The Korean sports technology innovation startup Wave Company has an interesting story behind its founding. The co-founders Nancy Cho and Sangchul Lee met when they were students, fell in love and decided to start the company. Wave Co. has developed the world’s first genuine kinesiology taping wear – Wave Wear which combines the advantages of compression wear and kinesiology taping into one unified product.
Koreatechdesk.com spoke to Nancy Cho about the unique journey of the company, which was started 10 years ago and the future vision of the couple for their product and the startup.
1. Can you tell us how did you come up with the idea of making Wave Wear and how does it work?
Basically our startup started with importing and distributing sports medicine products to Korea. While we were selling those products – the sports medicine products that include sports tape, sports sprays, lotions, supporters and braces, we wondered if there could be something easier than the sports tape, because the taping, in fact, is very good but the problem with it is that it is very difficult for people to actually adjust to their body. There are many body parts, different kinds of taping, so we wanted to make that simple. So we came up with the idea to just make it by wearing the product, so that was combined. So that was the kinesiology taping plus compression wear and we called that Wave Wear because in kinesiology taping the pattern is waves. Wave Wear actually works like kinesiology taping by nearing the skin providing a lining and to provide a similar effect just as kinesiology taping with the advantage of compression wear. So now we make sports medicine garment and bio-silicone material based on science. The reason we also make the bio-silicone material is that first of all we thought at the first step, that there could be some kind of adhesive silicone in the market and we could attach that to the fabric that could just work like taping. But as there wasn’t that kind of material existing on the earth we had to make it ourselves. So, we did research for four years to develop a new kind of material that works just as kinesiology taping. The material can stretch five times more than the human skin and it has adhesion. The adhesion doesn’t fade away even though you wash. And also the most important thing is that it doesn’t tear down from the fabric, it doesn’t separate, it always stays on the fabric and just works like taping. And one of the best effects of our Wave Wear is that it reduces lactic acid, which is muscle fatigue, as much as 35 % clinical or trial tested.
2. How did you come up with the product different compared to other apparel products in the market?
Before we developed this product we were just selling and distributing different kinds of branded products, so we were able to understand more about the brands in the market, their distinguished features, what they were made for and how people recognize that brand. Our bigger point of distinction is about science and the material. Other garments or other apparel makers, actually don’t have their own technology, but our company has based the material on our bio-silicone technology. We call that BWAS because its Bio-Waved Adhesive Silicone, and with that technology we’ve been able to develop that electronical. Now we are also developing VR/AR/XR Wear wearable and also ICT wears because we could use the silicone thing with electronic into smart apparel. It could be used like wires and also electrode points, that could be used with sensors to sense health, monitoring data for health.
3. Can you tell us more about your current product line and the products to be launched?
Because it took a lot of time to develop the product and also manufacturing was much more difficult, so far we have only four products. Before making the apparels we developed sleeves. It is like supporters. Right now we have calf sleeves, which is very good for runners, people who walk a lot or sit for a long time. We have a line up in sleeves such as knee sleeves, and also elbow sleeves and forearm sleeves, that is best for golfers, swingers, tennis players. It actually supports the muscle and grabs it. Now we are launching finally our apparels – tops and pants. We are maybe launching it in autumn of this year, so it is going to be launched in like two months. Next week we are tuning in our film, our video, which we are going to use for online marketing like Facebook. The apparel is going to be like shirt style compression wear. We are also shooting film with models because we are going to launch it on kickstarter.com, the target population of which is comprised with the US and Europe people. So this time we are launching our leggings. The leggings are going to have the calf taping, the knee taping which is very effective for all kinds of sports. Then we also have the sleeveless top with the back taping. It supports the back, so it reduces pain and grabs the muscle more like for posture correction. And then our T-shirts, which also have the same features as the sleeveless but also have shoulder taping. We are going to start with this for both women and men.
4. Currently, the sleeves of your company are available for 45$ a pair, what are the benefits of the sleeves for users?
Because it is based on kinesiology taping, it has many kinds of effects, the best is that it reduces muscle fatigue. It is the best in the market because there are similar products but they are only based on compression, while we have combined compression with adhesive silicone, the BWAS. It reduces muscle vibration the most. It means that when muscle fatigue increases with muscle vibrations when you do activities, the product helps. That’s the biggest thing and it also reduces pain and the swelling.
5. Can you share with us how many units have you sold so far since the launch, what has been the revenue and the customer profile?
The first product was launched last year in spring. So far we have sold more than 20,000 pieces, 70% mostly domestic in Korea and most of the sales have been online either on Wave Wear site or sites like Coupang, etc. We have customer ages from the middle 30s to 50s, of which 60% are men. But because our product is based on sports medicine, it not only includes sports but also medicine, most of our buyers are sportsmen, like 60% of them.
6. What is the company’s scalability plan?
It took a while to develop this product and to launch it but now because our product is ready, we are ready for online marketing. For now, we have like $100,000 ready for online marketing. So after we shoot the videos, we are going for Facebook online marketing and use influencers, and if it is possible outlet sponsorships to recognize our products. We have a target of like the mid-30s to the 50s.
7. What is the durability of your product?
It actually depends on how you use it. It is an apparel. The silicone is actually much stronger than the fabric itself. We make it very stable. So yeah maybe like for years.
8. Can you share the story of the founding of the company? Did you start it because of particular skill interest like engineering or was it started just like that?
We met like 11 years ago. My friend introduced me to Sangchul and that time we had no idea what we were going to do 10 years later. The actual reason we found the company like 10 years ago while we were college students was that we didn’t want to work in different companies. So we decided to found the company.
Actually, it is kind of backwards for our company when comparing it to other companies. While other companies have a career first then they look for the product, in our case we looked for the product and made our career into this field. I think it is better than other companies because in this case, we were actually able to plan and build our skill tree. It’s what we needed and most of our works are all based on our company research. Actually, I majored in Biotech and he majored in business, but now he looks more of R&D.
9. Can you talk about the funding history for the startup?
Well, so far we haven’t got investments from capital or something like that or angels. So far we’ve got funding from the government with almost no equity given. The SBA – the Seoul Business Agency has a very small share of our company.
10. What is the revenue expectation this year? Have the revenues grown? What do you expect from the kickstarter.com campaign?
I think this year revenue is going to be more than $1 million. Last year revenue was about $ 600-700,000. We expect more than $500,000 from kickstarter.com. The campaign pants are costing $80-120. The sleeveless is going to cost $60-90.
11. What is your funding strategy for the future?
We are always looking for money for marketing. But best thing at this point, which also would be fun, is networking for the people who could be our ship. So, for now, we are thinking of like $500,000 or like one million dollars funding.
12. Is the company financially stable enough at this stage?
We also import sports goods to Korea and distribute them and the profit we have poured all into Wave Wear. Also, we have two years of R&D funds left. So in last some years, lot of wearable-tech companies were launched like for music, dance wearable, but they disappeared. So what is your thought on wearable-tech market and how can you prevent the mistakes those companies committed?
We think about it a lot of time and I think the reason is that the first thing is the material. If that company makes the material, they have to find the source to sell them. And that source who was selling that material should make finished products using the material. Finished product making companies should have customers. But still that kind of thing has not yet made it in the market, it is going to take time. Currently in the US, a company is working with the hospital to use ICT apparel to use it on health monitoring for patients who have heart problems, heart issues. Actually it takes a lot of money, to make it better and one of the biggest problems is washing. When you wash it, it doesn’t work. We are trying to solve it and I think in one or two years we should. Our material is the best including the price. The Japanese companies are the best in material making in this field – the electronic material with the fabric. Their product is nano-silver, silver based, and because it is made of silver it is very expensive. Then there is the washing problem. Our material could be made more than 10 times cheaper. So we make our finished products and we make our market with our material. So we have both the advantages. With our finished products, we could also sell our material to other companies. We actually pivoted it to the VR wearable with our material making it sensible. But because our silicone material is too much over specs we are pivoting to the health field which need more accuracy. On the health field with our silicone, it could also be used on a very small animal like mice for heart detecting and it really worked, it was also in the papers. So it’s very accurate, so it could be used that way. But for now we are focusing on Wave Wear the first kinesiology taping compression wear and to make a profit with this and eventually we are going to launch other products.
13. Where do you see your company in five years?
The answer could be like two – if we are not getting any investments it’s going to be slower because we have to every time pour the profits into our next marketing and product.
I hope many users who use WaveWear will be satisfied enough just as what we expected, ‘Easy Perform and Heal’ which that will make us feel rewarding and give motivation to move on.
On the other hand personally I would love to make collaborations with other brands if that would be possible and I hope there will be more people wondering or waiting for our next product coming.