#111. CDLP keeps it brief with minimalist men’s underwear. We talk with co-founders Andreas Palm and Christian Larson about how their background and passions in film, music and live experiences, as well as heritage and direct-to-consumer brands, combined to build a company of their own. The Loose Threads Podcast features in-depth discussions with leaders across the rapidly changing consumer economy.

Check out the full transcript below.

Christian: [00:00:01] What we have done is pay a lot of attention to building a brand and building a customer loyalty. This makes all the difference for us, because we can survive without Facebook ads but, I think a lot of brands, they can’t.

Richie: [00:00:15] That’s Christian Larson co-founder of CDLP a Swedish men’s underwear brand. Uniting their joint passion for visual and commercial brand building, Christian partnered with Andreas Palm to create a brand rooted in strong creative storytelling with a global reach.

Richie: [00:00:27] I’m Richie Siegel, the founder of Loose Threads, which analyzes and advises next-generation consumer companies, and FaceLift by Loose Threads, a retail incubator and accelerator for leading brands and retailers. For our latest analysis and insights, check out our free weekly newsletter at LooseThreads.com.

Richie: [00:00:43] I started the Loose Threads podcast to spark engaging discussions with leaders across the consumer economy. That’s why I was excited to talk with Andreas and Christian about their measured approach to balancing e-commerce wholesale and retail, along with how their quest for sustainability has been a driving force for CDLP. Here’s how it all began.

Christian: [00:01:06] We were in Rio de Janeiro. I was in the middle of my film career, and I was doing quite well, and I was shooting something there in Brazil. Andreas did his thing, and, luckily, we could travel together, and we both shared this passion for exploring and traveling etc. And as best friends we shared hotel rooms because it’s fun and it’s also cheaper. We like what we wear, we care about what we wear, we are style conscious, I guess. And there was this moment; in hotel rooms you hang out in your underwear, and we saw each other’s underwear one day and we [were] just like, “What the hell are you wearing, dude?”

Andreas: [00:01:36] We had seen each other’s underwear so many times, after traveling for so long, and kind of ignored the way the underwear looked. But we came to a point where we couldn’t ignore it anymore. So we said, “Why are we wearing what we’re wearing underneath? We need to find a solution to this. We need to find a why there’s no options that we appreciate, for underwear for men.”

Richie: [00:01:52] And why was that? What were the issues? Run through the list of everything you felt was wrong.

Christian: [00:01:57] I think, first and foremost, it was just a big clash with everything else that we cared about. Stylistically, there just wasn’t any options that provided the kind of minimalistic aesthetic that we preferred. That was the first thing. And then, when you travel, you start to care about the few select garments that you bring with you, and the quality starts to mean more to you. When it came down to where it was always the failing link; like, really, you know, it just didn’t hold on. And thirdly, it was the fact that it didn’t add anything emotionally to you. It’s the layer you wear the most time of the day, and for a lot of people, 24/7. We should care about this garment, and it just didn’t do anything. It’s just a necessity for most people.

Andreas: [00:02:37] For men, especially, I would say is a non-decision to put on underwear. It’s like, your mom bought it for you, and then you start doing it, buying it yourself. You get a gift. Some men get it from their girlfriends. And it’s just something you don’t pay attention [to]. To the men that are setting fashion and what they wear, we care a lot about other stuff, like watches or sneakers or shirts. But it’s just a non-decision.

Andreas: [00:02:53] So the list of things that we didn’t like about them is that—big logos, made in cheap cotton, the patterns, the colors. It didn’t really work well with the rest of what we wanted to wear. So the list was pretty long, and when we felt that we reached a point where we felt, we must do something about it.

Richie: [00:03:09] So you had this kind of realization. Talk us through up to the launch, in terms of, where did you start product-wise, what did you want to create.

Christian: [00:03:17] So when we had this realization it was also in direct timing with me shooting a campaign for the lingerie brand Agent Provocateur. It’s a British lingerie brand. Women’s underwear has always been exciting in some way. And the great thing with being a film director in the commercial world and working with brands is that you get to dig into the story of the brand and everything about it for a short amount of time, do as much research as you can, and then plan your visual storytelling based on that and move that brand forward hopefully. So I was doing all this studying about this brand and all their values and everything that they wanted to make with their product, and they talked a lot about female empowerment and how the layer of underwear and the lingerie you put on should empower yourself to be a better woman—a stronger woman, a more powerful woman or whatever that may be. There’s also this thing with women’s underwear that they wear underwear occasionally. They choose it based on that outfit or that location, if I want to feel a certain way, and they wouldn’t choose that particular set of underwear with that particular dress or outfit. And I got jealous.

Christian: [00:04:16] Honestly, I felt like, as a man, why don’t we have this? Why don’t we talk about this first layer being actually something that would add something to the way you feel about yourself? And I think, in general, most people in the world do like to feel something and we all want to look good naked. So I think that was something that really added to the realization that we wanted to do something about this garment.

Richie: [00:04:39] It sounds like you started developing the product. Was that the first thing that you focused on?

Christian: [00:04:42] Exactly.

Andreas: [00:04:43] Yeah. We started looking at why designers we appreciate like Margiela and Rico’s don’t make underwear, and then we realized the, the signs don’t really do underwear. They just sell the license. So, most other brands do it on license with no passion whatsoever, and they make them in China. And we felt that we need to see China before we start looking around, because that’s where most of the brands produce. So we actually went to China.

Christian: [00:05:05] Yeah, we went to China to do our market research and visit the factories that produce for the majority of the world’s men’s underwear market. Now the quick realization was that it’s a very big production of a garment that nobody really cares about, and there has been very little innovation for a very long time. So, quite soon we realized this is an opportunity to try and do something different and disrupt some kind of market or industry.

Christian: [00:05:30] The further we dug deeper into this world of men’s underwear, the more we understood that we could do something that was better. That we could do something that was more innovative, that we could do something that was a modern beautiful product. So we quickly decided that we wanted to bring the production closer to where we’re from, so we designed the collection. We’re from Sweden. We have a Scandinavian aesthetic in our DNA; a minimalistic, elegant, form-follows-function approach, and we wanted to bring the production closer to us. So we’d visit a lot of European countries and settled in the end for Portugal. Portugal has a great tradition of making quality jersey products.

Christian: [00:06:04] Now, for the fabric—which is obviously the most important thing when you create a garment—there has been great textile development in the last ten, 15, 20 years. However, in the underwear industry, I guess the request for innovation has been very limited. So the most common fabric to use is cotton. Now cotton is actually just not an ideal fabric for underwear. It absorbs moisture, it doesn’t hold shape and color very well and, frankly, it’s terrible for the environment nowadays, the amount of cotton that we produce.

Christian: [00:06:32] So, after a lot of testing and research and choosing different fabrics, we settle on a fabric called lyocell. Lyocell is a beautiful fabric. First and foremost, it’s fully-sustainable, so it’s made from predominantly eucalyptus trees, that grows very fast, you derive it from wood pulp. And then, cotton production requires a lot of water waste; now, lyocell, you can recycle that water up to about 98 percent, I think. So it’s a beautiful fabric in that sense.

Christian: [00:07:00] Now organic fabrics or materials—sometimes it’s a compromise when it comes to comfort or performance. Lyocell is the opposite, so it transports moisture, it’s very breathable, it holds color beautifully, much better than cotton. And it’s just a very beautiful and premium fabric to wear as a first layer onto your body. So when we found this and started to develop the product, we quickly understood, “Oh my God, this is amazing. And why don’t more people use this fabric?” It has actually been around for a while, and I guess it’s more expensive to use and the tradition of cotton is so strong that it’s hard to break through it.

Christian: [00:07:34] So we designed a collection of just two styles. I mean, this was very small—it was me and Andreas designing the little collection—and we launched in 2016. The other part of launching a brand is obviously the branding itself and the storytelling, and because underwear is a first layered garment, it’s about men, it’s about bodies, it’s about masculinity. And we felt that this whole world, and the underwear world for men has been so stereotypical in the portrayal of men and masculinity; it’s black and white, kind of oiled up models or athletes, predominantly. And we just felt so bored about that.

Christian: [00:08:09] You know, we talk about this thing with female underwear and lingerie, and there has been improvement in the last 20 years when it comes to the way women are portrayed but, frankly, for men [there’s] been very little change, and it’s very stereotypical the way we portray men in underwear ad campaigns. We have, you know, a certain man and we look up to, and we felt that it was nothing that was very inspiring for us to look at. So, me as a visual storyteller and a photographer, I wanted to create an honesty in the visual language, an honesty and [to] make it feel personal, and to do that we turned to our friends. So, up until now we’ve actually only shot our friends in our campaigns, and we wanted it to feel real and organic and honest so we do very little or no retouch on the imagery, and it’s kind of private moments with guys.

Christian: [00:08:54] And so far we’ve heard really nice things about our campaigns, that people like [them], that they can relate to them but there’s still an inspirational touch to them. And then when it came to the rest of the branding and packaging we wanted to make sure that this felt like an elevated garment, something different from the rest of the underwear that you had purchased before. So we launched in 2016 and, after about a month or two we had an order from the UK and, as a new business, you check every single order and who it is. And this ended up being a guy called Jeremy Langmead. He was a fashion director or style director at Esquire magazine, and he fell in love with the product, and he wrote an article [and] called us, or among a few brands, “The Boxer Rebellion,” and that was everything that we hoped for.

Richie: [00:09:36] So, going back a little bit, what did “launch” mean? Like, did you have a plan that we’re gonna go do X, Y and Z, from press to advertise, whatever? Was it just like, we’re gonna flip a switch and the website will go live? And then, did you have a number in mind of what you wanted to sell on that launch day?

Christian: [00:09:52] Not at all.

Andreas: [00:09:52] No. We started small. We placed an order of 10,000 products. And we only launched, as Christian said, with two slides from the beginning, a boxer trunks and boxer shorts. And we just wanted to start step by step, and build a really nice ecommerce experience. But we also felt that with all the direct-to-consumer brands they go full ecommerce only, we felt like we needed a bit of help from the industry. So we had a really early ambition to get into MR PORTER, Barneys—we didn’t really know how long it would take but we really believed in the product, but also the timing was right to launch a brand like this. And you start speaking about how men buy underwear, and use underwear, and the feeling they can get when they purchase a product.

Andreas: [00:10:30] So we didn’t have any number in mind. We just felt that, we want to get an early validation from the end [consumer] that tries it and likes it, and we got it really, really early, from 18-year-old men to women that bought it for their husbands. And from a 75-year-old guy, old army guy in Sweden who emailed us and said, “For my whole life I waited for an elegant garment that made me feel sexy and I finally did.” So we got this validation from the end [consumer] really, really early and we got very early validation, as Christian said, from press like Esquire, but also from wholesale partners. We got into MR PORTER early, we got into Barneys, as I said, and so forth and so on.

Richie: [00:11:06] I’m curious to talk a bit more about the wholesale piece, ’cause generally when people talk about disrupting an industry, presenting things differently, communicating differently, they go to the direct channel as a way to do that. There obviously are still plenty of benefits of wholesale but you’re actually a little bit removed from being able to talk directly and so forth. So talk a bit about how that decision was made of, how can we accomplish what we want to through wholesale early on and what are the benefits that wholesale will provide if we do that.

Andreas: [00:11:34] I think you need to look at the customer and where the customer buys underwear. So, traditionally men and the people who buy for men—so women, their mom or the[ir] wife—buy traditionally at department stores. So we looked at department stores, we needed to be where the customer wants to purchase. So it was like a hybrid strategy from the start, to have a really strong ecommerce experience but also be in the places where people would find us. So that gives an early validation that we are in these kinds of stores, that have been around for a hundred years, but it also introduces us to new audiences that would take a long time to reach otherwise.

Richie: [00:12:04] Sure. How do people find you? ‘Cause now you’re among a sea of stuff. Even if you have the best thing in the world. How did people start to find you within the stores?

Christian: [00:12:11] We chose the most loud color of our packaging possible.

Richie: [00:12:14] Which is a yellow.

Christian: [00:12:15] A yellow. It’s super-bright yellow with no imagery on the front. So I guess we evoke a question, like, “What is this?”

Richie: [00:12:22] And those boxes are in the store. So they sit on the shelf?

Christian: [00:12:25] Yeah they sit on the shelf and they’re really scream out, “This is an underwear brand that makes things different.”

Richie: [00:12:30] ‘Cause it looks like a gift. It looks like a prepackaged gift versus—I mean, most underwear people buy is in plastic, right? It’s in a bag.

Christian: [00:12:36] We wanted it to feel like a gift. The box itself is much like a gift box to yourself.

Richie: [00:12:41] Okay. So you get into wholesale kind of early on. In terms of ecommerce and the marketing side, talk throughout 2016 in terms of, what were your priorities from a business perspective, and what do you do once you’re launched?

Christian: [00:12:52] Me and Andreas, we had this idea all the time that we cannot build a brand without wholesale partners, we thought that was so important. Especially I think when there has been so many new young product-oriented brands that’s been launching the last few years. And it’s a pretty saturated market for all of us out there.

Richie: [00:13:12] Yeah. Do you see that internationally too? ‘Cause I think we’re jaded, the U.S., in New York, LA., San Francisco, they’re just brand after brand after brand. Are you seeing that across Europe, Scandinavia, as well?

Christian: [00:13:21] Absolutely. Oh my god, I mean, there’s so many brand startups in Sweden, it’s insane.

Andreas: [00:13:25] There’s a lot of brands in Sweden and Europe as well. But the brands that you’re talking about are global, they go global, so their marketing reaches Sweden as well.

Christian: [00:13:31] So we really felt that in order to build a brand—and we want to build the longstanding heritage brand, in the long run—we need validation and help from wholesale. But that was the only kind of strategic choice that we had. So, in parallel with the direct-to-consumer approach in our ecommerce, to constantly work on getting into the department stores and the most imported multi-brand stores. And what happens with that is like, it’s a little bit of a catch-22. The important press look at these stores, they look at the multi-brand stores, and the stores look at [the] press. So it’s like this little catch-22 that you need to break into.

Richie: [00:14:06] Yeah. How do you do that?

Christian: [00:14:07] It’s impossible to say how to break into that. We were incredibly lucky that we got a first article without having a wholesale partner, but quickly after that we got one and then we’re kind of in. But I think for brands starting out now it’s more important than ever to really have the validation early on. That’s my personal opinion, but I think it’s really hard to build a brand nowadays because if you’re only direct-to-consumer and you don’t have partners, it’s really hard to get that validation.

Richie: [00:14:36] It’s interesting how if you look, traditionally, that press and wholesale were generally channels for sales. You would get in Vogue or New York Times or whatever and you would hope it would spike your sales. You’d get in wholesale, you’d hope that would push your inventory and your volume. It’s funny now that they’ve shifted to validation sources in fact they’re still very valuable, but—

Christian: [00:14:56] Yeah, very few of those articles convert to sales.

Richie: [00:14:59] Right. It’s a very different role today.

Christian: [00:15:00] It’s a very different role, and I would also argue that none of those moments in a brand’s young first years makes that big of a difference, individually. They all bring to the table, but neither of those moments are individually key.

Richie: [00:15:17] Right. Game changers.

Christian: [00:15:17] No, they’re not. You just have to have an idea that you want to move on all fronts at the same time. And for us getting into the biggest department store in Sweden in our home market, it’s a very luxury beautiful store called In Case, it’s much like Barney’s or Selfridges or Harrods. When we launched with them we were instantly very successful there.

Richie: [00:15:35] Why do you think that was?

Christian: [00:15:37] I think that we had managed to build up a bit of hype.

Richie: [00:15:39] Locally.

Christian: [00:15:39] Locally, yeah, locally. They gave us a sales goal and we quadrupled that in two weeks.

Andreas: [00:15:45] There was also probably a lot of people that knew about us but they weren’t really comfortable buying online. So, as soon as they knew we were in the department store they went and bought it directly. So they probably wanted to buy it but they weren’t comfortable with buying online.

Richie: [00:15:56] Yeah. Did you envision that would be a challenge, selling underwear direct, in terms of try-on, return, etc.?

Christian: [00:16:03] Yeah, but it has its pros and cons. So yeah the try-on factor is important, it’ll probably reduce sales but the return is zero, you know, so I think they kind of…it has its pros and cons. But getting into that department store and launching with them, we instantly saw that it was parallel to our numbers on the ecommerce. Like, they just grew side by side.

Richie: [00:16:20] In terms of in that market, that they would grow in tandem.

Christian: [00:16:23] Exactly.

Richie: [00:16:23] And so, what did that tell you, or how did that I guess inform future—

Christian: [00:16:27] Well, I think that just validated how important it is, for us, for our product and for our brand to have the existence in wholesale.

Andreas: [00:16:34] To be in the best department store in each key market. And when you speak about what the role of wholesale [is]; I think, as you said, with so many new brands being around that it’s globally available to buy online, I think the role for wholesale is also the curation. So if you see that Barneys has five brands, or Bergdorf Goodman has four underwear brands, and we’re one of them, [we’ve] only been around for a couple of years, it just shows the customer that, okay, so these are approved, more than maybe they would need ten years ago when there wasn’t so many other brands that are available to buy.

Christian: [00:17:02] And for me, speaking as a consumer and not as a brand founder, my feed is full of brands now, I just scroll through all these new brands. And I suppose that they’re all kind of catering to the same audience. You know, the kind of early adopter, shopping happy—

Richie: [00:17:15] Disposable income.

Christian: [00:17:16] You know, millennials or whatever you plug into your Facebook algorithm. And all of them are kind of product-focused, they have a new product, “We do the best this, we do the best that.” But there’s so many of them, so it’s like a saturated market of new brands that all cater to [the] same consumer. And what happens is that since we’re all looking for the same customers the price is going up, so that’s one side of it. But the other thing is that with all these new brands to choose from, me as a consumer, what am I gonna pick? Like I need guidance, right? So where do you turn? And I turn to curation from trusted sources.

Christian: [00:17:50] I start to value the traditional press and the traditional wholesaler even more nowadays than I was only a couple of years ago when I just thought that was boring. But now I’m really looking for curation. I really want to go into a store beautifully curated by someone who has my taste and tells me that these are the brands that we love, and that will obviously influence my online shopping behavior too.

Richie: [00:18:13] In terms of you mentioned just rising marketing costs, how are you thinking about that from a global perspective? In terms of, are you marketing in the key markets across the world, are you marketing in New York? ‘Cause we’ve seen those trends drastically in the U.S., in terms of Facebook ad cost skyrocketing. Are those reflected globally to the same extent?

Christian: [00:18:35] Absolutely. It’s super expensive now, and it’s a big difference only [in] a year for us, and that part has been important for our business. What we have thankfully done is pay a lot of attention to building a brand and building a customer loyalty and, thankfully, we have a product that people, if they like it they come back to buy more. It’s not a single-purchase item. But really paying attention to building a brand. To have a tone of voice and to have a visual world that our customers like, that they are engaged in—this makes all the difference for us. Because we can survive without Facebook ads. Like, that’s okay for us, if that will die tomorrow, but I think a lot of brands, they can’t.

Christian: [00:19:12] So my catcher is that branding nowadays, it feels like there’s so many product brands and they kind of forget the branding sometimes. Building brands is important. Like, you need to build a relationship with people—by only focusing on the product I think you lose something. And in the long run when there’s other products on the market, you don’t have the loyalty to the brand, you’ll buy something else.

Richie: [00:19:32] Talk a bit about price point, in terms of where you want it to land, [whom] that would impute that the product is for, and so forth.

Christian: [00:19:40] Early on we wanted to create a premium brand, we put a lot of effort into making a handcrafted beautiful product. We also like that, as much as our production is fair, our fabrics are fair, we also wanted the pricing to be fair. I feel that’s a new breed of brands that adapt that philosophy. You know, there’s obviously the fashion brands, especially the hyped street fashion brands that are super-overpriced and it becomes a thing, but I have very little respect for that. I want to buy a product that gives me value for money. If it’s handcrafted or whatever it may be, I get value for money, then great, but as long as the pricing is sort of fair. So, fair pricing I’d say. We’re in the upper segment of underwear, but buying our product also gives you more value for money.

Richie: [00:20:21] And in terms of dollars, what is that actually?

Andreas: [00:20:24] It’s now $33 for one pair. And then we sell a three-pack for $85, and then we sell actually a nine-pack that sells really, really well which is around $220. And we get the feedback quite a lot that we could charge more or higher prices for the product, because it’s made in Portugal where everyone else is made in China, and they do cotton and we do lyocell. At the same time, we don’t want to charge more than we need for it. This is the fair price, as Christian said. And we want everybody to be able to switch from. They buy Calvin Klein today, they buy something else—we want [them] to be able to switch without feeling like, oh it’s much more expensive.

Richie: [00:20:53] How has it been communicating the value of the fabric? Do people get that? Is it convoluted, is it easy? Like, how do people pick it up?

Christian: [00:21:02] It’s not easy, and I think the first year we didn’t do it enough.

Richie: [00:21:05] What were you leading with, communication-wise?

Christian: [00:21:07] We were leading with brand, first and foremost, and then we decided that the second level, the second tier of the experience of the brand is how the product is made and what it’s made from. I guess we’ve switched out a bit, round a little bit now, we talk more about the fabric, because two years into the business we really feel that that’s the one thing that people love about our product. So, I guess we switched to focus on the communication a little bit.

Andreas: [00:21:31] We didn’t want the sustainability to be the headline, initially.

Christian: [00:21:34] Exactly, a couple of years ago there was all these brands saying you know, “I’m the organic this or the organic that.”

Richie: [00:21:39] Right. And they look like that, too.

Christian: [00:21:40] And they look like that, too. You know, we just didn’t want to be that brand, we wanted to be another type. So it was important for us to not push that as the predominant factor. However, I feel like there’s been a shift in the fashion industry. All of a sudden people started to care about what products that we buy are made of. And I think that’s fantastic.

Richie: [00:21:59] So I guess bring us up to the end of 2016, kind of the first year-ish or less so in business. What were each of your priorities up until the end of that year?

Christian: [00:22:08] The priorities for me was to kind of find a recipe into how to create all this huge amount of content that a new brand needs to develop and shoot and produce. And I came from having worked pretty big major campaigns for high luxury brands.

Richie: [00:22:24] Big budgets.

Christian: [00:22:25] Big budgets, working weeks on a campaign. And here I was with zero budget, zero time, and—

Andreas: [00:22:33] No one else holding the camera.

Christian: [00:22:34] No one else holding the camera! And the requirement to post on Instagram daily! And I was like, “God this is impossible. How am I gonna do this?” So that took most of my attention during the first year. Luckily the press picked us up very organically, step by step. That happened the first year when we were new and that really helped building the brand without us needing to pay too much advertising to buy customers.

Andreas: [00:22:58] For me, it was finding the formula to get on the radar of these big established department stores and multi-brands that get so much communication from all small brands. Why would they look at us and why would we be different? Why would they bet on us? Because if you look at department stores, they look at square feet, how much are we gonna make. So the department store buyer wouldn’t really be keen to risk or to bet on a small brand like that if they don’t really get the whole concept. And that was my main priority in the first year, and just figuring that out is how to reach the right person, who’s actually the decision-maker. Is it the underwear buyer, or do we need to find someone else who can make that decision?

Richie: [00:23:32] Were there any surprises that first year, where you were like, “There’s no way X is gonna work,” and it actually did? Or you were really confident in this one thing that just totally flamed out?

Christian: [00:23:40] Yeah. Why aren’t we selling more, let’s say more?

Richie: [00:23:44] Say more.

Andreas: [00:23:44] I don’t know. I think that was something we felt all the time. Like, we’ve got this full-page feature in Esquire, it’s gonna skyrocket…it doesn’t. We got this award after only five months that was underwear brand of the year in Sweden by this prestigious men’s fashion magazine. We’re like, “Put on a seat-belt, now we’re taking off.” But you need a lot of those things before [it] really, really pick ups. So just being persistent and being patient was really learning from that year.

Christian: [00:24:08] Persistent and believing in those strategies. So not forgetting the brand and not selling out. It’s so easy when you don’t feel like you get traction on these PR articles or these things, to start to get trigger-happy and start to sell out and forget the brand. And like, “Come and buy this,” and start with discount.

Richie: [00:24:23] Right. Go super transactional.

Christian: [00:24:25] Oh my god like, it’s tempting as hell, and your fingers are itching. And I think that’s really been key from having a business partner. So, me and Andreas have kind of like held each other back and said like, “You know, we gotta be consistent, we gotta be patient. We can’t let ourselves devalue our product or devalue our brand.”

Andreas: [00:24:44] Can’t sell out.

Christian: [00:24:45] That’s really hard and I guess that every entrepreneur faces the same challenge.

Richie: [00:24:49] At the end of 2016 what does the global makeup of the business look like? Not even in terms of percentages but, are you primarily in Sweden, are you more international? Like, what does that look like? And also, how does that compare to what you wanted it to be at that point?

Christian: [00:25:02] From day one we wanted to be an international global brand. We’ve always communicated in English, we’ve never communicated in our native tongue, even to customers in our country or state.

Richie: [00:25:12] Interesting. Why?

Christian: [00:25:12] Because we wanted to be a global brand.

Richie: [00:25:14] Do you translate the site, even locally?

Christian: [00:25:16] No.

Richie: [00:25:17] Interesting.

Andreas: [00:25:17] Everything’s in English from day one. I would say it was easier to win Sweden. Sweden is a great test market for us, and it’s a good way to start. I think Kevin Kelly said you only need a thousand really dedicated fans. It’s easier to get those first ones in Sweden, because they’re like friends or friends and people that trust in [us] and what we’re doing. But we got really early traction from New York and London, I would say. The U.S. and UK picked up really fast. So the ambition is to be able to sell anywhere.

Christian: [00:25:39] Still, the largest portion is from Sweden, still, but that number is decreasing every month and the others are growing. So it’s really cool to see that it’s happening for us, internationally.

Richie: [00:25:50] Yeah. How indicative of other cities like New York, LA., London, do you find Sweden is? Versus is it its own—

Andreas: [00:25:57] Very like it, I would say. Sweden is a small, much much smaller city but easily, it really—

Christian: [00:26:02] It’s a country, actually.

Andreas: [00:26:03] I’m gonna go, now.

Christian: [00:26:09] Sweden is a very small country. We live in Stockholm. It’s a two-million-people town. I would say “town” because it’s very small. But Sweden is interesting because it’s quite modern. I think we’re quite fashion-forward, we’re innovative, and when it comes to products and services, for those of you don’t know, we have Spotify, we have other kind of high-tech companies that have sprung out of Sweden. Skype, Kazaa. So we’re quite modern like that. When it comes to fashion and style we’ve got—Acne’s like, the big flagship out of Sweden, I suppose, but many other small brands too. And it’s an interesting market to try to launch a product like this, and I think it’s a really good indicative customer base and you really get a sense of, okay, what do people like. And on the good side for us and for any business or brand that starts there, I wouldn’t say it’s easy but it’s manageable to reach the whole country, fairly easy. I mean, here in the U.S. you need money to break through the barriers, but in Sweden you can go to, you know, TV shows and podcasts, break through the noise fairly easily to a lower acquisition cost. So it’s a good country to, I suppose, experiment in. And I think that we’ve done a lot of like, testing. Like, does this work on a Swedish audience? And then we apply it onto an international audience.

Richie: [00:27:22] So moving into 2017, you have now a [year’s] foundation of the business, you’ve been out. Where do you start to go, “Here’s where we want to build?” And, I guess, respectively then, where do you each start to focus for that year?

Andreas: [00:27:33] We had a good start in 2016, 2017 we wanted to go more internationally. And we had some early responses from MR PORTER and Matchless Fashion which are amazing for getting into the UK and just [to] position the brand. So we also looked at Asia, and needed to find a gateway to getting to Asia, so we started a dialogue with Lane Crawford who’s like the Barneys of Hong Kong. And they purchased us in 2017, which is a good way to start in those markets before we see what we do to further explore them. So we launched with Hong Kong, Beijing and Shanghai. I would say that the international scope for wholesale and multi-brands was my focus.

Richie: [00:28:05] Was the U.S. kind of on the radar at that point, or is that really, 2018 [when it] became more of the focus?

Andreas: [00:28:10] The U.S. was on the radar but it wasn’t until 2018 that it really kicked in. So MR PORTER also sells in the U.S., so we were available there. And we had like, small multi-brand stores, so we had the Jonas Auckland limited edition sold exclusively at Macksville in LA. So, the multi-brands were super important to get to position the brand, because when we are sitting next to Comme des Garçons and Margiela in the store, then the department store is easier—it can get like, “Oh, so this has really become a brand to take seriously.”

Christian: [00:28:34] Yeah. And for the brand-building we wanted to start to launch collaborations, because we quickly realized that getting through the noise in Sweden is fairly [easy], getting through the noise in London and New York, it’s impossible. So, well, you need to find the tricks and whatever works for your brand or your business, but for us it was to try and collaborate with people, artists and projects, or to find the wholesale partners to reach new audiences.

Richie: [00:28:59] So with those collaborations, talk a bit about what those look like, in terms of were they new styles, were they off of the core styles? And then, what purpose did you want them to serve?

Christian: [00:29:09] Doing collaborations in fashion or any collaboration is to find a way for two mutual identities to find benefit from each other and/or together. And I think, personally, for me, I’ve always seen our brand as a little film of chapters. So, you know it’s storytelling, and it’s always been important for us that, as much as we tried to portray in our campaigns a certain type of man and a masculinity I suppose, we also wanted to tell stories of other men and how they inspire us to be better people in our lives. So we started these collaborations.

Christian: [00:29:41] The first one was the film director that I used to work for. His name is Jonas Akerlund, he’s this super-talented heavy metal guy who’s done music videos and films; I think he’s most known for that Prodigy “Smack My Bitch” video, legendary. And he’s also worked with Madonna, U2, Rolling Stones, Metallica etc. So he, early on, kind of blessed us as a partner and said, “If you guys are doing black underwear without any fuss, I’m your supporter.” And then we thought of him, he’s got this great kind of leather jacket and vintage Gypsy clothing thing going on, and he’s got his own style and he’s always done his own thing and he always stands out as someone who’s walked his own path.

Andreas: [00:30:23] He was actually one of the guys that we spoke about in a hotel room in Rio when we said, like, what do other men that we look up to wear? Like Jonas Akerlund, does he also wear stupid underwear like we do?

Christian: [00:30:33] So I guess our first collaboration was about taking a person fronting a product that was the least expected personality and type of guy who would represent a garment that is beautiful. We talked about him and his values and very little about the underwear, so we wanted it to be more about him and who he is and what choices he’s done. So we launched a film, a little mini-documentary film that I shot about them, that we launch with nowness.com, which is this beautiful film website, and we got a lot of great press from that.

Andreas: [00:31:02] And did a launch event with him.

Christian: [00:31:04] Yeah. What does a collaboration do? Well, for us it’s been that kind of press story about a brand that thinks different. A brand that celebrates another type of masculinity, a brand that wants to change the norm of how men are perceived in the underwear market. And it’s all about trying to communicate that you have a different tone of voice than the others.

Richie: [00:31:23] Was it hard to get like, a Maxfield or whatever? Like, are they thinking about this category?

Christian: [00:31:26] No they’re not.

Richie: [00:31:27] So what is that conversation like, to the point where they go, “Here’s some precious real estate in our little cement store.”

Christian: [00:31:34] Yeah. That’s hilarious. I think first and foremost they all just say no. Yeah. They just say we don’t do underwear. So for us, we’ve had to pitch the idea every time and do so very thoroughly, that we are doing things differently, that we look at this market differently, that we have a product that is different.

Andreas: [00:31:53] And I think the multi-brand store buyer compared to the department store buyer can really see the aesthetic that Christian has built, like the brand and all the visuals, that they are different. And they are the next thing in underwear. They can bet on that more than a department store buyer.

Christian: [00:32:06] Underwear as a segment is kind of boring to talk about, but we’ve tried to make this more valuable, like another type of garment, and another value around this garment and the way you purchase it. And I think the branding and the design of the packaging and everything has brought a lot to the table into being a nice feature in these kind of stores.

Richie: [00:32:24] When it comes to the packaging, the cheapest thing to do is just to put it in a bag. Do you find that the investment that you’ve made in the packaging and stuff has paid multiple dividends over time in terms of perception and all these things? Cause some companies would just shy away like, “We’re not adding four dollars of COGS to this. It’s just not worth it.”

Christian: [00:32:40] We wanted to be a brand that cares about the packaging, especially because we wanted to create a garment that we wanted to be different, and to celebrate something that you would buy gift for yourself, or a gift for other people. That was a realization early on that it’s a lot of gifting going on within underwear.

Richie: [00:32:56] Did you know that going in?

Andreas: [00:32:58] We kind of discussed it. We weren’t sure about it. We didn’t do that much market research to be honest, but we kind of felt like this is a good thing to give someone, and there are no really nice options to give, you know, that feels like a nice present. It fits better in the multi-brand stores in how they look. It stands out in department stores and it’s also amazing for social media, because a lot of people don’t want to take a picture of themselves in underwear. But the box looks really nice, right? So if you look at the hashtag #CDLP you’re gonna see a lot of yellow boxes in the feed.

Richie: [00:33:24] It’s a fully kind of enclosed box, or at least the one I saw. How do people know what’s inside, then, in department stores?

Christian: [00:33:30] So in department stores we also hang the garment on a hanger, so you can see and feel the fabric.

Richie: [00:33:35] And then you grab a box, basically, with you.

Andreas: [00:33:38] And we also want to work really closely with the staff. So, the store in Stockholm that Christian spoke about, the department store, they almost feel like they’re part of our organization. We’re there all the time. And even though it’s further to go to New York or to London, we try to be there often and make sure they know the product and just work with them as an extension of the brand.

Richie: [00:33:54] So you’re now two years in. You have, again, an increasingly large foundation. It sounds like you started to focus on the U.S. last year. What else was top of mind?

Christian: [00:34:02] Two things. New York was incremental for us, thanks to Andreas who’s been doing this work really, really nicely. How did it happen?

Andreas: [00:34:10] As I said, it was really early on that I had to figure out the equation, how to get this into the floor and to see who the key person was.

Christian: [00:34:17] And I would argue that it’s very, like, if you don’t have this you can’t take the next step.

Andreas: [00:34:21] Exactly.

Christian: [00:34:21] So it’s like, it’s really like adding parts of the puzzle to make the full picture. Like, you just can’t walk into Barneys without having other things with you.

Andreas: [00:34:32] No. So you can show that we get press from Esquire. You can show a winner MR PORTER. But again, I need to find the right person and I think that, going back to the stubbornness that you mentioned, you need to be like, okay, nine people said no, but if I find the right tenth person—and what we needed to do was to aim higher in the organizations and get the meetings with the ones that could really take that decision. So that’s what we did, and we aimed to meet with the fashion director instead of the buyers. When we got the opportunity to present and they saw, you know, the brand and the aesthetics and also what we achieved so far. And how convinced we were that this is something that is important because we created this for ourselves, so it’s kind of [an] authentic story that wasn’t just, we started a brand because we wanted to start a brand. We started a product for ourselves, first and foremost, and we still feel [it] really is needed in the market. So I think that was key to get the meetings with the key decision makers. And from there it went pretty fast in the U.S.

Richie: [00:35:20] So Barneys was kind of the anchor?

Andreas: [00:35:21] Barneys and Bergdorf Goodman.

Richie: [00:35:23] And Bergdorf.

Andreas: [00:35:23] So we had small multi-brand stores before, but Barneys and Bergdorf Goodman was super important to start with.

Richie: [00:35:28] The product assortment also expanded last year.

Christian: [00:35:31] Yes we did a smaller capsule of swimwear. Early on we wanted to explore swimwear. We feel like, as much as underwear is an essential that we cared about, we also care about swimwear. It’s a segment that has been predominantly prints, a lot of this and that, so we wanted to do something that was more in-line with the design that we’ve done on the rest of the products. So we launched a smaller collection, but everything got really delayed. It came out in August and the end of the summer. But it did really well, actually. And this year we’re building on that. We learned a lot from this year’s collection, and this year we’ve found the fabric that we fell in love with for the swimwear, it’s called ECONYL. So, again it reinforces CDLP’s idea of what a fabric should be like. So, Econyl is a nylon made from regenerated ocean plastic waste—so like, fishnets and plastic bottles and stuff—and made into this beautiful premium swimwear fabric, it’s fantastic.

Richie: [00:36:26] What was it like introducing a seasonal product into a very core business, generally? Because underwear is not necessarily seasonal.

Christian: [00:36:35] No.

Andreas: [00:36:35] It was hectic, because if an underwear style is delayed it doesn’t matter, because it’s not seasonal. So we knew that we were doing captioning, which was supposed to be released in June, and then it became July, and then it became August. Which is fine, because Southern Europe has holiday in August, half of September, so we were fine. We just, the time period, it became more important, so now we release it much earlier. [It means] more planning on when do people buy that. And then, some of the wholesale partners actually, they launch swim in October every year. So, for the winter holidays, and then it continue[s] until the spring. So it just, we just became aware of some seasonal complexity.

Richie: [00:37:11] Yeah.

Christian: [00:37:11] But I think that a realization for me and Andreas has been to take every new product category very seriously, and to start it very small. Even though we feel like we would have had more traction with a start with as minimum quantities we’ve been able to do, and just learn from it, because there’s always room for improvement. And to be very humble to your customers and what they say, what their feedback is. So I’m very excited for this year’s collection. A lot of insights from last year.

Richie: [00:37:41] How do you think about that in terms of where you will go product-wise and where you won’t go, while staying within the umbrella that you’ve built?

Christian: [00:37:48] It’s very clear for us. Like, we started as a product brand, but we’ve always had a plan to expand the offering, but we’re also very clear that we’re not going to be a fashion brand. We’re not gonna do collections, we’re not gonna do this and that. We do products that we care a lot about, and we do them very carefully, and we put a lot of effort and love into how they’re made and what they’re made of. We also listen very closely to our customer. We have a really nice, loyal customer base, and we talk to them a lot and we get a lot of feedback. And, for us, it’s about building products and creating products for them. So it was natural for us to go from underwear to socks, it was super-natural for us to introduce swimwear, and what we’re looking at now is to expanding—we use this metaphor, but expand from the underwear drawer that you have in your room, and expand in that room.

Christian: [00:38:37] So we’re talking about something now that we called “dressed up home-wear.” I guess [it’s] a development of lounge-wear, but we just don’t like lounge-wear, it feels like a way of dressing down, and we think that our products, they dress you up. Like, you feel better about [yourself], you look better, and that’s what we want for clothing that you wear at home. Like, I want to feel good and I want to look good. So we’re doing dressed up home-wear as our new category and that feels like a natural extension.

Richie: [00:39:04] Where do you see, if at all, owned-retail offline playing in the trajectory or growth of the company?

Andreas: [00:39:11] One week from now we open our first concept store in Stockholm.

Richie: [00:39:13] Very cool.

Andreas: [00:39:14] So super-excited about that. We discussed it for a long time, we just felt that we wanted to find the right venue for it, and an opportunity came up this spring and we felt that we don’t really meet the customer. We have a closed dialogue, as Christian said, with the online customer, and we meet them when we go to our wholesale partners. But to be able to build a world for the customer and to be able to meet them while they purchase and have a dialogue with them there is just super exciting.

Christian: [00:39:39] This goes back to the old idea of creating a brand. Like, we’re very dedicated and passionate about that, to build a brand that people like and that has a tone of voice, a tonality, a world that feels exciting. You can only do so much online. It’s great but, for us, it’s been a realization being in wholesale and being able to like, design parts or our shop-in-shops, etc. How much difference it makes in creating that world for the customer experience. So, being able to do our first store now, we’re super-thrilled of building a deeper relationship with our customer base and to be able to show them more of this exciting world.

Richie: [00:40:15] What do you want someone to get when they come in and leave with when they depart?

Christian: [00:40:20] Everything that we do is so authentic—perhaps [that’s] a weird thing to say, and talk about yourself—but everything is kind of based on what me and Andreas likes, and our friendship also brings a lot to the table in what we do and how we do it. So the same thing with the store we want it to feel like you’re coming into our house, I suppose, and get to know us and the way our philosophy in designing product.

Andreas: [00:40:42] We want it to be a really strong experience in terms of the way it looks and the way people treat you. And we have put a lot of effort into customer loyalty, building a customer loyalty team, so anyone who reaches out to us we have put a lot of effort into creating lifelong customers, and we want to do the same there. So, make sure that people come, and when they leave they should be like, “Oh, we really want to come back to meet with these people and to get the experience of being here.”

Richie: [00:41:04] If you were to guess, in two years, how many stories did you think you have?

Christian: [00:41:07] For now, I think we both believe strongly in this concept of one showroom concept store. I would love to have a store in New York in two years, and one in London and Berlin as well.

Richie: [00:41:17] Localized flagships, in a sense.

Christian: [00:41:19] Yeah. Exactly.

Andreas: [00:41:19] And one in Asia. We don’t know really yet where it would be, and yet super-excited about opportunities to also enter Asia in a more strategic way.

Richie: [00:41:28] It’s interesting I guess if we look at a lot of brands here, a lot of them have stayed focused on America. Like, some won’t even sell in Canada yet. You all, in a short amount of time, have really taken an international approach. Did you weigh at all like, the hyper-focus of going market by market, versus let’s spread out a little bit? Obviously there’s limited time and resources and so forth, and you haven’t gone everywhere, but it’s interesting to see.

Andreas: [00:41:51] I think is different now compared to if we would have started ten years ago. We have a lot of respect for Acne, Swedish Acne started maybe 20 years ago. I think they would have a harder time to go Stockholm, London, New York. From what I remember they started in Sweden and became really big there, then moved on to Denmark, they did Germany and, you know, in the background they probably did the U.S. and UK as well. I think with building an online customer base as we have, it’s easier to approach buyers, to find them and to communicate with them and to show them we already have a customer base in New York. So it’s easy to show that we already have a lot of online purchases, so it just decreases the risk for them. So we felt from day one that we should go global and look for the big markets instantly, instead of keeping it in Scandinavia and only Europe.

Richie: [00:42:36] Over the next one and two years, what are you both most excited about that’s on the horizon for the brand in the near future?

Christian: [00:42:42] Super-excited about opening up our first store. It’s such a natural but also important next step in building a solid brand, and I think that’s more important than ever to pay attention to and to put an effort into doing so. The big realization for me up until now has also been that, that variable that is so often forgotten nowadays when building things: it’s time, and how you can only run so fast if you want to build loyalty and trust with customers. It takes time to build, it takes time for each market to grow, it takes time for people to shift their opinion about what you’re doing. So I’m really excited about the store, but I’m also really excited about—I wouldn’t say “slowing down,” but to appreciate the time it takes to build what we’re trying to build.

Andreas: [00:43:33] I’m most excited about building a strong team and a strong culture, because Christian and I, we can only do so much. We do everything we can and we’ve done so for the past four or five years. But seeing people grow and contributing to the business, doing things that we could never do ourselves is just such a huge reward and such an important step-by-step challenge to build a brand that grows and grows globally.

Richie: [00:43:57] What’s kind of the story behind the name? And then, how much was that domain?

Andreas: [00:44:01] Instagram was $150. We low-balled it.

Christian: [00:44:04] I low-balled.

Richie: [00:44:04] So you had to buy an Instagram handle.

Christian: [00:44:05] I bought the Instagram handle from a girl in Mexico, but I paid her $350 dollars over PayPal. I think that’s a fair amount for the handle. The dot com domain, oh god.

Andreas: [00:44:16] It was owned by some Chinese domain company.

Christian: [00:44:18] I know it was owned by some really dodgy Chinese company. And I was low-balling, and I did that negotiation, and I did not do it well. I think it started at two grand and we ended up paying like five, six grand.

Richie: [00:44:30] It’s a lot but it’s not terrible. It’s not a hundred thousand.

Christian: [00:44:33] No.

Richie: [00:44:33] We’ve heard that answer sometimes.

Christian: [00:44:34] Wow! Really?

Richie: [00:44:35] Yeah. Yeah.

Christian: [00:44:35] Okay. I guess we’re under…

Richie: [00:44:37] Yeah. For some of the like, high-level—like, the single word high level ones.

Andreas: [00:44:40] Good job, Christian.

Richie: [00:44:42] Yeah. Not cheap.

Christian: [00:44:42] But he totally fucked me on the last part of the negotiation. You know, we were all in agreement, and then he did like, the classic like, “No, it’s gonna be this much.”

Andreas: [00:44:52] You had your back against the wall.

Christian: [00:44:53] Yeah.

Richie: [00:44:53] Yeah. Now you know how to enter Asia.

Christian: [00:44:55] Exactly.

Richie: [00:44:55] And then, tell us the story behind the—

Christian: [00:45:01] The story of the name is that the brand is called CDLP. There’s something beautiful about four letters, and coming from visiting CD and LP stores, they usually had a sign outside of the store with the CD LP so, we really like that. Secondly, me and Andreas, we were on a road trip and we heard this song driving through—this was here in the U.S.—hearing this old song from this French singer called Michel Fugain, and he was singing about a friendship moment or a romantic moment. I’m not sure which one it was. He was down in the summer in the French Riviera and the clouds separated and the sun came out and he said, “This was a gift of providence.” And that’s a French long word, “Un Cadeau de la Providence,” and CDLP is a short [version] of that.

Richie: [00:45:43] Thank you both for talking.

Andreas: [00:45:44] Thank you so much!

Christian: [00:45:45] Thanks for having us.

Richie: [00:45:50] Thanks for listening to the Loose Threads Podcast. You can read full transcripts of the podcast and join the newsletter at LooseThreads.com. Feel free to leave a review on iTunes, we always appreciate it, and thanks to George Drake, Jr. for editing this episode. We have a great roster of upcoming guests and we hope you tune in next week.