Profiting From Hoodiegate

Chris Lindland talks about timing, humor and other secrets of 'viral clothing.'

If that old saw about everyone getting his 15 minutes of fame is true, Betabrand CEO Chris Lindland got his the other week during the Facebook IPO. It started with “Hoodiegate”— Mark Zuckerberg showing up at a meeting with his Wall Street backers wearing—what else?—his signature hooded sweatshirt. (Doesn’t that boy ever dress up?) Then Zuckerberg’s sister Randi stumbled onto Betabrand’s $148 Executive Hoodie (worsted wool with chalk stripe), tweeted about it and Lindland sold out his entire production run. Luck? Not really. Betabrand is set up to work just this way as Lindland explained to us.

Adweek: Your Executive Hoodie was the most in-demand sweatshirt in the universe the other week. How are you feeling now?

I love that we became part of the Facebook story. It was a great happening. But I knew we’d sell them out anyway. The Executive Hoodie had an enormous number of sign-ups.

Sign-ups? Maybe you can walk through your production setup.

We actively engage our customers with the R&D. We come up with an idea, put up the prototype on the site and people sign up for it. We make more of what’s popular, and that allows us to control our inventory costs. We view every new product as an R&D exercise. If it succeeds, we’ll make more.

But your marketing is largely word-of-mouth, right?

We’ve built a community online, and we have a national audience. They’ll write about a product, and we build upon it. Sometimes you get far luckier than others in pickup. But I put out the Bike to Work Pants, and there are 10,000 blog mentions of it. That costs me zero dollars.

The stuff is quirky but also practical. The Bike to Work Pants have reflective-tape accents. How’d the Reversible Smoking Jacket come about?

We made a jacket with a silky brocade inner lining and then said, “Hey, this looks like a smoking jacket.” That was the aha moment. So say you go to your office party. You show up looking like someone off the street. But if that party gets good, you can take it to the next level by reversing your coat. I’ve actually witnessed people performing the reverse smoking jacket.

Where do you get these ideas?

I have 18 people who work here, and we have weekly conversations. I’ll ask them, “What are you into right now? What are the things happening online that have a social, fun quality to them that we could make a product for?” And it has to have a good, funny story.

I guess being funny helps if you need to go viral all the time.

When I started this, I figured people would end up buying stuff based on it being funny. If The Onion sold clothing, it would be the only brand I’d ever wear. So we try to be as funny as we can, and we treat it as though this is science. We talk about how our Cordarounds [horizontal corduroy pants] lower your drag coefficient and are a giant leap forward in corduroy aerodynamics. We also sell a Vagisoft Blanket that’s “softer than a silkworm’s anus.”

We won’t doubt you. How’ve you done financially with this approach?

I expect we’re going to sell around $4 million-$5 million of stuff this year. We’re growing by 10 percent each month.

So do you think that Mark Zuckerberg has an Executive Hoodie in his collection?

Well, I can tell you that many of our Executive Hoodies have gone to Facebook, and I know that people have said they’re going to give him one. But this is the guy who just had the biggest IPO in history. What hoodie he puts on has got to be priority No. 1,000.