The business of selling basics

MeUndies founder and CEO Jonathan Shokrian on the subscription-based brand
Bruce Horovitz
NRF Contributor

It’s one thing to receive a bottle of wine or even a tin of cheese every month from a subscription service, but how about a pair of underwear? It might sound crazy, but when Jonathan Shokrian founded MeUndies nearly 10 years ago, he knew there had to be a better option than going to the department store to buy underwear. By the end of 2021, the brand expects to sell its 20 millionth pair. We spoke with Shokrian about how MeUndies got here — and where it’s going.

Jonathan Shokrian headshot
Jonathan Shokrian,
MeUndies founder and CEO

In a world of Jockey, Hanes, Calvin Klein and Victoria’s Secret, do we really need another underwear brand?

Yes. I found myself in Macy’s nine years ago, shopping for a pair of Calvin Klein’s. I was overwhelmed by the choices. Then, when I got home, I realized I’d bought the wrong underwear. It was a very frustrating experience, and the product was very overpriced. That’s when I realized that going to the department store to buy underwear made no sense.

I was intrigued because a subscription company had just launched for shoes (ShoeDazzle), and I knew the people behind it. I figured if it works for shoes, it has to work for underwear.

Guys don’t like to buy underwear, right?

The average guy hangs on to a pair of underwear for seven years. We saw a huge opportunity to go after men and start a subscription underwear service.

Why would any guy need a monthly subscription that gets him 12 pairs annually?

Many guys now do daily workout routines and require a change of underwear afterward. Under this scenario, they’re going through at least two pairs a day. As people become more health- conscious and going to the gym and going cycling, there is more reason to replenish your basic underwear.

Your underwear is made for workouts?

It’s made for everything. We just celebrated our 18 millionth pair sold, and we’re looking forward to 20 million sold this year. We use one key sustainably sourced fabric: MicroModal. It’s synthetic, but the yarn is made from beech wood trees that grow in the Austrian Alps.

What makes MeUndies special?

MeUndies are built to enable and encourage comfort for all. We are all about self-care, self-comfort, self-expression and community.

What about women?

We launched as a men’s and women’s brand, but the women’s didn’t have a big enough differentiation. Once we launched print and did matching prints with men and women, we had much more success with women. Five years ago, women were only 20 percent of our business, but we’re on pace for that to be 50 percent by next year.

You’re kind of a Millennials brand, no?

Our endless choices put consumers in control. Millennials like that and they like value-based brands like ours. From a marketing standpoint, we’re a brand for them. Our advertisements use a lot of real customers in our underwear. We appeal to everyday people.

Who is MeUndies real target?

The person who wants to buy into a brand that’s inclusive, supportive and offers a lot of choice. We advertise a lot on social media. We appeal to people who listen to podcasts and to consumers who gather a lot of information online. We do most of our marketing in the digital space.

The brand seems very into nostalgia — and pop culture.

We launch a new print every week. About three years ago we went to studios and started doing licensing deals directly. Our first was with Star Wars. We now do five to 10 licensing deals per year with everyone from Disney to Warner Brothers.

Subscription boxes

Learn more about successful subscription boxes and how they help the consumer get the products they need.

How do your subscriptions work?

Subscribers get a 30 percent discount on all underwear and on all of our other products. Men pay $16 for each pair of underwear instead of the $24 full price. Women pay $14 per pair instead of $18.

That doesn’t sound like value pricing.

We are not going to sell your $2 per pair pack of underwear that you can buy at Walmart, but we’re also not selling $40 designer underwear that you can buy at Nordstrom. We’ve very middle of the road for a premium product. We also offer more prints than any other underwear brand in the world and we go from sizes small to 4XL.

How many subscribers do you have?

We have hundreds of thousands of subscribers and sell in 90 countries.

What can I buy from you besides underwear?

Tops. Bottoms. T-shirts. Robes. Socks. Onesies. Face masks. Buddy bands.

What are buddy bands?

Dog scarfs.

What’s your fastest-growing line?

Loungewear. We’ve seen 100 percent year-over-year growth in loungewear.

What’s the brand’s take on sustainability?

The fabric we use has a carbon-neutral process to make the product, so it’s sustainable. Our factories offer living wages to employees and educational programs. 

Why is the brand so passionate about posting images of real customers in their MeUndies?

It’s who we are. We put out calls to share their photos — even with their pets. Whatever we get we try to fit in the mix. We don’t edit any photos and we never remove stretch marks.

Is that driven by something personal?

I grew up without a lot of self-confidence. I always wanted a six pack. When I launched the brand, I wanted people to feel comfortable. We’ve always gone against the grain as a brand that wants to make all people feel welcome.

Why should retailers care about MeUndies?

We are the future of retail. You look at brands like Victoria’s Secret, and you see that they are having a very hard time. They have a lot of exposure to real estate. That’s a model of the past. MeUndies launched about 10 years ago and we have the ability to move a lot faster. Consumers and the market are investing in brands of the future that are relatable.

What about retail locations?

We have one location in the Westfield Mall in Los Angeles.

What happened to your plans to open more retail locations?

We put that on hold after the pandemic. We will wait and see what happens. We had plans to open 30 to 40 stores over the next five years, but that now looks more like five stores unless things drastically change. We’re putting retail on pause in a big way. But we’ll see how creative landlords can get and maybe we can take advantage of that opportunity.

How big can you get?

The sky is the limit. Look at Victoria’s Secret and Hanes. We feel we can be one of the leading underwear brands not just in the U.S., but globally. We hope to celebrate selling 100 million pairs someday. We think we can be a $1 billion brand in the next three to four years.

What is your favorite MeUndies design — perhaps the one you like to wear most?

I like to mix it up. But the pair I like to wear most [has a design] by artist Jean-Michel Basquiat.

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