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Virginia Woman Finds Quick Fix for Shrunken Clothes

At this time of year, many people are sporting sweaters or other garments made from wool.  Sometimes those things find their way into the wash and come out a few sizes too small, but a Virginia woman has launched a business selling something that un-shrinks them.  Sandy Hausman has that story.

When Desiree Stolar moved from her home in Richmond to Massachusetts, family members worried.  She had never lived in a cold place like Boston, so they gave her sweaters – and instructions on how to care for them, but when you're busy, you may not be paying attention, and those things may end up in the washer or dryer.

“There was one  sweater in particular – it was a tan cashmere sweater that my sister had given me," Stola recalls. " It was absolutely gorgeous, fit me perfectly, and when it came out of the dryer it had shrunk two sizes.”

Desiree Stolar

Devastated and embarrassed, the UVA grad turned to the Internet for a quick fix. Blogs advised soaking the sweater in warm water and hair conditioner – which seemed to work, so she headed for class, wearing the damp garment.

“It proceeded to shrink during class to the point where it was a crop top," she says.  "That was not appropriate for Harvard Business School!”

Students in Harvard’s MBA program got $2,000 to start a business, so Stolar and two classmates pooled their money to create a product that could un-shrink wool, cashmere and angora.  They ordered books from Cornell, which has a program in fiber science.

“We sat down and started reading through what are the reactions when wool fibers and the bonds that make them up are exposed to heat or hot water," she explains.  "Once we understood that reaction, we thought to ourselves,  ‘Let’s research some active ingredients that might reverse this reaction.’”

They tested various options until they found one that did the job without harming the fabric.  

“We’re basically breaking the disulfide bonds of your wool fibers, so that they can actually be stretched back into their original, elongated configuration, and then by rinsing it in cold water it locks it into that configuration and allows it to stay in the original size.”

Next came the need to name the stuff.

“We originally launched with the name Honey, I Shrunk Your Pants.”

That got laughs, but not much credibility, so in 2014 they went to market on a site called The Grommet with bottles of Unshrinkit.  They figured they’d sell a couple hundred in the first week.

“Which was great, because we were manufacturing UnshrinkIt in our bathtub and kitchen, however the day that we launched, I’m coming out of class and my phone is going off.  My partners’ phones are going off, and we called, and they said, 'You sold out in the first hour.  We need more inventory right away!'”

Over the next four months, they sold about 4,000 bottles at $11.99 apiece, and this year sales quadrupled.  They appeared on Shark Tank, where Mark Cuban offered $150,000 for 15% of the company.  After due diligence, he decided not to invest.  No matter, says Stolar.  The advice they got from the sharks and the publicity they got from the show have made the company so profitable that they don’t need the money.  Unshrinkit goes on sale through Bed Bath and Beyond in February, when the company will start work on its  next great idea – how to unshrink cotton and denim.