FRIDAY OCTOBER 31, 2014
 
Blog STYLEBOOK
NAKED AMBITION
JoelPrimus.jpg

Let’s face it, until Calvin Klein came along most men were quite happy to live with tighty whities and poly-cotton blend boxer shorts. And from a price standpoint? More than $10 for a pair of underwear probably seemed outrageous. From those early CK days, dozens more players have entered the men’s undergarment space. There's been some experimentation with fabrics, the boxer brief was born, the comfort waistband emerged and people grew to accept the idea of paying more for premium brands.

Still Abbotsford, B.C. entrepreneur Joel Primus believed there had to be more. Inspired by a pair of underwear he discovered while on a trip to Peru, a seed was planted. He thought to himself, “There has to be a way that I can push the boundaries of fabric, that I can push the boundaries of fit.”

From that idea, NAKED – a premium line of undergarments made from an exclusive Italian fabric – was eventually born. But not without a steep learning curve, a lot of growing pains and a little humiliation in the Dragon’s Den.

We caught up with the man behind NAKED to find out about his journey.

What kind of business experience did you have before that first visit to the Dragon’s Den?

I didn’t know anything about business. Arlene (Dickinson) asked for 100 per cent and she said, “I love the name.” So I knew I had something good but they were right. I had no business being on that show. In the time it took to get the company launched, I learned a lot, lot more.

Surely, the exposure must have helped.

That’s exactly what it did. I was trying to pitch investors all the way leading up to Dragon’s Den and I was having zero success. But when the show aired back in 2009, despite the rejection and humiliation that was tied to it, suddenly there was this extra credibility. I was able to leverage that to get better quality investor meetings. And that led to money being raised the following June and the business launched September a year later, so it wasn’t a quick process but it was the initial tipping point.

How did you end up in Peru?

I was a long-distance runner and thought my whole life was figured out. I was going to run and then I was going to coach. But I blew out my Achilles and lost my scholarship and decided to hitchhike across Canada, which led me to a trip to Southeast Asia which inspired me to film travel and that led to a South America trip. It was there in Peru that I found a pair of underwear that sort of planted the seed that, hey, I could start an underwear line. So it was a very roundabout way but I started from a completely blank slate of knowledge of the fashion industry, of manufacturing apparel, to the business of selling. But I was just trying to make something happen in my life and NAKED was the one thing that people had a really positive reaction to even before we had anything to call a company or a brand.

What was different about the underwear you discovered in Peru?

It was pima cotton and I was blown away because until then, I had crap boxer shorts. Pima cotton rocked my world. I thought, “What is this?” When I came back I started seeing what was out there and first and foremost, every major brand uses pima cotton as their premium product so therefore, it’s not really that special. Second, I said, "This can’t be as good as it gets." I started exploring fabrics from around the world and then asking, “How do I create a product that doesn’t have a waistband.” I took that to five or six manufacturers and every time I got the product back, it was nowhere near what I wanted. And I kept saying, “There has to be a way.”

So in many ways, you had a business model before you had a product.

There’s a ton of passion and inspiration behind the NAKED product but there was also an understanding of where it fits in the market even before it was created. The business model was supposed to be black and white just like the underwear and I think that’s one of the reasons that we’ve been successful. The other is that I think I’ve had an astronomical amount of people who have helped throughout the entire process and lending their advice when needed. I’ve been really blessed.

So you had no business experience but in the time it takes to get an MBA, managed to actually launch a business.

A practical business plan is exactly what we’re creating because, literally, it changes every quarter. If I had an MBA, maybe I would have been able to create a business plan before I’d started but now I have a company. It’s not a wish list any more.

What advice do you have for budding entrepreneurs?

Put your passion out there at the mercy of the consumer. If you never do that, it’s never going to become anything. One strength that I’ve always brought to NAKED is that I’m pretty darn fearless in selling the dream. Rejection was never a deterrent for me.

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