Seriously, Betabrand is no joke when it comes to making people laugh (oh, and selling clothes too).Appropriately enough, it all started with a joke. About seven years ago, Chris Lindland was at a dinner party in San Francisco, where he worked in business development in the Internet world, bantering about this and that when he blurted out a silly idea that had been kicking around in his head for a while: What would it be like to have a pair of horizontal (as opposed to the typical vertical) corduroy pants? A funny, interesting conversationalist, Lindland probably expected to get a chuckle out of his dinner companions and then move on to another equally goofy topic.
But that offhand quip didn’t end then and there. Far from it, actually. In fact, it quickly triggered a chain of events that led Lindland to be the unlikely and unexpected owner and operator of an online clothing-cum-joke emporium that is now called Betabrand (after a number of years when it was called Cordarounds). And today, the company is no joke. After just over a year in operation as Betabrand, the company, according to Lindland, has sales growth of 10 percent per month and 17 full-time employees. Far from being purveyors of only horizontal corduroys, Betabrand is extremely prodigious, churning out an average of two to three new products per week while also slowly launching a line of women’s clothing. Deemed buzzworthy by the likes of The New York Times and DailyCandy.com, Betabrand has attracted a loyal following among young, hip urbanites, many of whom not only offer ideas to make products better but also serve as models on the company’s website (more about that later).
Still, people who go to the Betabrand website (www.betabrand.com) will quickly realize that humor remains central to everything the company does, from the products it releases to the usually absurdist tales it crafts around each line. Indeed, clicking on the Cordarounds tab brings shoppers to content one might expect from the satirists at The Onion or The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, with the exception being that it’s all about pants that you can actually buy. For instance, there’s plenty of discussion of made-up science proving the superiority of Cordarounds. “Praise science and the incredible times we live in! Through sheer scientific marvel, Betabrand has fabricated corduroy that goes sideways instead of up-and-down, lowering drag coefficient by an amazing 16.24%,” reads one blurb. This “data” is augmented by a video instructing people how to put on pants that is played so straight that it really is funny, as well as a dispatch from the Corduroy War, which weaves an overwrought tale about the underdog battle being waged by horizontal corduroy against its far more powerful vertical counterpart.
This attitude of sarcastic, clever fun is everywhere on the site. Other products include Dress Pants Sweatpants, Karate Casual pants and shiny silver Disco pants, shorts, jackets and hoodies, each of which has a storyline and characters built around them. This approach is, of course, all by design and geared toward getting the sort of online reaction Lindland initially got in person to the idea of horizontal corduroys. “If the product is a regular pair of jeans and it’s made of raw denim, that is not enough. What we do is we name them Sons of Britches and come up with an amateur-stuntman culture around it,” Lindland says. “Our goal is to make something that is worth forwarding on the Internet, and to do that, it must be interesting to read about.”