By Mylena Vazquez
It’s 5pm on a Friday. You’ve escaped the cubicle, ditched your tie, and muted email notifications. It’s the weekend, baby, and you’re officially OOO. Time to throw on a pair of Chubbies and kick it with the guys.
This defines the ethos of Chubbies, a “weekend apparel” company whose flagship men’s shorts can be summed up as retro vibes meets bare thighs.
Chubbies was founded in 2011 by four old college friends with a shared love of the vintage short-shorts their dads rocked growing up—and with an idea to revive them, taking them from one-off thrift finds to mass production. They tested this idea one Fourth of July during a trip to Lake Tahoe. The guys made a handful of extra pairs of the star-spangled shorts they were wearing for the occasion. By the end of the weekend, they had sold all of them for $50 a pop.
But how did a shorts startup that started out as a vacation experiment turn into a full-fledged business with net sales of $44 million in 2020 alone?
Chubbies really knows their audience
When Chubbies was born, its founders did the obvious—turn their attention back to college, where they first sported their thrifted shorts. They reached out to fraternity chapter presidents to gauge interest, and discovered that it was not only still present but also huge. Friends told friends who told friends, and Chubbies shorts sold out quickly after their website launched. They had found their target market: fratty college bros.
As years passed and these customers grew up, so too did Chubbies change. Those college guys had graduated, but they were still loving Chubbies. It had transformed into a community— “Chubster Nation”—where short-shorts had come to symbolize nostalgia, fun, and freedom.
The brand shifted accordingly, from targeting specific demographics to working on building their affinity audiences. They had championed the dad shorts, and now it was time to embrace their customers’ new dad bods.
Chubbies believes every man is a model
In 2015, Chubbies launched an annual male model competition. They were looking for real, relatable guys of every age, shape, size, color, and creed—in short, a sampling of their actual customers—to represent their brand. Among their goals was to boost brand awareness and affinity through increased social media engagement.
As part of the promotion for the contest, Chubbies created a hilarious, dude-packed YouTube video with an inclusive, body-positive message: “give us your old, your young, your dad bods yearning to be free… Because last time we checked, all men are created equal.” The ad featured fast pacing, tight shots, an engaging protagonist, an exhilarating soundtrack, and a directive to “apply now” at a link displayed in-screen. Chubbies received over 2,000 applications (some priceless), exceeding their goal by 1,500. As a whole, the campaign was wildly successful, garnering a combined reach of 50 million.
Chubbies lets memes do the marketing
With dad shorts and dad bods come dad jokes.
It’s no secret that comedy is central to the Chubbies business model. But it’s hard to think of a more potent element of their communication strategy than the use of memes.
If you look on the Chubbies Instagram page, where they have a following of well over half a million, you’ll be hard-pressed to find traditional product shots or fashion spreads. Instead, you’ll see lots of vintage photos of guys wearing short-shorts, with original captions or jokes. You’ll see a video promoting the Thighber Monday sale, with a decked-out Chubbies model shredding paper bearing the word “PROFITS.” You’ll hear Chubbies’ take on Adam Sandler’s infamous shants. You’ll even see viral TikTok star Emily Zugay “redesign” their logo in her signature intentionally awful style.
Chubbies’ online presence is focused on engaging with their customers as friends: making them laugh, producing memes that they’ll want to share, and creating a community where fun is first and pants are prohibited.
Chubbies has become the world’s biggest unofficial frat—and made big bucks in the process.
Are you a member of Chubster Nation? How did Chubbies get you on board with short-shorts?