Supportive apparel company Stoko blazes trail from the basement of UBC to full-fledged business

The business has developed technology that essentially embeds the comfort of a knee brace into pants.

Credit: Stoko

Stoko’s K1 pants infuse the feeling and effectiveness of a knee brace into activewear

The Vancouver business has developed technology that essentially embeds the comfort of a knee brace into tights

I last talked to Zack Eberwein two-and-a-half years ago. Not too much has changed for me since then, honestly. For him, it might as well have been a decade.

The then-23-year-old was tinkering in the basement of UBC’s Institute for Computing, Information and Cognitive Systems with his two co-founders and a life-size replica of a human’s lower body. Part of UBC’s Hatch incubator at the time, Embrace Orthopaedics was striving to create athletic wear that acted like a knee brace for pros and weekend warriors alike.

Perhaps everything is different except that last part. Eberwein and his team of 16 have since moved into an East Vancouver office, changed their name and, at the start of this month, officially launched a website where consumers can buy their tights. Now called Stoko, the company has rapidly grown its sales and marketing teams in an effort to get the public interested in its pricey ($500 a pop) but perhaps game-changing (the tights are billed as both comfortable and a Class 1 medical device as per the FDA and Health Canada). 

While Eberwein wants to keep Stoko’s financials close to the chest, he did give BCBusiness some details on its presale campaign. “We sold all of our inventory for the first couple months over a few weeks, and now we’re rapidly scaling production to meet demand,” he says. “Very excited about interest in the product and the opportunity to scale faster than expected.”

As the weather turns, Stoko is focusing on trying to market its product to skiers and snowboarders—one of its main ambassadors is former Canadian Olympian skier Justin Dorey—though the pandemic has made that a tougher sell.

“Seasonally, that was a bit of a no-brainer, but with COVID and significant challenges for those activities, we made some adjustments and broadened our target market slightly,” says Geoff Henshaw, vice-president, revenue. “We looked at running and hiking, and are certainly getting significant outreach from major sports in North America—hockey, soccer, basketball—but right now we’re working with the national bodies that oversee ski and snowboard sports.”

Stoko seems primed to deliver on the promise that Eberwein displayed in that UBC basement years ago. The company raised millions in seed financing in October of last year from notable Vancouver investors including Quimby Investments and Boardwalk Ventures.

The long-term goal, Eberwein says, is the creation of a whole new activewear category called supportive apparel where Stoko would an industry leader. “We started with the knee because it makes up the majority of injuries athletes face,” he explains. “But there are many others—ankles, shoulders, elbows—that we believe our technology will be perfectly suited for and that we’ve started development on as well.”

As for the new name? Well, it’s “derived from getting stoked to returning to the activities you love, or stoking a fire within yourself,” Eberwein says. Again, that last part seems to have worked.