COLUMBIA — With the slogan “Sky’s Out, Thighs Out,” Chubbies shorts were made for college campuses.
Students at the University of South Carolina and others across the nation have been plunking down $50 to $60 a pop for the men’s short-shorts – a throwback to 1980s-style tennis shorts – for about a year now.
But this weekend, the San Francisco-based company is rolling out its first in the nation “fit station” at Brittons on Devine Street. Unlike the retro feel of its shorts, the company’s retailing methods are decidedly futuristic.
Consumers of the e-commerce clothier can go into Brittons, try on shorts samples, chat with store employees about the product and order the right size at an in-store iPad mini-station. They will arrive at the customer’s door in two days, with free shipping and returns. And Brittons is the only place anyone will be able to order “Columbia – home” and “Columbia – away” shorts in garnet and black, respectively.
Chubbies (chubbiesshorts.com) is using the Columbia fit station as a pilot project. It may roll out the idea in some other college towns, as well as spots in California and New York, if it works well here, said Chubbies co-founder Kyle Hency, who was in Columbia Friday to speak to a retailing class at the University of South Carolina and to set up the fit station.
“It’s an experiment,” he said.
The West Coast company is putting much of its focus on the Southeast – from South Carolina to Texas – where the weather is warm and the relaxed culture fits the brand, Hency said.
The four founders – all Stanford graduates who spent several years in the corporate world after college – did a tailgate tour of three SEC hot spots last fall. While in Columbia, they visited Brittons and manager Perry Lancaster immediately recognized that they were wearing Chubbies. What he didn’t know was they were the company’s founders.
It was the start of a partnership that led to the men bringing their new fitting concept to Columbia.
“It’s pretty unusual to find someone like Perry” who is on the cutting edge and willing to experiment with new retail concepts, Hency said.
At 28, he is the oldest of the company’s 19 employees. “The grandpa,” he said.
The company has more than doubled in size since it was founded 18 months ago and is shipping out hundreds, sometimes thousands, of orders a day, Hency said. And if you call its customer service line, you’ll get Jon-Mark Craddock, a Florence native and College of Charleston grad.
As of Friday, Chubbies’ irreverent Facebook page – which has a banner photo of the four founders jumping in the air and holding signs with messages including “I hate pants” – had more than 170,000 likes. Roughly 15,000 people at any given time are interacting with the brand on social media, Hency told the class.
The shorts, with 5¾-inch in-seams, come in a variety of colors and themes, such as bright blue Freshy P’s, star-studded Chubmander in Chiefs, the camouflage Hound-Dogs and the mint green Def Leps. A pair of American flag-themed Chubbies has been going for as much as $300 on eBay, Hency said, because the company hasn’t made any new ones in four months.
The shorts are made with soft cotton, and have elastic waistbands, belt loops, pockets and a front button.
They are in a style that was popular when the founders’ thighs were hanging out of only diapers or Spiderman underoos. But as fashion often does, the style is being embraced by a whole new generation of college students.
Hency acknowledges other companies could try to replicate their brand, but he said they can’t copy the Chubbies name and the culture the company has worked hard to establish.
Hency joked when asked Friday about the origins of the fairly obvious name Chubbies. “I’d tell you, but then I’d have to kill you.”
It’s a name, he said, that lends itself to going viral on social media. “It spreads itself,” he said.
Chubbies image might be all about fun, but the company is serious about sales. The founders’ goal – other than offering the most “radical” shorts on the market today – is to become a $75-million-a-year company in sales, Hency said. He declined to reveal the company’s current annual sales.
Chubbies plans to come out with a swimsuit line and is experimenting with new styles, such as drawstring shorts. It eventually might get into selling women’s shorts, Hency said.
“Think Polo of shorts when you think Chubbies,” he said.