Jonathan Shokrian is a board member for the Make-A-Wish LA foundation and spends his 9-5 running the 7th Fastest-Growing Retail Company in the U.S. (as of 2016). Shokrian seems like the kind of person who does things that he thinks are right and not how other people necessarily how others think he should.
And that is likely what has helped make his company, MeUndies, the estimated $60M in revenue a year brand it is today.
History of MeUndies
It was 2011, and Shokrian was in Dallas, TX packing for a European vacation he was taking with a friend. Realizing he did not have enough underwear to last the whole two weeks away, he ran to Macy’s to pick some up. Short on time and mildly lost within the big department store, he could not find the men’s underwear section. As someone who had always been a bit shy and self-conscious, having to ask the only sales associate around (who also happened to be female) where to find what he was looking for was not a fun moment for him. On top of that, the store’s small selection meant he ended up with a $30 pair of Calvin Klein underwear that didn’t even fit him right. And so, the first underwear subscription on the market was born under the name MeUndies.
The idea was to create a direct-to-consumer underwear brand for men–focusing on comfortable fabrics and styles and not having to leave your home to snag them. Plus, other brands like Everlane and Warby Parker, founded in 2010, had shown great success in the direct-to-consumer model. Also, no one else was offering subscription online underwear sales in the marketplace.
History of the Underwear Industry
In 2020, the global underwear market was valued at approximately $42 billion U.S. dollars. By 2021, it’s forecasted to reach a value of $78.66 billion U.S. dollars. To break that down: bras take over 50% of the overall market, briefs around 33%, and lingerie more than 10%. Style, changing fashion trends, novelty materials, and comfort tend to be the industry’s main drivers.
Historically, it wasn’t common for underwear companies to market men’s underwear to straight men specifically. Brands commonly thought that it wasn’t something they were interested in buying for themselves. Instead, it was their wives, mothers and girlfriends who would take on that task. And so, marketing was aimed at them. However, it is interesting to note that in 1985 Fruit of the Loom, Hanes, and Jockey International, who owned the biggest U.S. shares within the men’s underwear market, had a combined 60% of the overall market.
Customers and Competitors
With core values like inclusivity and self-expression, the company specifically created a platform for their customers. Their consumers can come together to talk about the things that matter to them most; for example, issues like body positivity, LGBTQ+ rights, environmental causes, sustainability, and many other important social and cultural conversation topics are always coming up.
In turn, this attracts a very specific customer base that MeUndies has made a point of understanding how to cater to. The MeUndies customer is young, fun and nerdy–in a cool way. They are not fussy but are still looking for quality and comfort when it comes to their underwear. They also are socially aware and want to buy from a brand that shares their same core values.
MeUndies competitors include brands like Loot Undies and Saxx Underwear, which cater to the men’s underwear consumer market. While also direct-to-consumer, Loot Undies only offers subscription formats, while Saxx Underwear also offers individual pieces. Neither of them offers women’s products.
MeUndies has sold more than 16 million pairs of underwear since their launch, and 17 million pairs in 2020 alone. Other direct-to-consumer subscription underwear brands might be out there, but none of them are creating the lifestyle approach MeUndies is known for.
MeUndies Business Model
Traditional business models rely on several steps between production and the end consumer. Direct-to-consumer models, however, sell directly to the end customer. The difference is that the overall process focuses more on direct marketing tactics. This allows the brand to enhance its brand voice and customize its overall brand experience and consumer journey. This business methodology tends to thrive in today’s customer-centric and data-focused consumer market, which is why it makes sense that it has quickly become the formula of choice amongst a variety of brands, including MeUndies.
MeUndies took the direct-to-consumer model and created two consumer options. A monthly underwear subscription program tailored to you and delivered to your front door. The consumer can also skip the subscription and buy only what they want directly from the website at a bit of a higher cost than with the subscription option. However, the most interesting part is how this business model has allowed them to create exactly what their consumer wants, which in turn has driven more sales. Through social media polls and engagement, and even specific surveys, the brand can figure out exactly what they need to create.
MeUndies Success Factors
What makes MeUndies so successful? There are a few key things to note when answering this question. As a brand, they are intensely community-driven, inclusive, and sustainability-conscious. It’s a company made by Millennials for Millennials (and Gen Z). Because of this, MeUndies had the advantage of understanding the social media landscape and the concept of influencer marketing very early on.
This advantage is evident in the yearly philanthropic partnerships they do and the influencers they choose to collaborate with, Gus Kentworthy, Ariel Winter, Lizzo, Hayley Kiyoko, Kylie Jenner, Bella and Gigi Hadid to name a few. They focus on making sure their customers know where the product is coming from and ensure the production chain is as transparent as possible.
Additionally, their ability to create buzz-worthy marketing campaigns has also played a factor. For example, in 2014, Facebook blocked some of their ads because of images of the models showing off their MeUndies were found to violate Facebook’s advertising guidelines. There was even talk that the flagging of the ads wasn’t based on an algorithm, but actually by people who really weren’t a fan of underwear on their timeline.
In response, the brand came out with a bold ad campaign. The images showed stick figures with everything under their neck blurred out, accompanied by short copy stating that since Facebook had banned their content, their Creative Director had decided to take matters into their own hands.
It created quite a stir and helped funnel customers onto the website.
As the direct-to-consumer business model slowly takes over more and more industries, MeUndies will always be a pioneer. The brand has certainly carved a niche for itself within the underwear sphere. They’ve developed a fun and high-quality product and created a loyal fan base. Having customers see your brand as a lifestyle more than simply a product is no easy feat.
Propelling the company forward is a key objective for the team behind MeUndies in the future. To help accomplish this, they recently received $40M Series C funding which they can use to expand the brand, increase distribution channels in order to increase their reach into international markets, and aim to open physical stores. In the short term, MeUndies is looking to add new product categories like athletic apparel and focus on growing their women’s division.
Professional Leadership Institute (PLI) is an educational website providing professionals from all types of businesses with practical education in entrepreneurial leadership. To keep evolving your leadership toolkit, additional PLI resources below will be useful: