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How Men’s Underwear Has Adapted to a New Male Reality

Men’s underwear brand Saxx began as an idea that its founder, Trent Kitsch, developed on a fishing trip. During the trip, Kitsch spent a great deal of time walking around in tight-fitting, chafing waders.

As he continued on his trip, wincing with each new spot of skin his poorly made underwear left irritated, Kitsch had an epiphany: he would create an underwear brand made specifically to avoid that oh-so-common pitfall in product design. Over the years, Kitsch put this vision forward through illuminating ad campaigns (including an early billboard that urged shoppers to remember that certain body parts deserve some time apart) and even an appearance on Dragon’s Den, the Canadian version of Shark Tank—a reality show where entrepreneurs compete for investment money.

Throughout the first decade of the brand’s existence, the world of men’s underwear has been rapidly changing. The previous generation of men was mostly content with picking out a pack of underwear at the department store and then stoically withholding complaints about the aforementioned product failures. Today, the men’s underwear market is decidedly more complex, and young but growing crop of new brands has learned how to cater to the new man through both technically-sound product development and savvy marketing.

In the case of Saxx, Kitsch was awarded a small amount of money for his appearance on the show, allowing him to begin expanding the business. In fact, the first pairs of Saxx underwear were sold out of the trunk of a car.

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As a result, although Saxx possesses many of the same characteristics of other upstart men’s underwear brands, its origins are much more traditional than its main competitors like Mack Weldon, Meundies and Tommy John. However, the blueprint is the same: bring men more options and new choices for undergarments. These brands learned that, if you give men something that deserves a little more attention, men might start paying more attention to their own bodies, too.

“Where we started was seeding. That was where a lot of the marketing effort went in our early days. We just realized, if you get a pair on a guy, he will come back and buy six or seven pairs. It will become what he wears,” Adrienne Moser, Saxx’s VP of product, told Sourcing Journal. “We did everything we could to really promote the trying of the product. We try to help you figure out what the right product is. Underwear is a weird category, because, even if you buy it in a store, you don’t try it on. You have to be pretty descriptive about what the end use is, what kind of underwear do you like, etc.”

Moser also believes men’s shopping habits are changing with the times. Modern men are far more open to the experience offered by a premium underwear product, she said.

“We are at this cusp. I think with masculinity and what men are going through in the current world, there is a massive change that is allowing them to care more about how they look and how they take care of themselves,” Moser explained. “You are seeing that in the growth of grooming products. I just think men are going through an interesting time. But, what it is bringing to the market is an opportunity for guys to feel okay about the fact that ‘I’m going to spend more on myself.’”

To scale or not to scale

Still, Moser acknowledges the scale of Saxx’s business is much smaller than most of the mass-marketed underwear that takes up the majority of men’s underwear sales today. However, at a smaller size, brands like Saxx can afford to hone in on its niche, something that is relatively new to the men’s underwear space.

“Before digitally native brands, most men’s fashion revolved around the mass market and huge brands, like Nike or Gap or Abercrombie that stemmed from malls, were athlete-focused and obsessed with scale,” Lee Peterson, the EVP of thought leadership and marketing at W.D. Partners told Sourcing Journal. “Now, the ‘hottest’ brands aren’t really that big. Let’s say, Supreme [for example], who create demand by being so limited and by using techniques they learned from Nike and Adidas in terms of new product “release” and launch. In other words, digitally native brands are just better marketers that are not as concerned about the mass market and scales, if a thought is even given to it at all. Just the opposite as a matter of fact, it’s ‘we made 1,000 of these, too bad if you don’t get one.'”

Most importantly, however, new-age underwear brands offer men a new kind of product to go along with their improved understanding of the male consumer. Saxx, for instance, developed its patented “Ballpark Pouch” to give men more room where it counts, finding inspiration in the shape of a baseball mitt.

New, tailored fits

Newcomers, like custom-fit specialists Nic Tailor, have upped the ante even further with features like tailored fits and auto-replenishing orders. In fact, Nic Tailor claims to have the most comprehensive custom-fitting options in the business.

“What we think what we have here that is truly unique is that [our product] is fully customizable,” Nic Tailor CEO Cal Mosack told Sourcing Journal. “We have anywhere from a 28-inch to a 48-inch waist. We’ll make it different lengths for you. [Our competitors] have large, XL, XXL. It’s easier, for a lot reasons, to do it that way—but it’s not truly customizable.”

While the brand has taken on roughly 2,300 SKU’s in order to pull off its core promise, Mosack said it has also taken a step into new territory.

“We don’t think anyone on the globe offers true customization. There’s a more savvy shopper now, men are more attuned,” Moser said.

However, part of what makes these brands truly different from underwear brands in the past, according to Peterson, is that they aren’t afraid to talk about being an underwear company. Their approach to marketing is “irreverent” and honest, he said. Brands like Saxx and Nic Tailor are often open and willing to discuss the bits and pieces that go inside the product—in more ways than one.

“First and foremost [for these brands] is irreverence—if you act like you don’t give a damn if someone buys your new product or if you say something outlandish…it only makes it cooler and more desirable,” Peterson concluded.