Jonathan Shokrian was born into a family of conservative, entrepreneurial immigrants. His passion from an early age was to start a business with a focus on community – and so, in 2011, MeUndies was founded. Selling more than 10 million pairs of underwear to date, this challenger brand formed a new niche within the category and birthed a community built on inclusivity, creativity and a better buying experience.
Why did you start MeUndies?
I saw an opportunity to innovate underwear and basics, and the experience of shopping for them. Everything I saw on the shelves was overcomplicated, oversexualized, and overpriced for less-than-quality. I wanted to inject life into a commoditized project and create an experience that resonated with modern consumers. It was important to me to have these values of individuality, inclusivity and self-expression woven throughout the brand – a departure from what we’d seen in the industry before. We developed our underwear with an obsessive focus on fabric, quality and comfort while using sustainable materials. We embraced bright, bold, conversational prints to add fun and personality to what was once a boring product, and created a new platform for self-expression.
What major challenges did you overcome as an entrepreneur?
One of the biggest obstacles was getting MeUndies off the ground. When I was meeting with investors, the idea of an online direct-to-consumer company that delivered underwear to people’s doorsteps every month sounded like a crazy idea. Some even thought it was a joke. It didn’t help that I was a first-time, unproven entrepreneur. More than that, the direct-to-consumer and online subscription model didn’t really exist when we launched in 2011. The industry was just seeing the end of the daily deals era and new brands were launching that spoke directly to the consumer. MeUndies was at the forefront of the first generation of direct-to-consumer companies.
What defining characteristics make MeUndies a Challenger Brand?
At its core, MeUndies exists to upend tradition. Our community is at the center of every decision we make as a company, from design to delivery.
Our approach to D2C and retail has always been authentically connecting with our customer. We’re an aspirational and inclusive brand. Before us, the aspirational underwear brands showcased unattainable images that ultimately created feelings of being less-than. We flipped that on its head. Rather than being divisive, we launched matching pairs, for any kind of couple, and highlight confidence being expressed in every shape and size. And when people look at that, that’s inspiring. That’s aspirational. And we’ve stuck with it. We’ve never been afraid to post “unpopular” photos -- like same-sex couples or diverse body types -- that sometimes lose us followers but ultimately support our true community. And through that, we’ve built integrity with our customers and it’s kept them coming back, and inspired more to join.
So much of our brand is experiencing the product, being able to feel, touch, and live in it. So, it was only natural to expand into retail where we can create space to provide that experience and bring our core values to life -- all the ethos behind the brand.
What’s currently happening in marketing that most excites you and how will it impact the future of marketing?
Today’s brands are slowly but surely prioritizing connection and values as core elements of consumer appeal. Brands are beginning to care about being authentic and engaging with customers in a more profound, personal way. This has been a foundational piece of MeUndies’ brand identity from the beginning and we’re constantly searching for new ways to create a deeper connection with our community. I’m inspired by the fact that marketing is becoming less about telling consumers what they should want and need, and more about celebrating who they are. Brands can succeed by telling real stories that reflect company values and refocus customers as central to their goals.
What are you currently working on that’s unique or innovative?
Our community is highly engaged and shares what they want to see next. We love the two-way line of communication we’ve created with our customers over the years – and regularly apply it to grow our brand. We’re constantly engaging with people through our social media, customer service, and community events. We regularly incorporate what we hear from them into new prints, campaigns, and product categories. This year, in response to an incredible number of requests from our community, we launched BuddyBands™, an entirely new category for us: bandanas you can match with your furry best friend. The first two prints we released sold out within the first day, and we’re thrilled to unveil what’s coming next. We have some very special launches in the works, as well as some playful, out-of-the-box extensions to our lineup.
Tell us about the big learning moments you’ve had along your career path or in your company’s course?
"You can’t always please everyone, but if you align your actions with your values, you’ll be in a good place."
A crucial moment was our early decision to align everything we did to the core values of self-expression, inclusivity, and individuality – from brand campaigns to the types of organizations we partnered with, to our social identity. A major learning for me along the way was the realization that MeUndies’ celebration of those values didn’t resonate with every single customer, and that was okay. Some social issues that we have a strong point-of-view on, like supporting the LGBTQ community and empowering women, remain, unfortunately, polarizing. We’re proud to be a brand that stands up for its community instead of operating solely to increase revenue. We encourage our community to be authentic and support others on their journey to empowerment. You can’t always please everyone, but if you align your actions with your values, you’ll be in a good place.
What one leadership trait do you think is most critical to making a Challenger Brand successful?
Never bending to what’s expected of you as a business and a leader because of how things have been traditionally done. If you have a vision and the decisions you make remain true to those values and goals, you could build something entirely unique and special.
What advice would you give to other marketing pioneers?
"Next to your team, your customers are your most valuable people."
Consumers are savvy, and they can see through transactional, inauthentic marketing. Find your voice and your values and connect with your customers in an authentic way. Don’t sacrifice that relationship in an effort to gain more followers or aggressively drive growth. Next to your team, your customers are your most valuable people. They will come back and support your brand as loyal, engaged customers if they feel heard and inspired by what you’re doing.