Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
Hello, my name is Krystian Frencel, and I’m the founder of Bunch of Animals, a men’s luxury underwear brand, AKA, the Bentley of banana hammocks. I’m also the co-founder of a Toronto based design and development studio, 3magine. I don’t have previous e-commerce experience and have never been involved in creating a physical product. I have wanted to combine my experience in web design/development with creating a physical product and learning e-commerce for some time now.
And so, I created the world’s softest underwear.
Softer than Katy Perry’s lips, two-hand touch football and Charmin Ultra Soft tissues.
- “Best underpants I've ever owned and feels like nothing at all.”
- “The softest underwear I've ever worn and it felt like wearing nothing at all. LOVE the print!”
- “OMG, I LOVE these..... Thank you so much... Did I order any more? I want more... :)”
- “It feels like wearing air. High altitude air.”
Our flagship products are softer than soft men’s boxer briefs featuring beautiful, seamless designs created in collaboration with artists from around the world.
I launched the brand in November 2018 and man, what a ride it’s been 😂
Current sales are about $5,000/mo, with 500+ customers and an AOV of $52 (2 pairs)
Let’s start at the very beginning.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
In late 2014, I came across a very unique underwear brand from Australia, Stonemen Underwear. I think I found them on Instagram.
What really drew me to the underwear were the seamless prints which looked like pieces of art sprawling across like a painting on a canvas.
The prints continued without interruption across the front stitch lines such that when you were looking at the underwear from the front or the back you’d be seeing a beautiful piece of art, uninterrupted.
Check out the picture below for what continuity in the design through stitch lines looks like.
You see, most men’s underwear (be it a brief, trunk or boxer-brief) is made up of two pieces of fabric stitched together to form the underwear. The two pieces are cut out from random locations of a fully printed sheet of fabric and sewn together. This means the prints will never line up. But Stonemen’s prints did line up. And they looked good!
Wild horses running across the steppe, mountainous landscapes right out of a painting or some really wild illustrations. I have to say I was blown away a little bit. I’ve never seen anything like this before.
Naturally, I had to have them and placed an order for two pairs of briefs (at that time I was strictly a grape smugglers kind of guy) with two prints I really liked.
The underwear turned out to be a bit on the expensive side. $65 a pair after shipping, taxes and duties. It ended up taking about a month for it to arrive (I’m making this up. I don’t remember how long it took. It was 2014 man. You probably don’t remember what you had for breakfast last Tuesday).
But when I finally got them I was excited. The prints were really nice! The fabric was soft. I put them on and thought to myself, “Damn!”. I was a bit into working out back then, so you know, I looked ok. I’d pause in front of the mirror for a bit longer than usual. Not gonna lie.
I loved the way they looked but more so I loved the way they made me feel. I genuinely felt better about myself because of the underwear I was wearing. What a concept. Better underwear. Better self-esteem.
It turned out I wasn’t the only one who loved the underwear. You see, 2014 was also the year my ex-wife and I separated. Probably the hardest part of my life to get through. I was dating again and whenever a lucky lady got me down to my underpants, I saw those eyes light up 😂
But really, they would often give me the nicest compliments about the underwear.
That made me feel really good. I think women get compliments way more than men do. When was the last time you were told that you looked like the sexy beast that you are?
Naturally I wanted more. More of this kind of underwear. More compliments.
The thing was, I only liked a few of the Stonemen prints. The underwear itself was quite expensive and shipping from Australia to Canada took too long. So I started searching for other printed underwear brands and came across two; PSD Underwear and MeUndies.
At the time PSD was only making polyester underwear and my nuts are too bouji for that. Yours are too. Believe me. MeUndies was using MicroModal, a fabric I’ve never heard about but I wasn’t really a fan of the prints so I passed on them as well. The MeUndies prints were also not seamless.
But I really wanted more printed underwear! So I decided to try and make my own.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
I started by deconstructing, AKA pulling out the stitches from a pair of the Stonemen briefs. Created a paper form of the two pieces that made up the brief, and had it digitized.
I also connected with a graphic designer who helped set artwork into the digitized template and made it match at the edges for a beautiful seamless print.
I started researching different types of fabrics and their respective printing methods. Printing on cotton was called Direct To Garment (DTG). Printing on Polyester was via Sublimation. Polyester prints look cheap and the fabric itself doesn’t feel all that great on your body. So I decided to try my luck with cotton. This is what Stonemen used and at this point I have not yet touched MicroModal. That’s like never having tried whatever the most incredible dish you’ve ever had the pleasure of sinking your teeth into. If you’re a vegan it would be that stick of celery you dream about every night.
I gave up. That is…until the beginning of 2017 when I came across an ad for MeUndies on Facebook. I thought to myself. I’m going to do this! I’m going to try again.
I searched for local sewing classes first, thinking I was going to learn to sew myself. I don’t know what I was thinking. I was eventually recommended a sewing shop by one of the sewing classes/workshop places I contacted. This is where I met the owner of the shop, a masterful older German lady. She reminded me of my father a bit, an old soul with an immense amount of knowledge and experience. She was an expert at her craft. She talked me through the manufacturing process and taught me a lot about it. She connected me with a fabric supplier, a waistband supplier and set out a timeline to create prototypes. All I had to do was provide the printed templates of the underwear on a roll of fabric.
Now, there were two ways of printing on cotton; via a press printer, or a roll printer.
The underwear template is quite large and the press printers I found did not have print beds large enough to accommodate the size. I did, however, find one print shop that used roll printers. The company was also one of the largest in the city with an impressive portfolio.
I remember driving to the print shop with a big smile on my face. Got a tour of the plant and many valuable lessons on the printing process itself. I felt like everything was coming together. It was too easy.
I had the fabric. I had the sewing shop lined up and now I was working with one of the largest print shops in the city. It was peanut butter and jelly time.
I dropped a roll of cotton and 2 weeks later came back to pick it up printed with the individual underwear templates. I didn’t even check the prints. I popped the roll on my shoulder and spirited away to the sewing shop.
Man, I felt amazing. I was on top of the world.
I remember walking into the sewing shop very excited.
We got into the prototyping room, put the roll on the table and gave it a little push from both sides to unroll it. The various colours from the different prints hit first. This was a walk in the park.
But wait. Something wasn’t right. The individual underwear shapes looked off. I took a closer look and started noticing that every single underwear template was distorted. WTF. This was my first humbling experience where I was brought back down to earth. Slammed right to the ground.
It turned out that when the printer pulled the fabric through, it was stretching it as the fabric contains some Elastane in it, so the underwear can lightly stretch around the natural curves of the body. The underwear template was printed while the fabric was stretched out. When it came off the roll, and the fabric came back into shape, the templates were skewed.
I reached out to the manufacturer of the printing machine the print shop used. I asked for the contact information of all their customers in Canada. I started calling them up one by one (I don’t even think there were more than 5) and asked if they could make print prototypes. I was unable to get a guarantee from any of them, that the printed templates would not be skewed when the fabric was stretched during printing. I started looking to the U.S. but the problem was the same. There were some companies that were willing to try but the production costs associated with creating samples were just too high. I never thought of what I was doing as a business idea. I just really, really wanted to make some god damn great looking underwear for myself. And I couldn’t.
So I gave up.
That is…until the beginning of 2017 when I came across an ad for MeUndies on Facebook. Than I saw them on Twitter, Instagram, Youtube, Pinterest, Snapchat, Podcasts...they were everywhere.
And I thought to myself. I’m going to do this! I’m going to try again.
Their prints were still not seamless but their tagline had my full attention. “The world’s softest underwear”. I wanted to see what that was all about and ordered a pair of briefs (Still grape smuggling).
It turns out, MicroModal is not from this earth. It must be some advanced alien technology. It is so goddamn soft words cannot describe it. Soooooo much softer than cotton. If you’ve never touched MicroModal in your life do yourself a favour and grab some underwear made of this fabric. You can of course try out the world’s softest underwear at https://bunchofanimals.com. Seriously. Your nuts will be blown away.
I think this is as much hyping as I can give MicroModal, so let’s continue the story.
The cut of the underwear was a fail for me. My balls kept coming out on the sides. I never had this happen to me before in a pair of briefs. I thought the size was too large, but the waistband fit just right. On the butt they felt fine. But the front had leakage.
And so I got to work.
I first looked in China and found a few companies who agreed to make samples for a reasonable price. I sent over my original underwear template files with the prints set in them and the waiting game began. You know, Chinese companies get bombarded with sample requests every single day. MicroModal is a luxury fabric and carries a higher price tag than cotton and is much more difficult to source. Turns out the samples I was able to get could only be printed on cotton with an assurance that they were going to print just as well on MicroModal.
The samples I received were Cotton and Polyester. The quality of the prints was nowhere near what I wanted. I tried again with another manufacturer with the same result.
There was also the language barrier. I found it a bit difficult to communicate and convey ideas. I also realized that if I wanted to get the type of prints I was looking for, I’d have to get off my ass, put a lot of time into researching manufacturing companies, building personal relationships with them and taking a trip to China to visit them and get to know them. Building a personal relationship is key to setting a good foundation to build on.
But China was far away. I have a 9 year old son who I share custody of. I have significant commitments to 3magine as well. How was I gonna pull this off? I wasn’t.
I needed to get a printed MicroModal sample first, before I would make a decision to travel. This was going to be my new qualifier. And if I contact enough companies, it was bound to happen.
So I started getting in touch with factories in India, Sri-Lanka, Indonesia, Thailand, South Korea, Romania, Poland, Italy and England. Where I found MicroModal I couldn’t find anyone with the ability to print on it. Turns out that because MicroModal is so soft, it’s very difficult to print on.
I can’t tell you how many times I wanted to just give up. But for some reason I didn’t. It’s hard to say why. Is it motivation? Is it the process? Is it the end goal? It’s probably all of it. But somehow, the Universe aligned and I was introduced to a gentleman from Turkey who was representing a textile factory.
We chatted about what I wanted to create. From that first conversation I had a feeling that these guys knew what they were doing. It was very easy to talk to them. I sent over the files. Everything was clear and about a week later I got this photo.
Hot Damn! They did it. The prints looked delicious.
The fabric was the softest I have ever touched. I resurrected and went back to heaven.
We started working on the cuts. Briefs, trunks and boxer-briefs for men. Thongs, bikinis and boyshorts for women.
“Krystian, come to Istanbul my friend. You have to see the city. We will talk with the factory owner and make a deal”.
The prints were perfect. The fabric was softer than anything I’ve ever touched before. There was no ball overhang. I had to go. That was the next logical step.
I chose the 5 days when our son was with his mom the following week and used my credit card points to book a flight to Istanbul.
Oh Istanbul. A beautiful city. A magical city.
The architecture. The mosques. The traffic. The people. The Bazaar. The food.
I could write an entire post just on the culinary delights of Istanbul.
Shitting into a hole in the ground with a water hose to wash your ass was definitely the highlight of the trip. It’s good to experience pooping in a foreign place, unlike the one you’re used to. It’s also quite a humbling experience. And if you have a toilet with multiple buttons and a heated seat, you should be very grateful as you’ve been blessed in life.
I spent 5 days in Turkey. It was working around the clock with their team on finalizing prints, cuts, order quantities and manufacturing timelines. I returned home jetlagged but happier than a pig in a blanket.
It was really happening!
A few days later I got a text from my main man in Turkey. He was taking a position with a much larger textile factory. He got an offer he couldn’t refuse.
Things come and go in a blink of an eye. He was my main and only point of contact and the only one I knew at the factory who spoke English well. I could not believe this was happening again. It was very draining emotionally.
We tried working on the prototypes again with the new factory he was representing. We had to start from the beginning. New deposits on fabric. On printing. On waistbands.
Samples came few and far between until they stopped coming entirely. I was out of money. I didn’t have a product. I felt defeated.
The relationship came to an end. It was full of lessons, the highest of highs, and the lowest of lows.
Describe the process of launching the business.
I’m just being dramatic :) There is a happy ending after all.
In the week leading up to my trip to Istanbul I was also introduced to another gentleman in Turkey who I was told could possibly connect me with textile manufacturers. I didn’t have a chance to meet with him because of the short time I had and because I was committed to working with my previous contact. It didn’t feel right to go behind his back and work with someone else.
The circumstances were different now and I reached out to him, presented my idea, sent all the files over and waited for an answer.
“Krystian, my brother, don’t worry about anything. We will make the best underwear for you.”
He wasn’t lying.
I don’t know if he’s the Prince of Turkey or if he just really likes my smile because he went out of his way to pull together the best of the best. We have the softest, most luxurious MicroModal fabric. I have tried numerous MicroModal underwear from other brands. We have the softest fabric!
When we worked on the final prototypes, the factory making our waistbands stopped manufacturing them and we were forced to look for another manufacturer. Don’t ask me how, but we (and by we I mean my amazing Turkish brother) connected with a factory from Italy making waistbands for two high end luxury fashion houses. These waistbands are on another level of soft. Made in Italy. Like Ferrari.
We have the Ferrari of waistbands.
Our prints are vibrant, and do not fade in the wash. We print in a full spectrum of colors where all other brands print on MicroModal in a maximum of 9 colors.
Remember when I mentioned I was a brief kind of guy before this all started? Somewhere along the prototyping journey I got the first pair of MicroModal boxer-briefs. My previous relationship with boxer-briefs wasn’t a great one. Always riding up. Or going in my ass. Or my balls were sweaty. Just stop texting already. Block my number!
And believe me, I wasn’t expecting much out of these Micro-Modal boxer briefs because they were boxer-briefs. But these were a different beast. I couldn’t believe how soft they were on my skin. When I had them on, I would forget I was wearing underwear. It felt as if I was wearing nothing at all. But everything was firmly in place. No flocking around. Alien tech I tell ya. We’re living in the future.
Now picture this. MicroModal is 3X softer than cotton! 3X! You have $100 in your pocket. Now you have $300. You have a day off. Ok. You’re happy. Now you have three days off. That’s not a day off anymore. That’s a fucking weekend. You now have a weekend getaway planned. Exactly!
We started with a small run of 100 pieces to validate the product and gather feedback.
I gave all 100 pairs away. To friends, to family, to my professional network, to complete strangers. I wanted to get a wide range of people to try them out and eliminate any last issues that remained.
The feedback from men was nothing short of amazing. Feedback from women was about 50% excellent, but the other 50% was all over the place. It’s too tight. Too loose. Too high. Too low.
The factory had a minimum order quantity of 1000 pieces per design, per style. I took out a line of credit and between it and credit cards, I had enough for 3000 pieces. I decided to cut out the women’s line altogether as well as the men’s briefs and trunks. My research showed that the boxer-brief was the most popular cut, and this is what I was going to start building my underwear empire with.
I created an underwear template in Photoshop onto which I’d drop various designs, photographs and illustrations and curated about 100 unique designs. With the help of friends and my professional network I narrowed that down to a final 10. Because I could only afford 3 designs, I had to choose the best 3, and so in May 2018 I designed the Bunch of Animals website to validate the best designs as well as pricing. The product images were just Photoshop renders, but they looked good enough.
My business partner at 3magine helped develop the website on the Shopify platform. I took an online Facebook Ads course and launched a number of ads using the Photoshop renders of the various designs.
I didn’t really know what I was doing, but was able to get a 2X ROA which was good enough to validate pricing and get an idea of the 3 best designs. These initial tests brought in my first 100 customers. Problem was, I didn’t have any stock 😲
I emailed everyone personally and apologized for the lack of product, and a 3-month timeline before I could have it. Over 70% were willing to wait. A lot of the remaining 30% who asked for a refund also asked to be emailed when the product came in as they really loved the designs, and a lot of them became customers.
I received my first stock of 3000 pieces in October 2018. I sent out the initial orders to the first customers and decided to spend the last $10,000 in credit on Facebook Ads during November and December, the biggest shopping months of the year.
The ads did not work as well as over the summer. Turns out that because Q4 is the most popular shopping season, it is also the most expensive time for ads. I was barely able to break a 1X ROA. I hired two different advertising agencies to help me run the ads, but they weren’t able to even hit a 1X ROA. I spent all the remaining money, and although I gained new customers I was operating at a loss. Once again I felt defeated.
December was definitely a low point for me in this journey. I was out of money and out of hope. I felt lost and depressed. I got a nasty case of bronchitis in early January that lasted 3 long weeks that put me in an even worse mental state. But it was also a blessing in disguise. I’ve been a daily marijuana smoker for the last 10 years. I started smoking as a suggestion from my ex-brother in law to help with insomnia. At the time 3magine was experiencing rapid growth, I had just moved to B.C. with my ex-wife and our 1-year old son. I had a lot of stress and anxiety. It started off as a remedy for sleep but eventually became an addiction and an escape from the black and white of the everyday.
Because of the bronchitis I did not smoke for those 3 weeks. I started feeling different. My mind was becoming more clear. I was feeling better emotionally. The break from Bunch of Animals lasted for about 2 months, and in March 2019 I decided to get back into it.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
In early 2019 I met a wonderful copywriter, Larissa Banting, through a private Facebook Group for a course we were both in. She has helped me tremendously with copywriting and blogger outreach. Product copy, emails, articles, captions, you name it.
Have patience. If you put effort towards anything you’re passionate about, you are bound to collect the fruits of your labour.
I decided to try out various marketing channels in an effort to identify the most profitable ones, that took the least amount of effort and resources to execute.
Facebook Ads, Instagram Ads, Instagram Influencers, Bloggers, Pinterest, SEO and Email marketing are all active areas of focus.
Since March I’ve ran a number of new Facebook ad campaigns with some success. I’ve been able to get 1.5X ROAS which put me at a slight loss, but generate new customers, who I hope to convert into lifetime customers. About 30% of the current customers have purchased 3 pairs of more, with a few who have purchased over 10 pairs!
I’ve also worked with a number of sponsored mail-outs with various lifestyle and men’s brands, which have brought in some profit. At this point thought, every dollar earned goes right back into another campaign.
In July, I’ve partnered with another e-commerce brand to bring my underwear to Amazon as well as niche markets in Europe and the Middle East.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
I’m currently working on 2 new design collaborations with amazing artists as well as 3 solid colours to be introduced in the Fall.
I’m thinking of getting back into Facebook ads, but this time with video ads as I just wrapped up working with a video production company on a couple of short videos as well as a photoshoot with some great BTS footage.
Definitely more mail-outs with great brands. I’m also starting to look for outside investment. I validated the idea and have received phenomenal feedback on the product. Additional funds would allow me to scale a lot faster. I want to introduce more designs and really push Facebook ads.
By beginning of 2020 I’d like to introduce a new design each month, as well as start a monthly underwear subscription club.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
I’ve been an entrepreneur for the past 15 years but nothing has really prepared me for running an e-commerce brand with the exception of one important element. Patience. If you put effort towards anything you’re passionate about, you are bound to collect the fruits of your labour.
Don’t get discouraged by failure. Think of it like playing a video game. The strategy may not have worked, but you can always try a different move. Learn, adapt and push forward.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
- Sales Platform: Shopify
- Email Marketing: Klaviyo
- Email Capture: OptinMonster
- Fulfillment: Chit Chats
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
I haven’t listened to any podcasts, but have participated in Jesse Elder’s and Cat Howel’s Time Piercing Course which has greatly helped with motivation, mindset and manifestation. This is also where I met Larissa.
I have also read the following books which I found very helpful. Sometimes a book may only contain a single tip or insight, but it could very well be a life changer, and it’s all well worth it.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
Don’t get discouraged by failure. Think of it like playing a video game. The strategy may not have worked, but you can always try a different move. Learn, adapt and push forward.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
Yes. Chief Executive Financier :) AKA the investor. Sprinkle some pollen and we’ll turn it into honey.
Where can we go to learn more?
- Website: https://bunchofanimals.com
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/bunchofanimals
- Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/bunchofanimals/
- 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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