So how did an offhand remark at a dinner party lead to the creation of an online closet for hipsters everywhere? In an oversimplified nutshell, here’s what happened: Lindland’s comment led someone else at the party to say they knew someone who made custom clothing and, voilà, he had his first pair of horizontal corduroys, which attracted an unusual amount of attention when he wore them. This being San Francisco, where e-commerce startups are born in coffee shops and at dinner parties every day, Lindland saw no reason not to turn his whimsical idea into a business. “For me, I’m a person that if you have an idea and it cracks you up and it really doesn’t seem too hard to try out or too expensive, you might as well give it a try,” he says.
The fact that Lindland had absolutely zero experience running a clothing company didn’t stop him. Instead, it made him focus on the two things he did know about: e-commerce, having worked on a number of Internet startups, and entertainment, which he knew thanks to his success developing and selling a couple of TV shows. With a vague notion that a bunch of other guys might want to also have a pair of horizontal corduroy pants that elicited comments from strangers, Lindland created a website, the goal mostly being to have an outlet for being funny and creative. “When it started, it was just jokes, and the motto of the company was: ‘An evil multinational corporation has to start somewhere,’ ” Lindland says. “We had this long list of these other things we intended to get into. We talked about how pants naturally lead to making industrial lubricants and soft drinks and death rays and things like that.”
What Lindland initially created was funny enough that people forwarded it around the Internet, eventually grabbing the attention of a New York Times reporter who wrote something about it. It was enough attention for Lindland — who was running his company from his basement using his laptop — to suddenly have a real business and a real problem. “We sold 500 more pants in the first few days than we actually had, so the question was, ‘How do you keep people entertained as they have to wait a month to get their pants?’ ” The answer: more jokes, of course. To buy some time for him to get more pants made, Lindland created the Cordarounds newsletter, with the motto: “99% fiction, 1% fashion.” It worked. Fully 95 percent of the people who ordered and paid for pants were willing to wait a month to receive them; today, the newsletter remains popular, with more than 40 percent of people who receive it in their email inbox opening it — a very high rate.
Despite cultivating a look and feel of careless frivolity, Betabrand is extremely savvy and sophisticated. For one thing, it has tapped into an entire market of consumers who are typically uninterested in clothes. Consumers, that is, like John Grimme, a 41-year-old neuroradiologist who lives in Eugene, Ore. Grimme says he has never enjoyed shopping and always has problems finding clothes that fit him. About two years ago, after coming up empty in his search for pants with a 36-inch inseam in Eugene, he followed a small ad from his Facebook page featuring a picture of geisha Cordarounds and ordered two pairs. Pleased with how they looked and fit, Grimme has since ordered more clothes from Betabrand, including a couple of smoking jackets, a Black Sheep Sweater and USA Pants, which look like an American flag. Finding clothes that fit was great, but the entertainment factor didn’t hurt, either. “Fashion is not important to me,” says Grimme, who admits that he reads the Betabrand newsletter regularly. “Fun is, though. As time goes by, the more important that becomes. Betabrand happens to combine these things very well.”