Bloomberg Businessweek (North America) - - Etc. -

In the past five years, says mar­ket re­searcher IBISWORLD, menswear has been the fastest-grow­ing prod­uct cat­e­gory sold on­line, out­pac­ing gro­ceries, shoes, and elec­tron­ics. When The­bou­tique@ogilvy, a fash­ion PR agency, sur­veyed adult men in Jan­uary, 53 per­cent de­scribed their style as “ba­sic bro” vs. “prac­ti­cal,” “pro­fes­sional,” or “rugged.” Al­though many guys still af­fect a preppy look, they’re not go­ing to Brooks Brothers to get it. “If you’re try­ing to reach young men,” says Ty Mon­tague, chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer of con­sult­ing firm Co:col­lec­tive, “adopt the tone and man­ner of young men, which is by na­ture ir­rev­er­ent.” The bro­tail­ers have raided Dad’s and Grand­dad’s clos­ets and jet­ti­soned the pre­tense older brands re­lied on. It’s less high-cheek­boned bon vi­vant on a pheas­ant hunt, more dad-bod with a can of Te­cate.

What bro­tail­ers of­fer is more than just a retail ex­pe­ri­ence. “It’s al­most like th­ese brands are cre­at­ing safe spa­ces where dudes can be dudes,” says Heidi Hack­e­mer, founder of mar­ket­ing agency Wolf & Wil­helmine. This isn’t nec­es­sar­ily a pos­i­tive thing. “We’re in this re­ally weird phase of mas­culin­ity, where all the rules are shift­ing,” she says. “Ev­ery­one is talk­ing about women, and Bey­oncé is, like, ‘Go kill it, ladies,’ and Sh­eryl Sand­berg is lean­ing in, and guys don’t re­ally know how to move for­ward. You al­most see this re­gres­sion into a safe space, which is the bro cave. I don’t think any­one has told the guys what they’re sup­posed to do now.”

Chub­bies is happy to make sug­ges­tions to the cit­i­zens of Chub­ster Na­tion. Staffers sort through more than 1,000 pho­tos a day that Chub­bies die-hards sub­mit through e-mail, In­sta­gram, Face­book, and Twit­ter in the hopes that theirs will be re­posted to the com­pany’s so­cial me­dia feeds. The pics pro­vide in­stant prod­uct and mar­ket­ing in­sight. “We’re so em­pow­ered to see what the cus­tomer is do­ing,” says Castillo, who dis­misses the more ivory-tower meth­ods ap­parel mak­ers use to fig­ure out the next big trend. “I don’t need to shop the world to see that. I can see ex­actly what he’s do­ing on my phone to­day.”

The com­pany also main­tains a net­work of more than 300 “Chub­bies Am­bas­sadors,” col­lege stu­dents who pro­mote the brand for free gear. On the am­bas­sador ap­pli­ca­tion (or “chubli­ca­tion” as it were) Chub­bies de­scribes its ideal can­di­dates as “bad*ss shorts afi­ciona­dos in a sea of con­fused cargo and man-capri-wear­ing jabronies.” Re­cently, Chub­bies started mail­ing or­ders with a free set of vin­tage base­ball cards and a note from Ruther­ford, along with his cell phone num­ber. “We were all stand­ing there 10 min­utes be­fore Pre­ston walked down the aisle for his wed­ding,” Castillo says, “and he gets this call, and he an­swers it. He says, ‘Hey, man, I’m about to get mar­ried, so I’m go­ing to need to call you back a lit­tle bit later.’ ”

Busi­ness is good. In 2015, Chub­bies saw a rev­enue gain of 50 per­cent from 2014, and the com­pany says it’s on a sim­i­lar pace this year. There are plans to start mak­ing women’s shorts ( both prod­uct di­rec­tors are women), golfwear, and, pos­si­bly, child sizes. “We’re see­ing a lot more dads among our cus­tomers,” says Chub­bies pub­lic-re­la­tions chief Kit Gar­ton. The stan­dard op­er­at­ing pro­ce­dure is to have as much fun as pos­si­ble, share that fun with cus­tomers, and watch the or­ders for shorts come in. “We’re try­ing to make our friends laugh, bring a lit­tle bit of lev­ity to their day,” Ruther­ford says. It’s not ex­actly hir­ing Bruce We­ber to pho­to­graph Ar­gen­tine polo star Na­cho Figueras for a Ralph Lau­ren ad. At Chub­bies, the big con­cern at an af­ter­noon meet­ing is how many Nerf guns they’ll need for an Amer­i­can Gladiators trib­ute video they’re plan­ning. <BW>

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