Last month, a British company called Shreddies went viral online for its new range of pajamas and jeans — but it wasn’t the style of the pants that was so shareable. It was the fact that they are designed to stop the smell of farts.
The idea might sound like a joke, but the products are very real. Shreddies isn’t the only company making clothing that claims to filter the smell of flatulence — and most companies like it are actually trying to solve an embarrassing health issue.
Shreddies was started eight years ago by founder Paul O’Leary who had suffered from a digestive problem himself. After England banned smoking in public places, it became a lot harder for him to cover up the smell of his gas, a spokesperson for Shreddies told me, and he was experiencing a lot of pain and discomfort from holding it in.
O’Leary teamed up with a fashion designer friend and the pair spent 18 months developing a fabric and carbon panel that would filter out the smell of gas. Suddenly, O’Leary had a product that could help thousands of people suffering from digestive issues like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), Crohn’s disease, and ulcerative colitis.
Though O’Leary and his team believed their product was a good one, Shreddies hadn’t quite broken into the public Zeitgeist. It wasn’t until 2013 during a photo shoot that a decision was made that would change the company’s trajectory — the infamous picture of a male model kissing a female model’s butt.
“That was Paul’s idea,” explained Shreddies spokesperson Richard Woolley to Tech Insider. “You can see the genuine laughter and the models’ facial expressions of what are we doing, but this is actually quite funny. He ended up catching the perfect shot at the perfect time.”
After releasing the image, Shreddies was suddenly everywhere as international news outlets picked up the story thanks to the accompanying press images. The pictures were silly, the company idea seemed goofy, but models in underwear promoting a company that claims to stop smelly farts turned out to be massively shareable.
Within a day, the Shreddies website went from 700 unique visitors to over 16,000, according to Woolley. Since that viral campaign in 2013, the company has sold over 30,000 pairs of its underwear made at the Cotes Mill in Leicestershire, UK, all at around $US40 a pair (£24).
So when the company introduced a new line of pajamas and jeans this year, Woolley said the team was ready for another wave of news outlets to pick up the story. They weren’t disappointed — The Huffington Post, Cosmopolitan, GQ, and more all ran headlines about the new fart-concealing jeans and pajama bottoms retailing at roughly $US160 (£100) and $US120 (£75), respectively.
And while Shreddies may seem unique, the company is not alone in the world of flatulence-filtration. There are actually a few other companies that aim to stop the smell of gas, as well — Flat-D, which sells carbon-filter pads, and Under-Tec, a husband-and-wife duo based out of Pueblo, Colorado who have been in the business since early 2001.
“I was first issued a patent on January 14, 1997,” explained Buck Weimer of Under-Tec about the couple’s Under-Ease line of underwear ($US30 a pop). “We were raising kids and working and everything so it took us some time to get it manufactured. We started going public and selling in February of 2001. We were the first ones, we were the original ones.”
Long before Shreddies, Buck knew there had to be a market for an undergarment that could filter out the smell of flatulence since his wife Arlene had Crohn’s disease, an inflammatory bowel syndrome.
“We all recall one night — I think it was after one rather large Thanksgiving meal, if I remember correctly — where she gassed up pretty bad,” Weimer told Tech Insider. “I thought I gotta do something about this — divorce is not an option, of course.”
His wife was a psychotherapist working one-on-one with patients in a local hospital, so her condition could be at times quite embarrassing. She even joined a support group for IBS in Pueblo for people whose lives were affected by inflammatory bowels.
“My wife was the perfect candidate to help us out with testing the products,” Buck told TI. “Eventually, we hit on something.”
Once Weimer had developed a working pair of the Under-Ease underwear with three carbon panels, everyone in Arlene’s support group wanted their own.
“Compared to Shreddies, we’re a relatively small company,” Buck Weimer told TI, adding that the couple had been on the entrepreneur TV show “Shark Tank” to get support for their product and that while there had been interest, the season 1 judges ultimately decided not to invest.
But despite that setback, Buck told TI that Under-Tec has a loyal customer base as well as steady traffic around the holidays.
“A lot of people think it’s a joke, like a gag gift,” he laughed. “People get them for their bosses or something like that. We’re fine with that.”
Ultimately, the Weimers didn’t seem too concerned about their competition across the pond when I spoke to them. Buck said both he and Arlene are close to retiring age, and though they welcome financial backers and are constantly working to improve their underwear, for them, flatulence-neutralising underwear is all about helping people.
“Our tag line is ‘Wear Them For The Ones You Love,'” he told Tech Insider. “People laugh and they joke, but there’s still a large segment of the population who have this issue. We just want to expand public awareness.”
As for Shreddies, after launching its line of jeans and pajamas this year, Woolley said down the road, the company will most likely consider trousers, suits, and even underwear for dogs.
“We are in the very early baby steps of looking at flatulence underwear for dogs,” he told TI. “I expect if we manage to get it perfect, I think that would go viral and take off.”
Business Insider Emails & Alerts
Site highlights each day to your inbox.