If your gym clothes weren’t born in a coffee filter, hear this Tacoma company’s pitch

Ryan McIntosh discusses the coffee-ground infused clothing at Five12 apparel in Tacoma.
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Ryan McIntosh discusses the coffee-ground infused clothing at Five12 apparel in Tacoma.
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If your gym clothes weren’t born in a coffee filter, hear this Tacoma company’s pitch

September 25, 2017 06:00 AM

Brooklynn Gould-Bradbury’s quest for the perfect yoga pants took her to an unlikely place — the coffee filters in Taiwanese Starbucks.

The result is a budding Tacoma-based business called Five12 Apparel (Named for the highway linking Lakewood and Puyallup) that sells athletic clothing and gear made with recycled and sustainable materials. Leggings and shirts made with coffee grounds. Raincoats made with recycled water bottles. Backpacks made with recycled windshields. And they soon hope to make products from recycled fishing nets.

The clothes made from coffee grounds — 75 percent of which come from Taiwanese Starbucks — are proving to be the company’s most intriguing items. NPR briefly featured Five12 on an August edition of “How I Built This.”

As it turns out, using fabric with coffee grounds is more than just a good sales pitch. Coffee helps block odors, dries quickly and provides UV protection, Gould-Bradbury said. Gould-Bradbury and her silent business partner found a company in Taiwan that creates material by blending coffee, cotton and polyester They worked with the company and factory in Vietnam to make the first Five12 clothes. They now use a factory in China. The company researched and visits the factories to assure they are properly run and don’t use child labor.

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The company debuted in January 2016 and broke even its first year. It’s ramping up business this year.

Five12 first product was leggings designed for athletes. Finding a good pair of leggings or yoga pants is more challenging than you might think for athletes, Gould-Bradbury said. Many are too thick and end up being too warm and uncomfortable. Others are so thin you can see through them. Five12 analyzed numerous incarnation of their leggings before finding a design and fabric they consider perfect.

45,000Approximate number of cups of coffee that could be made with the grounds Five12 Apparel used to make its clothing line in 2016.

Also, Gould-Bradbury said, the leggings resolve a problem prevalent with a lot of sportswear - perpetual stink. Many technical clothes used regularly for exercise have a nasty tendency of retaining the aroma of hard work. Even after multiple washings. It’s enough of a problem that a market for workout clothing detergents has emerged in recent years.

“I wear mine (leggings) all the time and I never have that problem with these,” said Gould-Bradbury, a former college volleyball player from Auburn. “And I use them a ton for hot yoga, one of the sweatiest things you can do.”

Ryan McIntosh is a former college basketball player and Five12’s sales director. He says the shirts made from coffee “feel like a cotton shirt but breathe like a (Nike) Dri-Fit shirt.”

Five12’s biggest customers so far are volleyball clubs. More than 20 beach volleyball players and fitness professionals are listed as brand ambassadors on the Five12 website. Most are women because the company’s gear is predominantly for women, but they plan to add more men’s clothing. “We’ve had a lot of requests,” Gould-Bradbury said.

Five12 Apparel’s small team consists of two former volleyball players, a former college basketball player and a silent partner.

Including its silent partner, the company consists of four employees, all of whom are athletes. Allison Wood, a former Pacific Lutheran University volleyball player, is Five12’s communication director. “We all understand the athletic lifestyle and how things should fit and we all are interested in apparel and being eco-friendly,” Gould-Bradbury said.

In 2016 Five12’s clothing line reused about a tone of grounds, enough to make about 45,000 cups of coffee (or 90,000 shots of espresso), McIntosh said.

Couer d’Alene’s North Idaho College, where Gould-Bradbury played after graduating from Auburn Riverside High, outfits its team in Five12 apparel. Kirkland’s Northwest University, where McIntosh played basketball, also uses Five12 clothing. A South Sound coffee outfits its employees in their shirts. A Seattle Crossfit gym uses the gear.

“We are associated with volleyball and beach volleyball and that has been great for us,” McIntosh said, “but we want to stand alone as an activewear performance lifestyle brand.”

As the company grows, and people let the idea of clothes from coffee percolate, Five12 gets two questions almost daily.

Can you get a caffeine buzz from wearing Five12 clothes?

Will you smell like coffee?

The answer to both: No.

“Coffee is how we are getting to be known,” Gould-Bradbury said. “But our mission is high quality apparel that is environmentally friendly.”