Schenectady native scores big on Shark Tank

'That was just a match made in heaven'
James Brooks, left, and business partner Nathan Coleman pitch The Elephant Pants line to investors on "Shark Tank."
James Brooks, left, and business partner Nathan Coleman pitch The Elephant Pants line to investors on "Shark Tank."

Categories: Business, News, Schenectady County

Good news for elephants: Schenectady High School grad James Brooks’ pitch on ABC’s “Shark Tank” secured a $500,000 investment from FUBU clothing line founder Daymond John. 

The Elephant Pants, a Brooklyn-based company, sells pants, shirts, kimonos and other clothing items printed with elephant-themed patterns and designs. Ten percent of the company’s net profits are donated to the International Elephant Foundation, which seeks to protect the animals from threats such as poachers and disease. 

In exchange for the $500,000 investment, Brooks and his partner, Nathan Coleman, gave up a 17.5 percent stake in the company to John. The duo’s “Shark Tank” appearance was filmed in September and aired Friday night at 9 p.m. on WTEN, News 10, in the Capital Region. 

Brooks said Saturday morning that he couldn’t talk about the episode between when it was filmed and when it aired, but being on the show and landing the deal was surreal.

“After walking out of there, you’re so nervous being in front of the panel of five investors. They’re very intimidating, and your nerves are buzzing,” said Brooks. “I didn’t even notice the cameras, and then afterwards, once you realize you nailed the pitch and did a fantastic job, yeah, you’re on cloud nine.” 

[Elephant in the room: Schenectady native in Shark Tank pitch]

Brooks and Coleman held a viewing party in Brooklyn Friday night, and Brooks said as soon as the deal with John was made, his phone began ringing and getting texts from friends and family.

“My sister last night, I basically just handed her my phone and was like, ‘I can’t deal with this right now,’ and she played personal assistant for a little while,” he said with a laugh.

Brooks, 29, said even if they hadn’t landed an investment deal on “Shark Tank,” just appearing on the show would be good for the company. 

“It’s such big exposure, and there’s such a strong community built around ‘Shark Tank’ and people that follow ‘Shark Tank’ and ‘Shark Tank’ companies,” said Brooks.

That exposure was immediately evident. As the episode was rolling, traffic and sales on The Elephant Pants website spiked significantly, said Brooks, with anywhere from 12,000 to 15,000 people on the site at any given time during the episode.

Brooks said partnering with John made a lot of sense, given his background. 

“We were really excited to land a deal with [John] because he fits so well with our industry; he’s one of the captains of the clothing industry,” said Brooks, who graduated from Schenectady High School in 2005 and went on to obtain a marketing degree from the Rochester Institute of Technology, where he met Coleman, who is also 29. 

There was also a bit of serendipity in landing the deal with John. 

“We learned during the pitch that he’s a really big elephant lover and fan of elephants,” said Brooks. “That was just a match made in heaven. That came out during the show that he really sympathizes and supported our cause, and he also liked the product, so it was just a really good fit.” 

Brooks said he and Coleman prepared and rehearsed extensively for their appearance on the show.

“So that really helped when it came to being able to answer their questions quickly and sound somewhat intelligent,” he said. 

In the short-term, Brooks said, the company is working to handle the increase in orders and customer service requests that came in after the TV appearance. Longer-term, Brooks has plans to get involved in larger distribution projects with John and his team and is looking to open international distribution centers abroad. 

The company’s clothing is made in Thailand, where Brooks and Coleman conceived the idea on a trip in 2013. There, they discovered the comfortable and trendy elephant-print, harem-style pants, but they knew they wanted to do more than just sell a product. The duo learned more about the plight of elephants and the various threats to the species that are found around the world. 

“It’s great that we can donate money through our customers’ purchases, and we also empower our customers by allowing them to donate through a purchase,” said Brooks. “We basically make donating easy.” 

The company also provides jobs in Thailand, where their workers are paid twice the minimum wage, provided with health care and are given a green environment in which to work, according to The Elephant Pants website

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