How I Started A $300K Business Selling Swim Trunks Made From Trash
Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
Hey there I’m Evan Waldenberg, the founder of Junk in your Trunks. Clothing from trash for the wonderful piece of garbage you are. We’re making swim trunks out of recycled plastic bottles.
We’re not the first brand working with these kinds of materials, but we felt that all the brands out there working with sustainable materials tended to cater to surfer bros and tree huggers so we set out to make something for a different type of guy, something for the guy who may treat his body like trash a few times a week, but wouldn’t mind treating the world a little bit better.
Up to about $25k/mo but rapidly growing, we just haven’t had the inventory to keep up with demand lately. We’re at a really interesting time because our company was/is still in its infancy and we managed to land an investment from Barstool Sports on a new shark-tank style show they debuted recently called The Big Brain. Gave up a decent amount of equity (the final deal doesn’t look exactly like what was discussed on the show, I’m happy with where we landed but gotta stay 🤐) but it really changed what the future of this business looks like as we’ve given ourselves an opportunity for a lot of awareness in our core market at minimal capital expense (this is exciting but also a risk as Barstool is an extremely polarizing company in the market and hasn’t really executed on these types of partnerships before).
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
My background is in media and advertising; prior to this, I worked for three years as a consultant working on organizational design and strategic sales strategies for legacy media brands, digital media brands, and ad-tech firms.
It was definitely pretty interesting stuff and was an awesome gig, but I felt so distant from the fun marketing and branding side of things (AKA why I gravitated toward advertising in the first place) and so I got a little burnt out after grinding there for a few years.
I’m the type of person that has always had a million ideas for things I want to do (ideas for businesses to start and otherwise) and I had saved up a little bit of cash and had no real-life responsibilities so it felt like the right time to test myself and see if I could put some of these ideas to work.
Like I said, I already had a million ideas at this point so once I made the choice that I wanted to go ahead and try something it was a matter of choosing from some of my pre-existing ideas (which lived in an excel doc which was literally just a list of 300 dumb things I wanted to launch).
The initial idea behind Junk in your Trunks and its initial concept is quite different. It started as a reaction of short-shorts for dudes coming back into fashion, and one day I was like it’d be funny if there was a brand Junk in your Trunks that was short-shorts for dudes and they had a dick that hung out of the leg. The initial idea was a dick that’d clip into the shorts that were going to be a sunscreen dispenser.
That proved hard to execute on so then it became a bottle opener and beer-shotgun-hole-puncher. So it was totally a joke, just hoping that if I got it out there and in the right places it could pop off for a month as a funny (fine, not that funny) party trick and I could milk that.
Thing is, once I had put an ounce of effort into this, it seemed like a lot of effort for a really cheap joke. But the more I thought about it, I did still have something compelling to play within the name. Junk in your trunks is super visceral and has a lot of meanings and connotations that you can play off if I were to keep going toward short-shorts or swim as a category: Junk in the trunk aka big bootied folks, guys’ junk in their ‘trunks’, and what grabbed me the most, in an era where sustainability is coming to the forefront there was an interesting opportunity to work actual Junk (recycled materials) into play.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
So as somebody with no design experience, I thought this part would be a little bit tougher. The reality is that I was just designing a pretty simple pair of shorts, not too dissimilar than many things that came before it.
Once we felt like we had something good enough to take to the market we spent about $650 on a small order of 35 trunks. These weren’t meant to be sold, but these were really were glorified samples that I sent around to friends for testing and for content creation.
I’m based in NY so there are a lot of local resources that are helpful to fashion brands so I was fortunate to find some consultants to help talk me through the process and hold my hand a little bit. Most of the big fabric and manufacturing trade shows come through NY as well so I met with a lot of suppliers there but their MOQ’s were a little too high for me as I was still trying to pull initial designs together and had no idea how to assess demand so I wanted to start as small as possible.
So I hopped on Alibaba and found a bunch of suppliers that had listings up for board shorts made from recycled polyester (as I mentioned, I’m not the first one to use these types of materials so they were already in-market, so while it wasn’t quite ubiquitous, a decent amount of manufacturers either had these types of fabrics stocked, or at least had access to sourcing them).
Once I was talking to these suppliers I had a decent idea of the style for the shorts I was trying to make, so the design process really consisted of going through a few rounds of iterations of trading drawings and pictures (of references) back and forth to work our way to samples and then once we had sampled it was a game of revising and making tweaks till we felt like we had it right. At one point one of them just sent me like a multiple-choice pdf for a lot of the minute details like what kinda zipper, what kinda waistband, what style tags, etc. That was super helpful and saved a lot of time in our back-and-forths (which were usually taking place in wechat or whatsapp). Ran samples with 3 factories as this was a good way to not only help assess the construction of the actual pieces but a good way to assess our ability to communicate with each of the potential suppliers.
Once we felt like we had something good enough to take to the market we spent about $650 on a small order of 35 trunks. These weren’t meant to be sold, but these were really were glorified samples that I sent around to friends for testing and for content creation (asked them to provide feedback and take some pics or vids in the trunks that I could end up using for content around a launch). This first shipment was actually accidentally delivered to a nearby karate dojo, so tracking that first batch down was a fun learning experience I guess.
Ultimately, I got a good amount of feedback to help me tweak the trunks slightly and a decent amount of content. Rather than just place an order, I decided to use some of this new content to launch a Kickstarter to help us assess demand and help raise some of the initial capital to enter our first real round of production.
Describe the process of launching the business.
As I mentioned, we decided to do a Kickstarter to mitigate the need for investing a lot of personal capital or taking on debt upfront.
Our Kickstarter was by no means a smashing success, but we hit our goal, raised $9k, and it was enough to get the wheels going and move into production. There are a million things I’d do differently or try to do better if I were to do it again. Sometimes when I start to look back at my Kickstarter I start to cringe, but hey, it got the ball rolling and I don’t think we’d be in the solid position we’re in now had things not gone how they went.
By doing this, I never really had to dip too much into my own pocket.
I did dip into my own pockets to the tune of about $3k on some Kickstarter agency fees which ultimately didn’t work too well. They were running FB ads for us and they had had success on a lot of crowdfunding projects in the past, but I was well aware when I signed up that we weren’t necessarily going to have success with this type of agency because our launch isn’t perfectly suited for the Kickstarter audience. Ultimately our offering is a brand play and not a special innovation, a new inventive gadget, and the gimmick/novelty wasn’t dialed up to 100 (a la Romphim) so it wasn’t inherently perfectly aligned to be a big hit with existing Kickstarter backers. About 55% of the Kickstarter money came from Family and Friends so take from that what you will.
While that Kickstarter was effective in getting the ball rolling, we were always playing a bit from behind. We launched the Kickstarter in June and didn’t have a product to send out until August (aka nearing the end of the summer), so not exactly the best time to ramp things up for a swim trunk brand.
Of the $9k raised I spent about $3k to fulfill the orders placed through the Kickstarter as well as a little extra inventory. I used $2.5k to hire a Shopify developer to help build my store. I had worked with him previously for another online store initially found him on Upwork. You can definitely find cheaper options on Upwork but a lot of the overseas cheaper options I’ve had a lot of difficulties communicating with. I’d only recommend working with those guys if you know EXACTLY what you want for your store/site and don’t need any input or thought involved (also at that point you can probably just do it yourself if you know exactly what you want). Whereas I needed some actual strategic ‘design’ help, which is why this felt like the right option for me.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
As I mentioned, we got our first batch of product in at a weird time. Ran some FB ads to middling success but ultimately knew I wanted to take more of a grassroots approach anyway.
Paid search marketing was never a major priority for us because at this stage we’re very much a brand play rather than a pure product play. Thus it’s tough to tell your story to people just looking for swim trunks broadly (I’m against Amazon as a sales channel for us for the same reason).
We’re more likely to be an impulse buy for someone scrolling through Instagram because they’re down with the mission and story, not just the product. Facebook and Instagram ads obviously provide a much more visual medium to tell that story and start to show what you’re going for as a lifestyle brand. That being said, you do need to spend a decent amount on Facebook and Insta ads in order to give your campaigns enough data to work with and start to optimize, but we still didn’t have a ton of cash in the bank.
I was always iffy about the potential for PR for this brand. I think it’s funny and semi-buzzy but being that we weren’t the most sustainable and thus not that innovative, I think reporters would be a little meh about putting a story out there. If they did, the only headline along the lines of “this brand wants to sell sustainable trunks to bro’s” and I just didn’t think there’s a ton of positives to come out of it at an early stage - if you can’t tell I’m not the type of person who inherently believes all press is good press.
I had a couple of trunks designed with college color schemes in mind (because although they’re trunks they’re unlined and I wanted to see if I could sell them in as game-day/tailgating shorts), so I poked around trying to find some ambassadors at these schools. Again, I ultimately had middling success here, people were definitely down with the brand and wanted to help but I didn’t have an extremely well thought out plan around how to actually excite and incentivize these kids to make content and try to help get the word out. So it was a middling success in the grand scheme of things there, but there were definitely a lot of positive indicators for me. I knew I had some degree of product fit, I just had to find a way to effectively reach the market.
With all of this being said, the Barstool partnership very much changes the strategy going forward. Once we knew the partnership was going to happen we cut all of our paid spend to pretty much relaunch with this partnership, knowing that we’d have an extremely low customer acquisition cost once we’d be leveraging the free media barstool can provide. With no spend on top of the free media, we sold a majority of our inventory in 2 days, so we’re still selling since then but still not spending a ton to bring people to our site right now because we’re out of 70% of SKU’s so it’s not the best user experience.
We’re still figuring out the details of how they can and will help promote our brand in the long term but we’ve already garnered a ton of new awareness from them and know that in general, we'll be moving a lot of our Facebook ad budget down the funnel a bit, so cutting back a bit on top of funnel awareness ads and increased our spend on mid and lower funnel retargeting campaigns.
Two of the things that are massively important where we aren’t doing enough right now: e-mail and our social media profiles. We obviously technically do a bit of both, but we don’t do them nearly well enough to be what we’re trying to be. Part of the issue is that although I keep saying we, it’s just me, and creating a ton of content is really tough for someone who isn’t inherently a content creator. I can’t really hold the camera and be in pics, well not easily at least. #solofounderproblems… Obviously, there are people out there that can help with these things but as a bootstrapped company that needs to run lean, content is something that should be relatively easy to own, plus if you actually have intentions of being a lifestyle brand, I believe you should be the one creating that story.
I think email will be massive for us, but we’re also not quite there yet. We don’t want to just shoot out sales emails a couple of times a week, we need to have compelling content to engage our audience, and again creating a ton of content becomes a slight impediment (it’s not currently an issue as we don’t really have a lot of inventory to sell, so it’s not like there’s that much we feel like we “need” to say. The ultimate goal for us is to end up generating about 30-35% of our revenue via email.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
So we were very much in our infancy when this Barstool thing came about so things are moving extremely quickly and our future is a little uncertain (in a good way). We’re testing a few different potential product lines that were not swimming trunks that we may try and bring to market in the spring.
We are profitable and have been since pretty much day 1 due to the way we bootstrapped (technically not literally day 1 because of the money I spent on production pre-launch and the agency fees because we paid those before the Kickstarter money came through).
Still purely online. We sell both through our own website: Junkinyourtrunks and through the Barstool sports store. About 65% comes through my site versus Barstool.
Operations are still just me. For most operational needs this is okay. The biggest gap is the content creation issue I’ve addressed here, really need to operationalize the ability to create good, on-brand content at scale (most of the other lifestyle brands we want to be like have teams so they can create the content of each-other all day).
Our unit margins are between 70 and 75% (we recently lowered our price from $65 to $50. Right now we’ve got a super low CAC but once we have more inventory we’ll start to ramp up the digital media spend and find the right sweet spot that effectively leverages our free media.
Tough to set meaningful goals when things are still at this stage but we’re trying to do $400k in the next 12 months and in the 2 years we want to be at about $5 million in annual revenue.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
I’ve made so many mistakes, but more or less just try to remember, it’s going to be okay. The most helpful thing to me is really trying to remind yourself that you are not your company and the successes and failures of your company do not reflect on you as a person. Your mental health as a solo entrepreneur can be extremely fragile, recognizing this fact is super helpful during your lows and it can keep your ego in check during your highs. I wish I could say I was perfect at this. It’s an everyday battle and one of the most difficult parts of doing these types of things alone. Certain people can thrive working alone, I’d say I’m capable, but I certainly don’t thrive in it, I thrive on being around people. So finding the right surroundings to support your project are important as well, especially if you’re in this alone.
If you’re a dreamer (someone with a lot of creativity and ideas but isn’t necessarily the best x’s and o’s operator), make sure to set up accountability systems to make sure you keep moving things along. It’s easy to accidentally put things off when there’s no one around the crack the whip. Set manageable and measurable goals of varying magnitudes.
My biggest mistakes are usually a result of trying to hire people for things that I am afraid to do on my own. Especially on things like content creation you certainly can pay people, but sometimes you have to just do the things you’re a little afraid of doing. They are simpler than you are making them out to be. There will always be top-shelf options, you likely don’t need them yet. It’s better to learn the basics of these things and you’ll be far better equipped to hire others down the line.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
I use Shopify for e-commerce. Really easy and very much appreciate the depth of the app-store and all the different plug-ins you can add. I also appreciate its ability to grow with you.
For shipping, I’m still fulfilling orders from my apartment but use ShipStation to aid with some aspects of shipping and logistics.
Tools are super helpful for some of the social media stuff. As I’ve said a few times I’m not the best at content creation. Platforms like Over and Canva make it super easy to spiff up your content and make it look more professional (without any real skills required). If the content is going to social media I’ll schedule it through Later. Over and Later are both also putting out great content to help you put out and plan better content for your brand.
I’m just getting on Klaviyo now for email and I’m pretty excited about the types of segmentation you can do on there.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
Currently reading Trust Me, I'm Lying: Confessions of a Media Manipulator, it’s a bit of a doozy but an interesting read. It’s probably a few years outdated in terms of identifying some of the big issues in the current media landscape but an interesting read nonetheless and definitely will get your brain revved up on what you can do to foster awareness.
I’ve talked a bit about the mental component of being a solo founder. I really enjoy listening to Impact Theory with Tom Bilyeu. A ton of the episodes really get into the psyche of what it takes to be effective, and how to just power through and do stuff.
I went through an early-stage accelerator called Tacklebox run by Brian Scordato. So while not a book, it’s essentially a program to go through and really refine an idea while you still have a job and then ultimately prepare you to either take the jump or realize it may not be worth it. It’s all about focusing on all the upfront work you should be doing to really develop your idea into a business, that a lot of people tend to skip over because they aren’t fun and we romanticize our ideas. It makes you get really tight on your TAM, SAM, and SOM which is so necessary so you actually knowing who you are talking to (aka your marketing messaging) once you launch. You don’t necessarily need to go through an accelerator to figure these things out but it was a good accountability structure around some of the things I would have been likely to kind of gloss over in the earlier days.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
Firstly, take all advice from entrepreneurs with a grain of salt! I don’t mean this in a pessimistic way, just make sure to remember you are on your own journey and while it’s definitely good to get advice, remember that no one will know your business as well as you. There’s so much recency bias attached to advice coming from others and just bear that in mind. No matter how much you prepare or plan some of this is always going to be a bit random and lucky.
Secondly, it’s said everywhere, pick something that you’re passionate about, it’s a million times easier to run a business when you relate to your customers and are jumping out of bed in the morning because you can’t wait to solve whatever problem you’re solving.
Thirdly, don’t let perfect get in the way of good. A fancy way of saying paralysis by analysis, it’ll take some practice but you have to learn that nothing will ever feel perfect and eventually you just have to get stuff out there. Full disclosure this is a “pot calling the kettle black” scenario, I totally still do this so I’m kind of projecting right now, but I’m working on it!
The last thing, just keep kicking the can down the road. I see a lot of people that are working on things and they let them fizzle when they hit their first real obstacle. Be sure to set clear, measurable, specific goals so that you can ensure you are constantly moving the ball forward in some regard. Without clear goals, it’s really easy to let things slide. Make sure your goals are the right goals in the big picture too, don’t do what’s easiest, you have to focus on what’s important.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
Not officially but if anyone was paying attention I’m sure they can read between the lines as I’m in no position to turn down work from anyone who can help me ramp up the content side of the business.
Also, if you can’t tell, I kind of hate working alone so I’m always down to talk with anyone who wants to get involved.
Always passively looking for designers as well.
Also, we’re building a very cool campus rep program now so happy to speak with anyone looking to get involved there.
Where can we go to learn more?
- Insta: JunkInYourTrunks
- Email: [email protected]
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
Hey! 👋 I'm Pat Walls, the founder of Starter Story.
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