Andy Dunn and Brian Spaly didn’t start out with an interest in fashion. Yet today, they’ve built a $100 million empire and obtained a $310 million acquisition — all from specializing in men’s pants. Dunn and Spaly founded an online clothing store that targets male shoppers similar to them: customers who are looking for comfortable and fitting dress pants but can’t find any.
After graduating from Stanford Business School, the duo set out to create the perfect pair of pants for men: not too tight and not too loose. In 2007, they founded Bonobos and, after many tests and trials, launched their first line of men’s pants.
Since its founding, the online menswear company now operates in over 60 clothing stores located all over the country. They’ve even extended their clothing line to include suits and dress shirts, so men can create a complete, fashionable outfit from their products …
Here’s how they did it:
From Class Project to Corporate Kingdom
Through college, Dunn and Spaly never actually focused on fashion. In an interview with Coveteur, Dunn talks about how he and Spaly came up with the idea for their business.
“[Bonobos started as] my co-founder’s class project [while at Stanford for our MBA]. For a year and a half, he was talking about how men’s pants don’t fit, and he had this crazy idea that he was going to make better-fitting pants.”
Dunn already had a budding interest in online consumerism when he met Spaly and was introduced to his innovative idea. “Brian came along with these great-fitting pants. I was like, ‘Wait a second. Maybe this is the internet-driven company I’ve been looking for, but in a new way where we would sell and tell stories and have great service with a physical product.’”
Dunn and Spaly realized there was a gap in the market for attractive and comfortable pants for men. Spaly started interviewing other male students, asking them if they liked the fit of their pants. The overwhelming majority of them said no and that they preferred to wear denim simply because it fit more comfortably.
Dunn’s “aha” moment surprisingly came on a driveway in Atherton, California. “We were playing games in the driveway, which is a typical graduate school behavior, having fun, and my co-founder had these amazing turquoise pants that he brought out.”
Dunn goes on to explain in a separate interview with Business of Fashion how unexpectedly comfortable the pants fit. “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.”
Combined with Dunn’s interest in business e-commerce and Spaly’s consumer insight, in a roundabout way, the two asked themselves, “What if we could create a pair of pants that were flattering, fashionable, and fitting?”
Thus, Bonobos was born.
Creating the Perfect Fit
Dunn and Spaly wasted no time in creating the perfect pair of pants. While Dunn was focused on building a professional website for their company, Spaly set out to L.A. to find the highest quality fabrics and pattern maker.
Spaly realized that to create the perfect pair of men’s pants, they’d need to make use of a curved waistband and a fitted, somewhat flexible, fabric. This would help eliminate the boxy or saggy appearance of most men’s pants.
Meanwhile, the idea of “one-size-fits-all” was growing, and this was also negatively affecting men’s pants. Instead, Bonobos’ goal was to create pants that conformed to the natural shape of your waist. Spaly focused on five main silhouettes — each with a wide range of sizes — and worked to make a pair of pants that offered a custom fit for each body type.
While Spaly was busy at work with the design aspects, Dunn was working on creating an enjoyable online shopping experience. Like most men, neither Dunn nor Spaly was a fan of shopping. But Dunn sought to change that by developing a website that was easy to navigate, pleasing to look at, and had a swift checkout process.
Moving Forward with Consumer Interest in Mind
Even from before the official founding of the company, Dunn and Spaly had a focus on giving the people what they wanted. This meant more than just create custom-fitting pants. The two set out on testing different marketing methods, finding ways to enhance the customer experience, and work to build successful teams.
After solidifying sufficient funds, the duo worked to reinvent the stagnant category. Meeting after meeting, interview after interview, Dunn, and Spaly spread their message to dozens of investors and professors.
In the fall of 2007, they officially launched Bonobos, and within just six months, gained five employees and a net revenue of $1 million. The response was staggering. Dunn and Spaly knew there was a gap in the market to fill, but they never foresaw the massive success their company would become.
Today, Bonobos still conducts business with the same mission in mind: “maniacally focused on the customer experience and interacting, transacting, and story-telling to consumers.” Dunn and Spaly had a story that hundreds of men related to, and they used that advantage to create a product they knew their consumers would love.
After establishing themselves as a reliable brand and gaining a community of loyal customers, Bonobos has continued their success and expanded the business to cater to men who want fashionable, flattering, and fitting dress clothes. The company now sells more than just pants. Customers can find jeans, shirts, swim trunks, sweater, suits, outerwear, and more available on their website.
Dunn even offers some key advice to other aspiring entrepreneurs, emphasizing the importance of focusing on the customer’s needs — customer should be more than just a sale.
Bonobos works to establish relationships with all of their regular shoppers. Whether it’s through marketing strategies or social media, the business continues to develop a better sense of community among its fanbase.
- Featured Image, Pexels