Fash­ion­able pants from a fash­ion­able startup

How CEO of Bono­bos helped shifted the way men buy clothes

The Chatham Daily News - - LIFE -

NEW YORK — Andy Dunn didn’t start out with an in­ter­est in fash­ion. But he ended up co-found­ing an on­line menswear com­pany that tar­gets cus­tomers like him: male shop­pers who want a wardrobe of nice-fit­ting clothes but need help.

The com­pany called Bono­bos started out in 2007 with a line of men’s pants — a curved waist band with a flat­ter­ing fit. They were dif­fer­ent from what was out there and were de­signed by his good friend and now busi­ness part­ner Brian Spaly.

Bono­bos now has ex­panded into an ar­ray of other prod­ucts in­clud­ing shirts, ties, belts and jack­ets. It’s also open­ing showrooms called Guideshops, where cus­tomers try on the clothes with the help of stylists. But there’s no in­ven­tory so cus­tomers or­der on­line at the store and have their clothes de­liv­ered to their homes or of­fice a few days later.

It now op­er­ates more than 30 stores scat­tered around such key cities as Chicago, New York and At­lanta. It plans a to­tal of 100 stores by 2020.

Dunn spoke about the first mo­ment when he fell in love with a pair of pants de­signed by Spaly and what’s he learned.

Q You weren’t in­ter­ested in fash­ion grow­ing up, cor­rect?

A I’m kind of the least likely per­son that you could imag­ine to be a CEO of a fash­ion com­pany, and yet at the same time I think it’s al­most per­fect, be­cause Bono­bos is re­ally built to make it eas­ier for guys to get great clothes, and so, in a way I feel like it’s that bad hair com­mer­cial. Not only am I the founder, but I’m also a cus­tomer. We built the brand not only for guys who have great fash­ion sense, but for guys who need a lit­tle bit of help. Ev­ery­thing from our cus­tomer ser­vice nin­jas to our Guideshops is built around the idea that it’s not al­ways easy for men to buy clothes. Q What op­por­tu­nity did you see in the di­rect to con­sumer men’s fash­ion in­dus­try that no one else seemed to see?

A Well, the re­al­ity is, it was a hard thing to see. It was 2007. A lot of peo­ple were say­ing that most folks wouldn’t be buy­ing clothes on­line. We still were in an era where it was as­sumed that Ama­zon would never sell clothes, so the idea not only that you could sell clothes on­line, but you could ac­tu­ally build a bet­ter brand from the ground up start­ing with the In­ter­net, was kind of a crazy idea. Lo and be­hold, five years later not only do we have that ex­pe­ri­ence on the In­ter­net, but we’ve in­vented a store model with our Guideshops.

Q What was your a-ha mo­ment?

A It ac­tu­ally came on a drive­way in Ather­ton, Calif. We were play­ing games in the drive­way, which is a typ­i­cal grad­u­ate school be­hav­iour, hav­ing fun, and my co-founder had these amaz­ing turquoise pants that he brought out. I put them on for the first time and I just re­mem­ber this sense of joy. It was just fun and I had never re­ally thought of wear­ing pants as fun. It was al­ways some­thing that I did be­cause you’re not al­lowed to walk out­side with­out pants, but all of a sud­den pants were fun.

Q How do you de­cide what prod­ucts to take on next?

A We ac­tu­ally got it wrong at first, which is equally help­ful in life to get­ting it right, be­cause you learn acutely and quickly through pain. It tells you what to avoid. What we did was we went from pants into swim­suits. We told our­selves that our joie de vivre in the print en­ergy of the brand was the thing, be­cause we had these re­ally cool prints that we did in the pocket lin­ers. And part of us be­lieved that the de­sign ethos was the most im­por­tant thing. Our swim­suits bombed. It’s not that we didn’t sell any, but we just sold very few. In fact, for half a decade we had a cave called the swim cave in our of­fices where we kept the ex­cess in­ven­tory of the swim­suits be­cause we didn’t have the courage to liq­ui­date it. So we learned that ac­tu­ally de­sign mat­ters, but the de­sign is most im­por­tant when it runs through a great fit to be­gin with.

ROBERT FROST/AP

Bono­bos CEO Andy Dunn works in his of­fice, in New York. Dunn didn’t start out with an in­ter­est in fash­ion. But he ended up co-found­ing Bono­bos, an on­line menswear com­pany that tar­gets cus­tomers like him: Male shop­pers who want a wardrobe of nice-fit­ting clothes, but need help.

BEBETO MATTHEWS/AP

Sean Do, lead guide at Bono­bos’ Guideshop, ar­ranges cloth­ing at the show­room in New York’s Fi­nan­cial Dis­trict.

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