Bamboo in the water: This International Business Management student clinched a $24 thousand investment on Shark Tank Mexico
By Zach Siddiqui, Communications Coordinator
To Erick Rodriguez, modern fashion requires creating with care. When clothing lines fail to combine aesthetics and durability, they don’t just produce disappointing products – they feed into the global waste crisis. The world produces millions of tons of textile waste per year, a fact not helped by the widespread uptick of fast fashion.
“If your goal is just selling a lot of clothes, that’s not sustainable,” says Erick. “There are already a lot of clothes in the world. Why would I want to make more garbage?”
Erick is a student in Douglas College’s Post-Degree Diploma in International Business Management. Before that, though, he helped found Elementa, a sustainable clothing line that markets all over Mexico. He first enrolled in Douglas to gain the know-how he needed to expand across the world – and now he’s on track to do exactly that in 2022.
Erick’s ongoing Douglas education is part of what enabled his most recent success: an investment deal earned on the infamous Shark Tank Mexico. Erick and his business partner, his sister Mishe, pitched their line of bamboo apparel to the “Sharks,” the show’s five wealthy investors. They received a whopping nine investment offers, ultimately securing a total of $23,800 CAD.
We caught up with Erick about his company’s journey, his studies at Douglas and his future plans.
“The small entrepreneur I was starting to be”
In 2015, Erick earned a bachelor’s degree in international business from the Tecnológico de Monterrey in Mexico, and he and Mishe founded Elementa two years later. Despite the general administrative skills his degree gave him, what he needed was expertise in import-export.
“Douglas College’s program really made sense to me. We already had a product in Mexico, but I was itching to move it into Canada,” said Erick, who had spent a year attending high school in Squamish, B.C. “And I wanted to make it happen myself, as the small entrepreneur I was starting to be. Coming to Douglas wouldn’t just teach me the knowledge I needed – it would let me immerse myself once again in the culture and market here.”
In two semesters in Douglas’s PDD program, Erick’s learned even more than he’d predicted. Whenever he studies a new concept in class, he researches it further in his spare time so he can incorporate the knowledge into his business dealings at Elementa.
“Studying here has surpassed my expectations, a hundred percent.”
“Made to survive in nature, in rain and snow”
By 2020, Erick and Mishe were attracting offers for Elementa to feature in magazines, such as the Latin American editions of ELLE and GQ. This was especially prompted by their newfound selling point: ultra-soft bamboo fabric, a textile seldom seen in the Mexican market.
“To enhance our product, I started importing fabrics from around the world. I thought bringing in a new, untapped fabric and educating our customers about it would accelerate our growth,” he explains.
“I remember being starstruck over merino wool and testing countless polyesters. But when I came across the bamboo fabric, I knew it was our breakthrough.”
Eventually, Erick’s family suggested that demand might be even higher in Canada, where fashions are influenced by a chillier, stormier climate. For Erick, who cherished the time he’d spent in Squamish, the idea immediately took root.
“Clothes in Canada are made to survive in nature, in rain and snow,” says Erick. “So fabrics are very important to the designs, and people are more likely to understand which fabrics they need.”
“Like my baby was on the line”
Getting the Shark Tank call stirred up a whirlwind of preparation for Erick and Mishe.
“A producer found our digital advertising and called us. They said, ‘We love your product. We’d love to have you,’” Erick says. “I was hesitant at first. But if we were going to do it, we knew we had to be outstanding.”
The pair threw themselves into researching the five Sharks and developing the right pitch. Throughout the process, Erick was grateful for his Douglas professors’ support – particularly from his Introductory Marketing instructor, Matthew Larson.
“I wasn’t telling anyone at first,” he says. “But I had an exam the day I was filming, so I texted him, ‘I’m not usually like this, I’ll never try to escape a test! But I have to record for Shark Tank.’ After that, he gave me public speaking tips, video resources, feedback – I appreciated it so much.”
Watching Erick’s Shark Tank pitch was a “truly unique” experience for Matthew, one which only reaffirmed his confidence in Erick’s talent.
“At Douglas, faculty strive to support our students’ endeavours and be involved in what they love to do,” says Matthew. “Erick did something he was great at and passionate about: He built a company and brought his vision to life. He’ll be a great entrepreneur and marketer.”
The pressure spiked, however, when Mishe tested positive for COVID-19 a week before filming. In the end, Erick pitched the Sharks alone.
“It was make-or-break,” he says. “Let yourself get destroyed on camera, and it takes a toll on your business. You become a joke. So it was like my baby was on the line, you know? No margin of error.”
“The birth of the brand”
Ultimately, Erick secured an approximately $375,000 MXN investment ($23,800 CAD) from one of the Sharks, Rodrigo Herrera, in exchange for a 20 percent stake in the company. Featuring on Shark Tank felt like their brand’s second birth, Erick says.
“Lots of eyes are now looking at us, expecting big things,” he says. “With that audience comes the potential for better quality, more products and going international.”
Even as his career takes off, Erick hasn’t abandoned his studies. He’s on track to complete his International Business Management program this fall, and he’ll be starting his Post-Degree Diploma in Marketing next year. He plans to balance his studies with beginning his first exports to the Canadian market, with the intent to start marketing to the U.S. as well.
“People have asked me why I love studying so much,” he says with a laugh. “The truth is, I need to have the knowledge in order to perform.
“Without those tools, I don’t feel like I can create.”