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What you need to know for 07/24/2017

Elephant in the room: Schenectady native in Shark Tank pitch

Elephant in the room: Schenectady native in Shark Tank pitch

2005 grad hopeful appearance will help company
Elephant in the room: Schenectady native in Shark Tank pitch
James Brooks, left, and business partner Nathan Coleman pitch The Elephant Pants line to investors on "Shark Tank."
Photographer: Disney/ABC

James Brooks is a team player.

That's one reason the Schenectady native will wear a kimono -- the wide-sleeved robe popular in Japan -- on Friday's episode of "Shark Tank."

Another reason is a pitch for The Elephant Pants, the company Brooks and college pal Nathan Coleman launched in 2014. The guys are hoping investors who drive the ABC reality television show will support their company, which manufactures harem-style casual pants with Thailand-inspired designs. Kimonos, shirts and yoga pants are other garments in the product line.

People who know the show, which airs at 9 p.m. on WTEN, News 10, in the Capital Region, know aspiring entrepreneurs make business presentations to a panel of "shark" investors. The money men and women then decide whether or not to invest in the projects. The panel includes Mark Cuban, Barbara Corcoran, Daymond John and Kevin O'Leary.

The 29-year-old Brooks, who graduated from Schenectady High School in 2005, can't reveal what happens in the episode. But he believes showing up on "Shark Tank," even in a kimono, will help the company.

"Just appearing on the show and going in front of this many people, Friday night, prime time TV with 10 million viewers, that's huge," Brooks said in a telephone interview from Brooklyn, home base for the company. "Already, with just the anticipation and the build-up to the show and a lot of the press we've gotten already, we're starting to feel a lot more activity on the web site and sales are even ticking up already. As soon as that airing hits, we're expecting a flood of people to the web site and we'll probably start stocking out rather quickly and have to catch up over the next few weeks."

Brooks and Coleman were actually hoping to go into the "Tank" earlier. They filled out an application to pitch their product line on the show in 2015. They made it through a few rounds, were told they were not a good fit for the season and were called back in 2016. The "Elephant" episode was taped in September.

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Nathan Coleman, who has partnered with Schenectady's James Brooks in The Elephant Pants business venture, meets the "sharks" in ABC's "Shark Tank." Credit: Disney/ABC

Brooks and Ossining native Coleman met as freshmen at the Rochester Institute of Technology in 2005, and became friends. Both graduated from RIT's Saunders College of Business in 2009, Brooks with a degree in international business and Coleman with a degree in marketing.

The business thunderbolt hit them in 2013, during a trip to Thailand. They discovered art that people could wear: the harem-style pants with Thai designs were comfortable, kind of trendy and were perfect fits for any body type. Brooks and Coleman brought some of the pants home with them, and friends and family loved them.

By this time, Brooks and Coleman had already become internet merchants with a men's accessories company.

"We had some experience in the e-commerce world and we knew we wanted to get into another product because what we were doing with our first business really wasn't anything that can support an entrepreneur or the lifestyle that it takes to live here in New York City," Brooks said.

They believed in Thailand pants, and believed in Thailand. They also decided to give their company a mission, and learned more and more about the plight of the elephant.

In Southeast Asia, Brooks said, elephants labor in logging camps and for tourism ventures. In Africa, there have been poaching problems. The company name reflects the guys' longtime interest in elephants, and they donate 10 percent of net proceeds to charitable organizations dedicated to the protection and welfare of the animals.

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Schenectady's James Brooks smiles with workers from his The Elephant Pants factory in Thailand in April 2016. The company's products are manufactured in Thailand. Workers held a welcoming ceremony when a new production facility opened, and brought plenty of flowers. Credit: Courtesy Brooks.

While Brooks and Coleman will swim with the sharks on Friday, they are not really small fish. In 2015, The Elephant Pants' first full year of business, the entrepreneurs sold $3.7 million in clothing. In 2016, the sales number rose to $4.5 million.

"This year, with 'Shark Tank' and all the expected growth out of that, projections are showing close to $13 million," Brooks said. "That's big growth."

Brooks knows the future of his business owes a small nod to the past. Harem-style pants have been hot stuff before -- rap and dance master MC Hammer wore them during his glory days in the early 1990s. Fashion is cyclical, and what was hip fashion 25 years ago can become cool once again.

"I'll give you a little spoiler," Brooks said. "On the episode, you might see a tribute to MC Hammer."

The Elephant Pants has also received a boost from current fashions. Many men, women, teens and kids have flannel casual pants in their dresser drawers, pants that are quick slip-ons after work or during weekends -- especially during the cold weather months.

Company products are manufactured in Thailand, in a factory staffed by 150 people. A husband-and-wife team run the factory, Brooks said, and the husband is from Canada.

"Right off the bat, the quality was very good, communication was very easy and we just started making a lot of progress," Brooks said. "They've grown hand-in-hand with us, from about 10 people to 150. We have about a dozen people down here in Brooklyn."

The Elephants Pants' harem pants cost $24. A kimono goes for $30 and yoga pants are $28. In Schenectady, company products are available at Yoga Bliss on the Boulevard on Erie Boulevard in Schenectady and the Artique stores on Crescent Road in Clifton Park and in Colonie Center.

Brooks rowed on the Schenectady High School crew team and also played the trumpet during his teen years. He's still on the water. As a U.S. Coast Guard-licensed master captain, he runs charter boats in New York City during the summer.

Brooks has heard from bunches of friends as his appearance on national TV approaches. Mom and dad -- Joan and Thomas Brooks -- live on Wendell Avenue in the GE Realty Plot.

"I came from an entrepreneurial background," Brooks said. "My dad is the president of Harbrook, which is located in Albany. It's a company my grandfather started in 1955. They sell fine windows and doors."

The door will be open at The Elephant Pants Friday night.

"We've got probably 75 to 100 people showing up here," Brooks said. "We're going to have the episode airing. I've got a friend who owns a bar who's bringing me a keg. It's going to be a good time."

Kimonos are not required ... but wearing one could mean automatic admission.

"You've got to rep it, you know what I mean?" Brooks said.

Reach Gazette reporter Jeff Wilkin at 395-3124 or at wilkin@dailygazette.com or@jeffwilkin1 on Twitter. His blog can be found here.

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