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Mack Weldon CEO on Spinning Skivvies Into a Lifestyle Label

Mack Weldon has branched out considerably from its roots selling men’s underwear online.

The eight-year-old direct-to-consumer startup sold its 3 millionth pair of skivvies last year, but other categories like bottoms and polo shirts now are just as likely to entice new customers to buy into the world of Mack Weldon, CEO Brian Berger told Sourcing Journal.

By approaching the underwear category from a performance-inspired lifestyle perspective, the digital native has blossomed into a full-fledged men’s apparel label, now with a brick-and-mortar presence in New York City’s Hudson Yards.

And Mack Weldon’s sky-high ambitions don’t end there.

In an underwear category “that’s historically lacked innovation,” Mack Weldon has built a customer base that cares about product that offers something extra, Berger said. “And we believe that the investment that we’re making in material is something that is providing a very kind of unique experience for the customer.”

Rather than competing with the Under Armours and Lululemons of the world, Mack Weldon speaks to customers through the lens of performance, rather than making that its sole focus. “Our whole point of view has been around material innovation and performance from the bias of a lifestyle apparel brand,” Berger said, emphasizing off-the-shelf fabrications have no place in Mack Weldon products.

Instead, fabric programs range from the Airknit, a proprietary microfiber blend developed in conjunction with a production partner, to 18 Hour Jersey—its original offering—and Silver, which leverages “world-class Supima cotton with antimicrobial Silver XT2.”

As a basics brand that’s not wed to a stringent fashion calendar demanding frequent product drops, Mack Weldon takes its time developing product iterations that play with pattern, texture and newness. “The world is not sitting around waiting for the next new thing from us,” Berger said, adding that most new products run through the development cycle in three to six months. “We have the advantage of being able to really thoughtful about what it is that we do.”

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Over the years, the company has tapped production partners across Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia, China and Peru, driving a diversified global supply chain that limits risk and exposure in any given country. Just 20 percent of product comes out of China, Berger said, and even that falls into “non-core” categories like outerwear. When the coronavirus outbreak ground China to a halt right around Lunar New Year, the impact was minimal, he added.

“Short of a couple-week delays here and there, it’s been largely okay,” Berger said, noting that its factories in China are open and have been shipping goods.

The U.S.-China tariff spat is a bit trickier, however. Berger says the label’s inclination has been to “maintain pricing and absorb the hit on our side in the hopes that over time, the situation resolves itself.”

Mack Weldon opened its first store in Hudson Yards last year.
Mack Weldon opened its first store in Hudson Yards last year. Mack Weldon

And Mack Weldon is fortunate to have the breadth in its supply chain to “counter source products, should the tariff situation continue” to chip away at the business and its margins, Berger added, citing the option to “move product into markets where the tariff issue” is non-factor.

Whether it’s sourcing or selling, international is very much on Berger’s mind—and Mack Weldon’s agenda. Though the COVID-19 pandemic has annihilated retail’s best-laid plans, Berger expressed a desire to bring Mack Weldon to the world in the year ahead. Consumers in Canada can already shop online with a returns and exchange experience similar to what U.S. customers get, but Berger is hoping to prime foreign markets via strategic wholesale relationships with high-profile international retailers and roll out e-commerce after gauging demand. The brand has Australia and New Zealand high on its priority list, Berger said.

Stateside, Mack Weldon wants to foster a stronger real-world commerce presence as well. The Hudson Yards store has yielded critical insights into consumer behavior, revealing purchasing patterns that can diverge from what shoppers do online. Visitors to the New York City shop are more like to grab just one pair of underwear, Berger said, in contrast to online shoppers who don’t often purchase less than three at a time. And the shop gives guys an immediate sense of the brand’s depth and product range, whereas conversion-focused e-commerce typically steers shoppers down a narrow path to purchase.

So far, data shows that shoppers in the store are 25 percent to 30 percent more likely to engage with and purchase non-core products, like activewear, jackets and bottoms. On top of that, the fitting room—which Mack Weldon converted into two with a quick holiday “hack”—likely has something to do with that. Describing the dressing room as “operationally important,” Berger says that’s why guys like shopping for clothing in person. No matter how seamless e-commerce tries to make returns and exchanges, he added, men just don’t want to deal with that hassle. The ability to try things on and figure out fit largely takes returns out of the equation.

Berger hopes Mack Weldon will soon have a “hub and spoke” retail operation going. It’s looking to replicate the Hudson Yards experience in cities with a similar real estate and customer profiles and supplement those “flagship” outlets with agile experiences like “basics bars” or co-retailing popups with a Neighborhood Goods, complexes like Manhattan’s Brookfield Place or premium men’s wear merchants.

In today’s market, Berger says it’s important to establish a physical retail presence along with “some other way in which customers can engage with us—but with a lighter lift from a real estate perspective.”