Collin White: Co-Founder of Tootles Flatulence-Filtering Underwear – Ep. 98

About Collin White & Tootles:

Collin White is the co-founder of Tootles, flatulence suppressing underwear made from activated carbon fiber.

You might think this is just a gag gift (a number of people have already discreetly given me pairs, apparently trying to drop a hint), but actually it’s based on the field medical work of Collin and his father, Dr. Robert White.

They co-created Stitches Medical, a line of science-backed garments for hospitals, to suit the many awkward and unusual clothing needs of patients. It’s a fascinating idea with a very real background, but it’s also supremely silly.

Full Unedited Audio Conversation:

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*2:00 – “The funny product is Tootles Underwear. So it’s underwear that you would wear just like any normal underwear. With men’s, we have boxer briefs. With women, we have a high-waist and a low-waist underwear. And what it does different from any other underwear that you would wear is that when you pass gas, especially when it’s smelly, it filters out the smell of your flatulence. So it’s a little bit different than your normal underwear.” 

6:25 – “We started Stitches Medical about four years ago and we started with a lot of post-surgery clothing. My dad, with a lot of his patients he was discharging, it was very uncomfortable them being discharged with medical Jackson Pratt drains. And they had to wear these drains for three or four weeks. And so we were like, ‘why don’t we just create a simple shirt where you can put the drains and pockets right inside and it just makes the whole process more comfortable?’ We were doing a lot of our marketing through the medical network, through nurses, and as we were selling it, they were also saying, ‘well, what about clothing for chemo patients so that they have access to their port catheter?’ And so we started just building products with that process in mind of how do we solve this problem for this medical procedure?” 

8:01 – “As you go through all these different industries [in the corporate world], you’re always wondering, ‘Do I really want to be doing this for the rest of my life?’ And I’m looking at the seniors, at the company – is that where I want to be in 30 years? And so sometimes it’s kind of depressing where you’re like, ‘I really don’t actually want to be like that.’ And so there was always kind of that entrepreneurial craving that I had for the longest time, but it was, ‘where do I begin? What idea do I do?’ And basically it didn’t come until my dad at dinner one night, was just like, ‘hey, listen, why don’t you try this idea?’” 

*9:29 – (Ross) “People generally, in my opinion, they’re way too small-minded about what their life could be or what an idea should be. And sometimes we need somebody to just nuke the path to remind people that there are all kinds of different ways to, a) be successful monetarily, and in the world and to b) be personally fulfilled. And we’ve been sold a very, very narrow definition of what the path must be. And especially now that path is failing so many people. So many people followed the rules, they decided to go to school, they graduated with mountains of debt, and they didn’t get the job that they were expecting to get when they graduated. They still have debt. They didn’t climb up the ladder in their job the way they expected to climb. So this thing has just failed tons and tons of people. So our job is to remind people, ‘hey, there is a radically different way of living your life out here.’ You can do crazy things and still build something of meaning. And maybe you have to be a little bit unusual in order to succeed. Maybe that kind of uniqueness is a strength and not a weakness.”  

*10:48 – “For those who are working in their corporate careers and they’re always saying, ‘well, I just need more experience’ or ‘I need more money’ or ‘I need something’ in order to start that entrepreneurial journey, it’s more like just start because everything that you’re learning now in your job is not going to apply for when you start your business, you’re going to make all the mistakes in the world. We’ve made a lot of costly mistakes, and that’s just part of the process. But you’re better off getting started earlier rather than later.”

13:09 – “Patients would cut and sew it themselves and sew their own zipper just to be able to access the port. And so that’s when we were hearing back from the nurses just all the different stories about how they’re yanking their sweaters down in order to access it, and it just doesn’t really allow for a very comfortable experience. And essentially a lot of times they end up wearing clothes that they wouldn’t normally want to wear. And that’s already a very difficult circumstance to go through, if you’re going through chemotherapy, or if you’re going through dialysis or you going through a big surgery. And so it’s all very difficult. And so then to have to wear clothing that you would normally not want to wear just to help with your situation, it’s takes out the dignity in the process.” 

15:58 – “We would come up with the concepts ourselves, we’d build the products, and then we’d have all our samples and prototypes, and then we would just take them right over to all the practices and the hospitals and just say, ‘Give us your feedback, what do you think?’ And then we’d take that feedback and then do round two, round three and round four, and just went like that because there’s a lot of different little nuances to some of the products – do you use a zipper or do you use snaps? Where do you put the snap exactly? Where do you put the zipper? Do people like Velcro? Do they not like Velcro?”

19:39 – “[Competition was] one of the biggest challenges as a commercial real estate agent, because there’s so many commercial real estate agents and you’re competing with so many people and you’re like, ‘What makes me unique compared to this next person?’ Do I know more about commercial real estate than the next person? Or does the client just like me? And it’s one of those sort of things where it’s a little bit depressing because it’s in a very competitive market and it’s just so commoditized. What ends up happening is that the people that win are just the hustlers. And so you have to be working like crazy because you have to outhustle the next person. But when you build a very unique product, you still have the hustle, but it’s different in a lot of ways because you can’t find 20 other flatulence-filtering products out there that they can compete with.” 

23:43 – (Ross) “The greatest joy is these moments and connecting with people. And also it gives me the strength when I have tough decisions, right? There are many times in my own life where I deal with a client or deal with work and I’ve got tough decisions. And this is a really great North Star for me, to remind me of what’s really important. And then I can say if I behave this way, if I say no to this safe thing, and if I take a risk on this thing, it’s not me alone venturing out into the wilderness, which it is anyways, but instead it’s no I’ve got these other 50 really intelligent people who have done something similar and they lived to tell the tale and they thrived because of it.” 

24:40 – “As we all know, you jump into creating something of your own – the 9 to 5 thing just goes away – because even when you’re home, and if you have kids, I’ve got a couple of little boys at home. And even when I go home, yeah, you play with them but in the back of your mind it’s just never turned off. You’re always thinking about your project and it’s just a different thing from when you’re just a traditional employee, you go home, you shut off work. It’s when you start venturing into doing your own projects, your own businesses, it’s life consuming, but it’s rewarding because you’re doing something that you really enjoy, you’re passionate about, and you’re putting unique value out into the world.” 

31:19 – “We did a focus group on the Tootles Underwear. And so we got feedback and there were people in there that actually do have gas issues, so one of the questions that was in the focus group was, ‘Would you be offended if this was brought to you in a funny way?’ And literally the entire group of people in that room said, ‘oh, I actually would like it if it was brought to me and marketed to me in a funny way,’ it’s kind of self-deprecating in a lot of ways. So that was the overwhelming majority of the feedback from the focus group that people were more than okay with the funny side of it.” 

*33:12 – “We got every odor filtering fabric that was out there. And so we basically sourced all this, all these different materials and then the next question was, ‘how do we test it?’ And so what we did is we bought these hydrogen sulfide tanks. The reason why your flatulence smells is because of the hydrogen sulfide that you release. That’s what smells. So we basically had a tank of hydrogen sulfide. So it’s like a tank of flatulence, basically, and a very powerful flatulence. And we had a forensics detector. And so we would shoot the gas through the fabrics and we would test the gaseous state on the other side of each fabric. And so we would just go through one fabric at a time, all these different fabrics. And, by far, the activated carbon fabric worked far better than any other fabric out there.” 

45:51 – “We typically think of beans and Mexican food as giving gas. Or that if you have smelly gas, that you’re unhealthy, which is actually the opposite of the truth. A lot of high fiber foods, cauliflower, broccoli, eating those kinds of diets can really cause a lot of bad gas. And so it’s not necessarily an unhealthy thing. And there’s probably a lot of organic healthy food companies that we could find some sort of partnership with. Just say, ‘Hey, listen, you’re promoting these foods. This is a nice complimentary product to that.’” 

50:07 – “Every time you make that next step in life, you’re always comparing yourself with the people that are above you. You’re not comparing yourself to people that are socioeconomically below you at all, because you’re always just trying to get to that next point. The problem is that it just never ends because there’s just always going to be better-looking people, richer people. You’re just never going to win.” 

52:41 – “It would be to really build up this business as much as I can to be able to have a strong, direct-to-consumer online business, but also to be selling in CVS and to a lot of pharmacies where they are selling anti-gas products. And to be able to get that placement would be a huge success. And then, in five years, it would be great to sell the business, hopefully get acquired and move on to the next thing in life.” 

54:12 – “We were on a radio show out of Saint Louis, Missouri a few weeks ago and it was these big old boys, farmer boys in Missouri, and they wanted to try out our product because they didn’t think it worked. And so they were testing it out and it worked. It was a fantastic segment that we were in. But one of the things that these guys brought up, because a lot of these guys are cattle ranchers, is they were like, ‘This is a great way to solve global warming issues. You should make this underwear for cows because everybody says that the cow farts are contributing to the ozone layer.’ And I was like, ‘wow, that could be an interesting idea.’ All their methane emissions.”

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