A boxer rebellion

Founded in 2016 by friends Christian Larson and Andreas Palm, Swedish underwear brand CDLP is taking off. Palm shares what he’s learned.
Boxer rebellion

Q.

Why did you launch an underwear brand?

'Christian and I have been best friends for 10 years. He has a background in film and photography – doing commercials, music videos and shooting for several brands – and I have a background in brand experience. We always travelled for work outside Sweden and sometimes shared rooms to save money.' 'Inevitably, we saw each other’s underwear. It always stood out as the weak link in an outfit – underwear never aligns with your overall aesthetic. Plus, 15 or 20 years ago I wanted to show my Calvin Klein or Armani logo, but as the years went by I realised I was paying for logos and not the product itself. Chris and I felt we couldn’t find underwear we actually wanted to actually wear – it was almost a forgotten menswear category.'

Q.

What’s the market look like?

'It’s dominated by huge brands that don’t even produce it themselves; they’re often outsourced on a license basis. We followed the trail and discovered most men’s underwear is made in China, two hours north of Shenzhen. We went there to check it out and realised these factories make millions of pairs for all the big brands. They’re made with cheap cotton, but it’s not a good material – it doesn’t hold the colour, shape or transfer moisture. Customers haven’t really asked for innovation, and so the brands keep on making the same thing.'

‘When you grow fast, you need to be able to put good people in each position, but it’s so difficult’

Q.

Where do you manufacture your products, if not China?

'When we went to China and said we want to make the world’s best underwear, they laughed. But to be honest, why would they change their model when they make so much money? We were introduced to a factory in Portugal that said they’d love to help us on our mission. We settled on a fabric called lyocell – it has all the benefits that cotton doesn’t have and it’s made in a closed-loop process in which most of the water used in the dyeing process is reused. It also breathes – the first time I put them on I was shocked.'

Q.

Your aesthetic is pretty different to most underwear brands.

'If you go to a department store and look at how men’s underwear is portrayed, it’s so dated. It’s all studio-shot models, 22 years old, most looking like soccer players – and I can’t really relate to that. With Chris’s creative background he felt there was an opportunity to portray men differently. He shoots everything on film – and he only shoots our friends (no models) and in private, humorous moments.'

Q.

How do you get stocked in a place like Mr Porter?

'It’s a mix of getting the right press and the right people to like it. I’ve used everything from LinkedIn to Instagram to cold-calling. The real key is finding out who the decision-maker is. I reached out to so many underwear buyers and received hundreds of ‘nos’. If you’re an underwear buyer it’s much safer to buy from the big brands because you have square feet you need to cover – placing a bet on a small brand doesn’t make sense.' 'But the thing is, underwear buyers weirdly aren’t really part of the fashion industry – they might be a buyer of Christmas decorations in a year. As soon as we realised we needed to talk to the fashion director, it opened doors.'

Q.

Have you guys spent a fortune on social ads?

'The problem with some of the DTC unicorns is they raise so much money and spend so much on ads without showing a path to profitability. But it’s become too expensive to purchase growth on Instagram and Facebook. Online marketing will definitely become a smaller percentage of our marketing pie as we grow, because we’re finding new ways to build relationships with our customers – collabs, content, our first concept store in Stockholm. We see social ads as complementing this in the overall marketing strategy.'

Q.

What unexpected things have you learned?

'Building the first 10 team members is extremely important – and one of the biggest challenges as a founder. When you grow fast, you need to be able to put good people in each position, but it’s so difficult. If you don’t have a famous brand, why would someone want to work for you? You can settle for less, but you want someone who’s really talented.' 'It’s also important because the CEO wears so many hats in the beginning. When you look back, it’s charming – ‘We were doing everything! We were sending packages ourselves!’ – but in the moment you’re quite frustrated. Learning how to shorten the time spent doing everything to what you should be doing is my key takeaway. That’s something that very few founders talk about.'

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