Scent-sational Success for Alumna's Invention

The original version of this story, written by Kristin Bundy, appeared in Pitt Magazine's summer 2017 issue.

For weeks, it had been scrub, wash, repeat. If this stain remover didn't work, Jess Edelstein (A&S '11) thought, nothing would. As she pulled her favorite blouse from the wash, she saw it — the yellow underarm sweat stain remained. That’s it! She threw the shirt in the trash and headed to the computer, determined to find a solution to her problem.

cover image of the editionThat intractable stain would soon put Edelstein on a prosperous entrepreneurial quest. At the time, the Pitt grad, who earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology, was working as a Realtor. She never imagined where that Google search would take her.

After the blouse incident, Edelstein was drawn to the science behind the stain. She found that a chemical reaction among sweat, laundry detergent and aluminum — the latter of which is in most conventional deodorants — causes yellow stains to appear in clothing. She tried various aluminum-free, nonantiperspirant deodorants, but they made her smell, sweat or itch.

So she decided to whip up her own product. “It was a lot of trial-and-error in the kitchen,” Edelstein said. But she found the right recipe — one that keeps users dry and stain-free through a mix of activated charcoal and essential oils. Sarah Ribner, her lifelong friend and a business school student, quickly signed on as a business partner.

The two women worked together, naming their deodorant PiperWai and selling it in a number of stores. Then, in late 2015, they appeared on the ABC television show "Shark Tank," where entrepreneurs pitch their business ideas to venture capitalists. The investors were impressed, and one pledged $50,000 to help the company grow.

Since appearing on the show, Edelstein said profits have grown immensely. “We had $110,000 in gross revenue when we pitched to the Sharks, and now we’re up to $6 million.” Today, PiperWai can be found in large retail shops, including GNC and Whole Foods.

“Hard work pays off,” said Edelstein, whose passion project transformed into the sweet smell of success.

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