Fashion Startup Betabrand Pairs Quality with Quirky

Nothing gets most of my guy friends more excited about fashion than making fun of it. Seriously.

Recently, on two separate occasions, both my boyfriend and a male friend of mine showed me a pair of sweatpants they had found for sale online. These weren’t ordinary sweatpants though, they’re Dress Pant Sweatpants, a line of classed up, Barney Stintson-style of sweatpants meant to be office friendly.

Anyway, these Dress Sweatpants are a creation of Betabrand, a San Francisco based fashion startup who’s mission it is to create unique, quality clothing for those with a sense of humor about how they present themselves to the world.

Betabrand is also well known for other creative fashions such as Disco Pants (perfect for anyone staring in the next LMFAO music video), the Black Reversible Smoking Jacket, and the original design (how the whole company started), Cordarounds.

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After doing some investigating of the site on my own, I decided to see if I could get an interview with someone at Betabrand and set up a coffee with the brand’s creative director, Jared Graf.

Graf started with the company three years ago, as its first official employee, helping out on product development. Today, he oversees the brand’s creative direction.

Today, Betabrand has about 18 employees and has had press coverage in some major news outlets, including Time. In fact, Graf admits that the press this brand gets is “disproportionate” to the actual size of the startup.

But hey, when you’re doing something unique, people will take notice.

“We like to try to reach audiences maybe other clothing companies aren’t speaking to, and engaging them online,” Graf said during our discussion over coffee. “If you have a little bit of a different perspective, we’d like to be the forum where you could share that.”

Betabrand’s marketing tactics are as unique as the clothing designs themselves. For example, at Maker Faire 2011, the brand collaborated with Inventor Saul Griffith and Onya Cycles to create a small event called “Eco Knievel“. And, the online personality of the brand (think Twitter, Facebook) is very vibrant. Fans of the brand are so engaged that there’s a 40 – 50% open rate of the e-newsletters, but no wonder. All of the copy is as hilarious as the clothing concepts themselves.

To keep fans of the brand engaged, site users can upload photos of themselves and apply B-glasses, without even purchasing any clothing. Actual brand buyers can upload photos via mobile phone to Betabrand’s Model Citizen community. Unlike on most e-commerce sites, (expect for sites like ASOS) where users aren’t really encouraged to participate with the brand other than to make purchases, Betabrand displays photos of fans wearing pieces of their clothes right on the page where that particular item is sold. To date, over 2,000 have been uploaded.

To generate even more buzz about the brand, the team came up with NSFWorkwear (which has a NSFBlog photo up now, so you can just click the link), a line of that’s not actually created and sold, but definitely talked about. Comments from users on Facebook show up in real-time on this page, like they do for the real place where Betabrand does its market research, the Think Tank.

One key thing discovered through paying attention to their customers, is that women want in on the fun! Starting with The Elope Dress, Betabrand now offers more than 8 clothing designs for purchase, and the womenswear designer has been known to personal email customers to build relationships and get feedback.

While Betabrand is expanding into womenswear and continually testing the boundaries of inappropriateness, it’s main demographic skews male, between the ages of 25- 55. Most customers, according to Graf, are tech savvy, geeky, and like large computer monitors. Sounds like the perfect target audience for perhaps San Francisco’s most wackiest (albeit brilliant) startup yet.

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