreeMe/
Thanks for reading. Until next time!