DSC Member: Alex Wang, (Wet)suited and Booted

Feature

Wetsuits aren’t that different from sharks—both can cost you an arm and a leg. Actually, that bit about sharks is rarely true. But for wetsuits it is, at least metaphorically speaking. Which is precisely what led Alex Wang and Andrew Parks to found Carapace Wetsuits.

Fed up with the exorbitant prices and less-than-perfect fit of mass-produced wetsuits, Alex decided to swing in the opposite direction by starting a company that would design each wetsuit to order to the purchaser’s exact measurements, while keeping costs down by going direct to their Japanese supplier for high-quality neoprene.

The result is a wetsuit that fits great and provides the warmth and flexibility of top-of-the-line neoprene without costing you next month’s rent. Now all you need to worry about are the sharks.

On starting out as a mini-mogul: “As a kid I started a variety of kid ventures to fund my hobbies. I did it all—from Ebay stores, to a belt business, to door-to-door chicken sandwich sales. But it wasn’t until after college that I understood what it actually means to start a company. I read a lot of books and consumed a lot of content on startups. Eventually got tired of just reading about it and made the leap.”

On learning his way into the business: “After graduating UC Berkeley in 2010 I jumped into commercial real estate, and after a few years of success doing that, I transitioned to international trade and supply chain management. Both experiences were a perfect lead into running Carapace. Real estate taught me how to pitch and negotiate while international trade deepened my understanding of sourcing—two very important pieces to our startup equation.”

On silver linings leading to big ideas: “The idea for Carapace was the result of having a really terrible first wetsuit. I remember one time walking 30 minutes to a break only to realize that the zipper of my suit had broke. I didn’t surf that day, and it was firing. Needless to say, I was pissed. Although I didn’t approach Andrew, my business partner, with the idea to start the business until almost a decade later, if it wasn’t for that zipper, we might never had started the company.”

On what makes a good wetsuit: “Without the right fit, nothing else matters. It’s interesting to note that about 99% of wetsuits are manufactured by one factory. Choice is essentially an illusion. You’re getting the same materials and construction and the only thing different is the pattern work and therefore, the fit. Make sure you try on a bunch of different brands and sizes to find the best fit.”

On innovation being what sets Carapace apart: “We focus exclusively on delivering a custom-fit premium wetsuit at a fraction of the price of traditional custom-fit wetsuits. No one in the world is currently doing this.”

On Carapace being the good kind of cheap: “First, we have a proprietary technology that allows us to create digital printouts of everyone’s patterns (traditionally done through chalk and stencils) which takes seconds versus hours. Second, we go direct to consumer by selling exclusively online, instead of through traditional distribution. Retailers have to, for the most part, markup their products almost double. If we sold through shops our wetsuits would be almost twice the price.”

On what’s next: “I’m personally excited about multiple co-marketing partnerships with some larger action sports brands and our entire product launches which will include some summer wetsuits and a full women’s line.”

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