Former NBA star Metta World Peace, (once known as Ron Artest) lent some celebrity star power to a Shark Tank pitch by Vietnamese immigrant Danh Tran on Sunday, and helped Tran land an investment for his soft and stretchy, yet formal looking, Butter Cloth dress shirts.

Sunday was NBA night on Shark Tank. Seated among the Sharks was guest Shark Charles Barkley, voted one of 50 greatest players in NBA history. And helping a diminutive Vietnamese clothing designer named Danh Tran pitch his Butter Cloth shirts was Metta World Peace, a retired NBA star who played for the Los Angeles Lakers and the New York Knicks among many other teams. 

Tran was born in Vietnam and worked in his parents' tailor shop where he says he was designing and making his own clothes by the time he was 10. In 1994, he moved to the United States with his family, where he studied fashion design in college and held several design jobs, including designing Barbie doll clothes for Mattel. He was head designer at Affliction Clothing for 10 years, but quit that job to launch Butter Cloth. Tran told the Sharks that he had invested $240,000 of his own money to get Butter Cloth off the ground. "I quit my job, I sold my house and I cashed out my 401(k). I'm all in."

Gary Falkenberg, Tran's partner at Butter Cloth, explained that the pair were seeking a $250,000 investment for a 10 percent stake. "Listen, I always hated wearing a dress shirt," Tran told the Sharks. "They are stiff, they are scratchy. That's why I invented Butter Cloth, the shirt that makes you feel like you are wearing your favorite t-shirt but still look like a full employee." Butter Cloth is made of 100 percent sustainable long-fiber cotton, Falkenberg added. (A secret manufacturing process accounts for the softness and stretchiness.) To tell the Sharks more, he summoned the company's "long fiber in-house scientist," Metta World Peace. "There goes the neighborhood," Mark Cuban quipped as the former player joined them onstage. 

It all started on Facebook.

According to All Shark Tank Products, Butter Cloth shirts launched on Facebook in the summer of 2017, where World Peace came across them and was intrigued. He became an equity partner in the company, although his investment is undisclosed--and in any case, his celebrity status is likely a more valuable contribution than any money he may have put up.

On Shark Tank, World Peace pulled off his white lab coat and dunked the ball, then for good measure lifted Tran into the air so he could dunk as well. Both men's Butter Cloth shirts remained intact through this performance. 

Even so, the Sharks seemed reluctant to bite. Barkley passed, as did Kevin O'Leary and Mark Cuban, who disagreed with the partners' plan to invest in more inventory rather than marketing. Lori Grenier said she had too many apparel investments already to take on a new one. But then Robert Herjavec offered $250,000 for a 25 percent stake (valuing the company at $1 million instead of $2.5 million). "The material's incredible, and the fit looks great," he told Tran, adding: "I know a lot about this space." 

Herjavec also said he was impressed with Tran's story and his commitment to his company, and doubtless that helped seal the deal. Still, it seems clear: If you're trying to line up investment for a completely new kind of fabric--it helps to have a sports celebrity along for the ride.

Published on: Oct 29, 2018
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