At first glance, Franziska Mesche is the most unlikely person to be the founder of sustainable athletic apparel startup Tripulse.
Most of her career has been in the tech space. She knew nothing of the apparel business or about fabrics when she began this venture.
But as you talk to Franziska, you realize that the intensely curious, open, nature loving, climate conscious world traveler and culture-absorber is exactly the person you would want to drive an athletic apparel company that is looking to take on the status quo.
GSB spoke with the Berlin native turned Stockholm resident about her circuitous journey and how it led to Tripulse, how sports pushed her in this direction, and where she sees the company going from here.
GreenSportsBlog: Your journey to sports eco-preneurship is fascinating. Let’s start your beginnings in Berlin. How did sports fit in to your life growing up and what did they mean to you?
Franziska Mesche: You know, Lew, from as far back as I could remember, I always played sports. It has played a huge role in my life. My parents encouraged me to play sports and so I tried many. I was tall so basketball and volleyball were on the list. Running and swimming also.
No matter the sport, I was drawn to the discipline, to always working to get better, to deal with the challenges. Truth is, sports made me feel good and helped me deal with whatever negativity I had in my head about all sorts of issues. While I never was an elite athlete by any means, sports has always been core to my DNA.
GSB: So, you were an athletic, sports loving girl growing up in Germany but not at the elite level. How did you channel the benefits from your love of sports into something else? And what was that?
Franziska: Well, a big change took place when I went to Carmel, Indiana in the United States as an exchange student when I was 16. It was a very different culture, way of being, and lifestyle than I was used to. I LOVED IT! And that led to the discovery that I had a love for different cultures and that I wanted an international path. So, I ended up exploring new countries and languages and I ended up studying international business at a university in Sweden.
GSB: What was that like?
Franziska: I loved it there! It was beautiful; nature was everywhere. I found that I needed to be in nature – it makes me feel good and grounds me. From there I went to Dublin, Ireland…
GSB: …Another beautiful place that is close to nature…
GSB: In what capacity?
Franziska: I was selling software, which was funny at the beginning because I knew nothing about it, and it was the last thing I planned to do!
Franziska Mesche of Tripulse (Photo credit: Franziska Mesche)
GSB: Really? So, how did you survive and thrive?
Franziska: It was a great experience, really. Because my feet were thrown into the fire right away. I learned about resilience, dealing with rejection, how to be vulnerable. Eventually I moved back to Sweden as a management consultant with Accenture. I enjoyed it, got to travel a lot, but the hours were very, very long.
As time went on, I felt something was missing, that I wasn’t living my life, what I should be doing and that gave me meaning. I almost hit a wall. So, in 2019 I stopped. I needed a break, needed to get away from what I knew, what was safe.
GSB: How did that manifest itself?
Franziska: I left Sweden and backpacked through Asia — specifically China, Hong Kong, and South Korea — by myself for six months, living with locals and volunteering.
GSB: What an adventure!
Franziska: On so many levels! My brain was on fire and that allowed me to come to two crucial insights…
GSB: Which were?
Franziska: #1 was that I rediscovered my entrepreneurial sense, that I wanted to create my own business combining my passions and strengths, and #2, was that I had to work on things that make a positive impact and specifically those things needed to be climate- and environment-focused.
GSB: Where did that need for your work to be centered on climate and the environment come from?
Franziska: I always had an appreciation and love of the environment from when I was a young girl and that only grew as I got older and traveled to places where the environment was so beautiful and also where it was becoming endangered due to human-caused climate change. It became clear to me on that trip that if I could help to reverse the impacts of climate change via my work life, it would be the most impactful thing I could do. And that realization gave me incredible energy! But I didn’t know at that time what aspect of climate change to work on at all.
GSB: So, what did you do to change that?
Franziska: Well, I knew I needed guidance and so, I started taking courses remotely on social entrepreneurship, circular economy, and more. I had so many ideas from these courses, I needed to prioritize what where the most viable ones. So, I put a spreadsheet together, with the various ideas and then rated them on people and planet impact, my ability to put the idea into action, my ability to make a living from it, and more.
Then, at one point I decided to look at myself…literally. I looked at the clothes on my body, in particular my workout clothes, and I realized a couple of things: I didn’t feel good in them, they made me itch, and I developed rashes. That led me to research microplastics, polyester, and the tremendous environmental and health problems that resulted from their use.
Funny thing was, I actually wasn’t into fashion at all!
GSB: How did it become your thing?
Franziska: What became my thing was creating clothing that 1) helps people feel good in their clothing while they are playing sports or are being active, 2) enhances their health and that of the planet, and 3) looks good.
Through my research, I couldn’t find a sustainable athletic apparel maker who was taking toxins and microplastics into account in their manufacturing processes. And I found that apparel more broadly is one of the nastiest industries in the world. But I decided that was exactly why I needed to get into it.
I flew back to Sweden in fall 2019 with no contacts in the industry, no knowledge of materials, fabrics, or the industry more broadly. NOTHING!
So, I began to call suppliers cold, asking them all sorts of questions, especially about fabrics that are not made from plastics and other synthetics. I went to many materials fairs in Europe to learn about the innovations taking place in sustainable sports performance fabrics.
GSB: What did you learn?
Franziska: Initially I got a lot of nos. They’d tell me, ‘What you want to do is not possible!’ and that ‘the big players have the market to themselves, they’re protected’.
Hey, I knew my criteria — no plastics, no synthetics — would make things harder. But I was used to rejection from my sales career. And I just thought that this cannot be impossible.
That just meant I’d have to look harder, look smarter. I tightened my focus on the fairs I would attend — only the most innovative, craziest, niche-iest events would make it on to my calendar.
Oh yeah, it was during that late 2019-early 2020 time period that I came up with the Tripulse name for my company.
GSB: Where did the name come from?
Franziska: Well, pulse is the energy of life and tri comes from the notion that our company will be built upon three core values:
- Sports and fitness, as we believe that fitness, both physical and mental, is the foundation for a good and healthy life.
- Sustainability, both from environmental and ethical perspectives
- Community, in that we will bring people together by providing them with athletic performance clothing that is good for them, for the people who work in the industry and for the environment.
Overall, we want to create a strong community of changemakers who work towards making sports a driver for positive change.
GSB: I like it! How did things go with the niche-ier fairs?
Franziska: It was at about this time, early 2020, that COVID hit in Europe. While I was able to visit a good number of fairs in person, most fairs were cancelled or went online. I attended nearly 20 of these, made tons of phone calls, sent countless emails. Ultimately, I ended up discovering the Austrian wood fiber company Lenzing at an in-person fair in Munich before the pandemic hit.
They make wood-based fibers including TENCEL™ lyocell which comes from sustainably managed forests and is wood that doesn’t get used by the furniture industry and instead “finds a life” in the production of botanic fibers.
There are no toxins in it whatsoever and more than 99 percent of the resources used to make the fibers — i.e., water and a solvent — are re-used over and over. They had been around for a while and had become more circular as time went on. Lenzing’s TENCEL™ lyocell checked lots of boxes.
The only catch was that I needed to find someone who could take the material and transform it into articles of clothing.
GSB: I’m guessing that meant more research for you…
Franziska: Exactly. Eventually I found a great sustainable product development partner in Berlin who could help me with just that.
They specialize in developing clothing that are sustainable at their core, and they knew the materials with which I wanted to work. So, they became our partner, both on supporting the design side and on making prototypes. Design-wise, we had talked to athletes and end users to find out what they needed in terms of fit, feel and function. The key thing was that the apparel needed to be versatile so that it could be worn for a variety of training forms, such as running, gym workouts, team sports or yoga.
Since responsible consumption is our ethos, our first collection was meant to be so multifunctional that people only needed to invest in a few pieces to complete their activewear wardrobe instead of having to have ten variants for one style.
It took us a few months to get to the first prototypes. We tested them — leggings, tank tops and t-shirts, with female athletes and end users That led to some tweaks, more iterations, and finally we were ready to launch. The next question was how we launch. I didn’t have the cash to fund it all by myself — in fact, I had taken another IT sales part time job at the same time to make sure I had an income while I was building up the business.
Franziska Mesche developing the first Tripulse activewear collection with her team in Berlin – it took many iterations to make the fit perfect (Photo credit: Tripulse)
GSB: So, how did you end up launching Tripulse?
Franziska: We decided to do a Kickstarter crowd-funding campaign in June 2020. It was just in the beginning of the pandemic, which slowed us down a lot, but we were able to raise $US40,000, mostly from folks in the EU and US. We were over the moon that we overachieved on our funding goal – which was a great sign that our products were in demand.
Unfortunately, COVID-inspired supply chain problems slowed fulfillment of these orders. We were blessed with patient backers who cheered us on along the way! Their patience was rewarded as we were finally able to fulfill orders and launched our tripulse.co web shop in May 2021. Our fulfillment center was living room, with my mom being the key packer — she is a real pro! We had a party online, got some buzz, converted new people to Tripulse, and I learned tons about e-commerce and building a sustainable business.
Franziska Mesche at the Tripulse Fulfillment Center, aka her living room (Photo credit: Franziska Mesche)
GSB: What did you learn?
Franziska: We’d need another interview to go deep on that question.
Franziska: Seriously, I learned that making great products and getting positive word-of-mouth and customer reviews is great to start and that allowed us to grow organically.
I learned that we needed to experiment on the marketing side to find the approaches that weren’t prohibitively expensive.
I learned that finding niche influencers could be helpful, so we ended up working with trainers, environmentalists, high intensity training athletes, and more.
GSB: What about yoga?
Franziska: While our activewear is perfectly suitable for yoga and we have many yogis happily using our leggings and shirts, I felt that the uniqueness of our products lies in the fact that they are perfectly suitable for higher intensity workouts that make people sweat and where performance is very important.
Fitness and sustainability bloggers played important roles for us in getting the word out. And we sold our products on ethical online marketplaces. And so, we thought we had found our footing.
Then, in late 2021 into 2022, inflation skyrocketed in Europe, in particular energy prices. That accelerated with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. Basically, our costs doubled, and we could not double our prices. This was certainly challenging.
And yet, we survived by being nimble and agile on the one hand, and by planning better on the other. We learned to lock in materials purchases sooner, both as a hedge against future inflation and to deal with supply chain delays.
It wasn’t and isn’t easy by any means, but that challenge actually turns me on. As a sports enthusiast and someone who aims to constantly learn and improve, I know that if I’m not “suffering”, I’m not trying hard enough.
So, in 2022, I quit the IT job and decided to give Tripulse my undivided attention. We’ve been selling more online, have done better with the supply chain. Since launch we’ve added shorts, new styles of leggings, and will soon launch our first sports bras and men’s shirts.
Now, we have to figure out how to best grow and scale to the next level and to create massive impact for people and the planet.
GSB: How do you think Tripulse will scale?
Franziska: We’re looking at two approaches — 1. Taking on strategic partners — such as from the athletic and or influencer world who help us with brand awareness and marketing and — who share our values, and 2. Finding strategic investors who can support us with smart capital. We have now opened a funding round, already have some committed angel investors on board and are still looking for a few more to close this round.
Swedish floorball world champion and Tripulse ambassador Mathilda Ö. Visén working out in Tripulse sports bra and leggings (Photo credit: Tripulse)
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