Industry: Consumer & Lifestyle
Products: Apparel and outerwear
Founder Chris White is getting wild and crazy with mass customization of apparel for every imaginable social situation.
Shinesty is "a brand that makes people laugh," says White. "Either you think we're ridiculous or you think we're fools."
White started the Shinesty website to sell vintage clothing combed from Colorado's thrift stores to college kids as a way to make extra money while finishing his JD/MBA at CU Boulder.
He went into importing and working with contract manufacturers to make his own line of wacky apparel, and soon had a huge hit: suits with patterns that mimic ugly Christmas sweaters. The suits went viral and Shinesty was deluged with orders after Al Roker plugged them on Today.
That was late 2014, when Shinesty had five employees. Less than four years later, the staff has mushroomed to 30. "We've grown a ton," says White. "What's ignited the growth is our digital acquisition." Social media and a "snarky, sarcastic" e-newsletter have helped drive sales. "Our focus is on engagement," he explains.
The company's catalog has grown with its digital presence. "We've added a ton of products," says White. "We think of any aspect in your life that's social: That's where we want to live."
Shinesty's eye-grabbing catalog of one tacky and wacky garment after another is centered around holidays and events ranging from tailgate parties to a day on the slopes.
While its ski offerings of day-glo ski bibs, onesies, and stretch pants catch all sorts of eyes, the products comprise "a small part of our business," says White.
What's the top seller? "We have a faux denim print Speedo," he laughs. "We've sold tens of thousands of those."
Shinesty's boxer shorts also do well. White says it's a "high-quality" boxer that is "softer than silk and more breathable than cotton," and that's part of the appeal. But it's the imagery of an eagle, snake, or puppy printed front and center that really lures customers.
But it was the wild printed suits that put it on the map. After starting with the aforementioned holiday sweater prints, the company now sells suits emblazoned with stars and stripes, leopard spots, shamrocks, NFL and NCAA logos, and galaxies. The products, made by an overseas partner, first went viral in 2014. "That big publicity spike got us started, but it hasn't been the continued driver," says White.
Social media and the aforementioned newsletter fill that role. "They're the funniest and best-produced piece of content you'll get all week," says White of the latter.
And Shinesty has cultivated a list of about 300,000 subscribers, along with a similar following on Facebook, as well as 60,000 fans on Instagram. The company even had a behind-the-scenes reality show on MTV in 2017. "We have big audiences," says White.
It's added up to "roughly 1,400 percent" growth since 2014, says White, as his staff increased from five to 30.
Launched in 2016, Mad Labs allows customers to pre-order designs before they're a sure thing. Shinesty puts new concepts out there, and makes them a reality if there are enough pre-orders. "If we don't make it, we're not going to charge you," says White, who points to Shoes of Prey and Threadless as inspirations for the model.
"If you go back and look at clothing and retail, a lot of it is this push model: I tell you what to buy," says White. "With the Internet, that's not working. We wanted to take more of a pull approach: Let people tell us what to make. It's not a one-sided relationship."
Not only does Mad Labs "give customers more input into our brand," but there's also a flip side, adds White. "You reduce inventory risk."
Initially, Shinesty would just throw some ideas through Mad Labs before pulling the trigger on a new product, but that's expanded with time. "As a merchandiser, you're never going to have all winners," says White. "Why not gut-test everything? . . . We try to put almost everything through there."
He adds, "It's really interesting in terms of the data. . . . It's impacted sell-throughs dramatically. We've had very few losers when we listen to the data."
Shinesty manufactures with about 10 contract partners in Asia and a number of domestic decorators while also selling products from 60 like-minded brands online. The retail and manufacturing sides of the business are roughly equal, says White.
Challenges: "Our biggest challenges right now are diversifying as we become a bigger company," says White. "Some big changes have to happen operationally as you go from one level to a bigger level." He cites implementation of an ERP system as "a work in progress."
Seasonality is another challenge, with summer being Shinesty's big one. White says he's looking for more year-round products as well as more ski wear. "It's a fun category for us personally," he says of the latter. "
White says he'd like to manufacture domestically, but it's in many cases a logistical nightmare. "The fabric we're using is not available in the U.S., so you have to import the fabric anyway," he explains. "Second, finding sewing talent in the U.S. is really hard."
Opportunities: Taking the corporate market by storm. Imagine a wacky suit or boxers with wall-to-wall logos. "We're literally in alpha right now," says White. "It's an extension of us owning social events." It's been no small feat: "We set up our supply chain to do that. I’ve been to China 10 times in the last two years."
"You have to have a partner that understands where the market is going, which is this idea of mass customization," he adds. "Giving people the ability to do that is a huge, huge benefit."
White also sees licensing as a possible sales driver. "There's some space in the licensed sports market," he notes, for something that's "a little weird, a little different."
Needs: People. White says Shinesty is in need of quantitative marketing and finance talent.
Space is another need. "We're going to expand our warehouse," he says. He's hoping to stay in Boulder, but notes, "There's not a lot of industrial space in Boulder. We're going to explore all our options."