Untuckit launched eight years ago with a premise so simple that some people thought it was a joke: dress shirts cut short to be worn untucked, and a brand named accordingly. Since then, the company has expanded from its signature shirts to over 500 products (additions include outerwear, bottoms and footwear, along with some women’s and kid’s offerings), 86 stores and a recent UK expansion. The brand will earn around $200 million in 2019 revenue. Some consider this a big deal while others consider it the Goop of menswear, which is not intended as a compliment.  

Anyone who has worked in the consumer goods industry (especially those outside of fashion) should not be surprised that a seemingly bland and obvious idea could become a big business. There is a fallacy in consumer industries that flashy businesses are good businesses—they often are not. The brands that get the most press, are worn by the most influencers and are the most buzzed-about on social media often earn a fraction of the revenue of brands that everyone knows about but no one talks about. Amazon’s retail business is as boring as it gets. Yet the addressable market is huge, even while people say it will never be able to sell fashion broadly because it is so obviously anti-fashion. This is totally fine, as many companies make a lot more money being outside of the nucleus of culture than being inside of it, with the latter often producing more art projects than sustainable businesses. 

Guess who’s making the most money in the consumer space right now and will regardless of a recession? It’s the private label brands that Walmart, Target, Costco and other mass-market retailers own, the brands that make the most boring products better and more accessible for everyday Americans.    

Given this, it should be no surprise that Untuckit took off. But how did Untuckit apply a seemingly similar formula as J.Crew’s men’s business, which was already established, but fare much better than its legacy counterpart? 

J.Crew earned 21% of its revenue from men’s products in 2018, which is $373 million out of its $1.78 billion in total revenue for the year. This number is down from $484 million (24% of overall revenue) in 2016, meaning that in two years the company’s men’s business lost over $100 million in sales. This revenue comes from the company’s website and its 203 J.Crew retail stores and 174 J.Crew factory stores, most of which sell men’s products either on the inside or with an accompanying men’s shop nearby.

J.Crew’s men’s business is most known for its shirting collection, which currently has over 400 styles listed on its website. A lot of these are meant to be worn untucked, but with no branding attached compared to Untuckit. Let’s assume that J.Crew’s shirting business accounts for 30% of its overall men’s business (this is just a guess). This would mean that J.Crew has just over $110 million in shirting revenue, which is likely a bit less than Untuckit’s shirt-based revenue (let’s assume shirts account for 80% of Untuckit’s 2019 revenue, with the rest of its expanding product assortment accounting for the rest). 

If these numbers are remotely correct, it’s staggering that Untuckit has overtaken J.Crew’s men’s business in less than eight years. The question, then, is how did it do it? 

  • Was Untuckit’s value proposition so simple that it just makes sense? You do get it right away and that can help drive a very quick flywheel from a marketing and sales perspective. If this is the case, it will be important to see how the company’s expanding product offering affects this since it now makes more than just shirts. J.Crew, on the other hand, might have such a tainted brand that it continues to drive shoppers away. 
  • Is Untuckit going after an older and wealthier customer than J.Crew? J.Crew doesn’t disclose it’s average customer age but says it sells to “college-educated, professional and fashion-conscious women and men,” which would not put it far off from Untuckit’s demographic, which is 22 to 55 year-olds. While Untuckit could skew older, and therefore wealthier, customer age doesn’t seem like a big factor, but customer location could make a big difference. 
  • Was it J.Crew’s product assortment? The fabrics can’t be that different between the two brands, the fit could be a bit better at Untuckit, and the colors could be more muted for more professional men, but it’s unclear if this is enough to make a big difference. J.Crew has always sold cropped shirts and the idea is far from new. But the company sells so much other stuff that its brand name means nothing literal, and has become more of a liability than an asset, while the opposite is true for Untuckit. 
  • Was it J.Crew’s inventory buying? J.Crew is notorious for overbuying inventory and then marking it down with endless sales, which eroded the expectation that customers should pay full price for its products. Untuckit, on the other hand, uses Amazon selectively to offload excess inventory and likely buys tighter than J.Crew does, which leads to more full-price sales. 

While there is likely no single reason the field has played out as it has, Untuckit has a lot of opportunities ahead as the workplace becomes more casual both in the U.S. and abroad. But there is also a lot at risk as it chases more growth and moves outside of selling just shirts, which could potentially clutter its value proposition. J.Crew has plenty of its own problems, but it can’t be fun to have a brand so bland and obvious eat your own lunch while it makes you watch. Say what you want about Untuckit, but they have clearly done something right.