ALONG WITH PRODUCING GREAT UNDERWEAR, THEY ALSO BELIEVE IN GIVING BACK. THEY’RE BELIEFS ARE THAT EVERYONE HAS THE RIGHT TO CLEAN UNDERWEAR. THERE ARE OVER HALF A MILLION PEOPLE LIVING WITHOUT A HOME IN THE UNITED STATES. ON ANY GIVEN NIGHT THESE PEOPLE ARE SLEEPING ON THE STREETS, IN THEIR CARS OR IN HOMELESS SHELTERS. OF THAT NUMBER, NEARLY 75,000 ARE REPORTED TO BE LIVING IN THE NEW YORK CITY AREA MAKING IT THE CITY WITH THE HIGHEST POPULATION OF HOMELESSNESS.
POMONO, WHICH IS BASED IN NEW YORK CITY, FOUND THAT UNDERWEAR IS THE LEAST DONATED ITEM, MAKING IT THE MOST REQUESTED ITEM AT HOMELESS SHELTERS AND CHARITIES ACROSS NYC. TO HELP FULFILL THIS REQUEST, POMONO HAS ENSURED FOR EVERY PAIR OF UNDERWEAR THEY SELL, A PAIR IS DISTRIBUTED TO SOMEONE IN NEED. THEIR SLOGAN HAS BECOME, GREAT UNDERWEAR, GREAT OUTCOME. WE INTERVIEWED VAN NGUYEN, THE OWNER OF POMONO BASICS, AND ASKED HIM ABOUT THE BRAND. WHAT HE SEES IN THE FUTURE AND WHY HELPING OUT THE HOMELESS IS JUST THE START OF HIS JOURNEY.
WHAT CAUSED YOU TO WANT TO MAKE BASIC UNDERWEAR FOR MEN? WAS IS A PERSONAL SEARCH FOR BETTER UNDERWEAR OR WAS IT BASED ON A VOID IN THE MEN’S MARKET?
I’ve been in the Skateboarding industry my entire life. I grew up as a skateboarder and took my first job at a skate shop. I’ve always kept up with current brands and emerging brands. One category that was always overlooked was underwear in the skateboarding universe. No one was doing anything to create an underwear brand for skateboarders, I figured there was an opportunity here and I should give it a try. So I started digging into the men’s underwear market, literally googling everything I can on men’s underwear. As I dug deeper and deeper I noticed that men’s underwear wasn’t only overlooked in skateboarding, it was overlooked in the entire men’s market. I also found that underwear is the most requested item at homeless shelters. When I found that out, it gave me more of a reason to start Pomono. We’re on a mission to save people time, money and help reduce inequality.
When I found that out, it gave me more of a reason to start Pomono. We’re on a mission to save people time, money and help reduce inequality.
WHAT DOES THE POMONO CUSTOMER LOOK LIKE? PAINT A PICTURE FOR OUR READERS.
The average hip male. The dudes who wear Chuck Taylors, fitted jeans with a nice flannel shirt. You know, the dudes who hang out at the local pub on the weekends when they’re not at work, haha!!
YOU MENTION THE TERM “FRICTION” WITH BUYING OTHER COMPANIES UNDERGARMENTS. WHY DO YOU USE THAT TERM AND WHAT MAKES BUYING POMONO BASIC UNDERWEAR “FRICTION-FREE”?
What we’re trying to do is eliminate the notion that buying men’s underwear is a chore. You can ask any guy, the idea of buying underwear is not fun. So much so, they feel like it’s a chore. Some guys even have their mothers or partners buy them underwear during their grocery-shopping day. A way to get around this is by purchasing online at Pomono. We know people do not like commitment, so we’re not making anyone subscribe to get their underwear delivered every few months. Instead we’ll send out a reminder once every 6-8 months asking if they are in need of new underwear. If so, we’ll charge them according to their payment history. This way they won’t be getting anything they don’t need or paying for anything they don’t want to. They’ll simply respond to us, “yes or no”, every 6-8 months. BUT! If they do have an underwear buying pattern, then subscribing to one of our future plans would be great for them.
CAN YOU TELL OUR AUDIENCE A LITTLE MORE ABOUT THE SPECIAL FABRIC USED FOR YOUR PRODUCTS? IT IS SAID TO BE PROCESSED THROUGH A SILVER ANTIMICROBIAL TREATMENT, GIVING THE BRIEFS THE ABILITY TO RESIST THE GROWTH OF MOLDS, FUNGI, AND OTHER BACTERIA. IS THAT TYPICAL IN THE MARKET OR UNIQUE TO POMONO?
The boxers are made of modal, cotton and elastane. The combination of the 3 fabrics gives it a really soft but durable feel to it. The silver antimicrobial treatment isn’t in the consumer pairs. I don’t think it’s necessary for everyone to have. We’re not here to sell anyone on anything they do not need. Other brands do offer the silver treatment in their products but they use it as a way to hike up their prices by an extra $10-$15 and let me say this, it doesn’t even cost $1.00 to process silver through a pair of boxer briefs. These brands are cheating people out their money so their executives can buy nice cars and beautiful chandeliers, it’s not right. We are offering the silver treatment in our donation pairs because it fits the lifestyle of those less fortunate. They need a product that can fight off bacteria. The less fortunate do not have the luxury of changing underwear everyday, so we wanted to have the silver antimicrobial treatment for them. We have to be smart about what we do in order to really solve problems.
WHEN DESIGNING THESE UNDERWEAR, WHAT WAS THE INSPIRATION FOR THE LOOK OF THE PRODUCT?
Fit and function is the most important part of the boxer brief. After that was the creative design, I personally do not like logos on my clothes so that something I adopted for Pomono. I couldn’t have any logos on it. Also, I love batman. I watched all the cartoons growing up, I wanted batman to be a part of Pomono, so I decided to make the waistband colors the same colors as his costume, navy blue and grey. Sometimes creating something means putting your own personal stamp on it.
WERE THERE ANY BIG HURDLES IN CREATING THEM? IS THERE ANY TESTING THAT NEEDS TO BE CONDUCTED WHEN YOU PRODUCE CLOTHING FOR SUCH AN AREA OF THE BODY?
There were a bunch of hurdles in creating our boxer briefs. Finding a manufacturer to make your idea come to life is really hard. We spent so much time and money working and sampling with different factories until we found one that met our exact needs. There are a lot of different things that need to be done when making underwear. We tested different fabrics and stitching options. Different fly openings and pouches for the goods, haha! These underwear are some of the best out there!
EVENTUALLY WITH ALL UNDERGARMENTS, THEY HAVE AN END LIFE. WHAT’S THE TYPICAL LENGTH OF TIME FOR GUYS TO THROW AWAY THEIR OLD UNDERGARMENTS AND PURCHASE NEW ONES?
The research we found was that every 5-7 years is the average duration of time men would keep their underwear for. Depending on how many pairs you have, that seems way too long. We recently did a survey of over 100 random consumers and our data shows that 6-12 months is the average duration time men keep their underwear before throwing them out. We’ll need to figure the duration for our product as we get more data from our customers. As we continue to grow, we’ll have an idea of how often men should be re-purchasing new pairs of Pomono underwear. We would say every 6-12 months is a baseline for when guys should refresh their underwear drawer.
WITH ALL THE TALK IN SOCIETY ABOUT SUPPORTING AMERICAN JOBS AND PRODUCING HERE IN AMERICA, WHAT’S BEEN THE FEEDBACK IN TERM OF PRODUCING YOUR GARMENTS ABROAD?
I absolutely support American jobs and producing/manufacturing goods here, just not clothes. I think people are mistaken when they say Chinese manufacturing of our clothes is hurting our economy. It’s not. It allows for these items to be affordable. I just don’t think it makes sense for us to make clothes here that would hike up the prices 5-6x more than it would be if we made it in China. Say you paid $20 for 5 white t-shirts that were made in china. That same exact quality of t-shirts would now cost $100 - $120 if it were made here. With minimum wage being at around $12.00, someone would have to work 10 hours a day to buy a 5 pack of t-shirts made here in the U.S. Does anyone here think a person’s full day of work is worth 5 white t-shirts? I don’t think so. It’s incredibly counterintuitive. We haven’t gotten any negative feedback from producing our garments abroad. I know one thing to be true today, tomorrow and 10 years from now – people care about their money and people will always want better and more affordable prices. As long as we’re doing our part to be responsible when making our products I don’t see a problems with manufacturing our products abroad.
WHAT’S THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE NAME “POMONO”?
Trying to come up with a name for your company is really hard. It literally took me 3 years to finally choose a name and own it. I made a list of a couple hundred different possibilities. I didn’t want to name the brand something that would be limiting, you know? A name like “Comfort Boxers” would limit us to only being a comfortable boxer brief company. It would make it hard for us to expand into different products and categories. So I used to work in LA at a company called The Berrics. It’s located in West LA. I lived in South Pasadena and every morning on my drive to work there was a fork on the road, one lane took you to Pomona, CA, the other lane took you into Los Angeles, CA. I thought the name Pomona sounded really cool, but it was too feminine so I replaced the “a” with an “o” and that’s how I got Pomono.
HOW HAS YOUR KICKSTARTER CAMPAIGN HELPED WITH ANY AWARENESS OF THE HOMELESSNESS IN NYC? BESIDES HELPING YOUR BRAND STAY GROUNDED, WHAT HAS IT PROVIDED IN TERMS OF PRESS AND PROMOTION?
I don’t think the Kickstarter helped with awareness of homelessness in NYC. Homelessness is a problem we all know exists. It’s always been in the back of our mind to help the homeless.
What I think the Kickstarter has done is give people the ability to be a part of the journey and to help reduce or potentially end homelessness in the future. People have reached out to me, wanting to be a part of our journey to help reduce inequality in any way they can. It’s been humbling.
WHY DO YOU THINK HOMELESSNESS IS A PROBLEM, PARTICULARLY IN BIGGER CITIES? WHAT CAN WE AS CONSUMERS, OR JUST AS HUMAN BEINGS, DO TO HELP REDUCE IT?
I can’t pinpoint exactly why homelessness exists, there are so many different factors that can lead people to become homeless, but the obvious reason being that the person or family has ran out of money. The cost of living in a big city like New York is incredibly expensive; a lot of people here are literally 2-3 missed paychecks from being homeless. I’m still trying to fully understand why homelessness occurs and how/what we can do to prevent it. Homelessness is incredibly complex and common. It’s so common now, it has become normal to see a homeless person and when something becomes normal it becomes overlooked. So people like us, who are fortunate to have a home just go about our days without really thinking about the homeless. I think the first step to getting more people involved is integrating the things they do daily with their compassion. People care about how they spend their time. They want to do whatever they can to save themselves time and money. I think building companies that offer to save people time and money is a good thing, but I think building companies that save people time, money and have a social mission is something we should really focus on, both as a consumer and a business. Consumers should make smarter/better purchasing decisions and businesses should not only think about profits. The world is desperate for our help and I don’t think maximizing profits to take home $10 million dollars a year is the right thing to do. There is not a person on this planet that absolutely needs a $10 million dollar salary. If you earned it, I get it, you deserve it, but make sure you help in getting someone back on their feet. We’re all human. We should be doing what we can to help each other, especially if we’re fortunate enough to have a $10 million dollar salary. When I say help, I don’t mean giving out money. We can help in different ways. Giving our time to a shelter, mentoring a child from a bad neighborhood, donating the clothes we don’t wear anymore, or even something as being someone’s friend. There are so many ways we can help, but I think integration of shopping and social mission is the answer. Finding a seamless way to get people involved will greatly improve our chances of reducing inequality.
WHAT’S THE PLAN MOVING FORWARD NOW THAT THE KICKSTARTER CAMPAIGN HAS ENDED AND WAS A GREAT SUCCESS?
There are a bunch of things we need to do now. The really important and crucial tasks are building our ecommerce platform to ensure that the consumer has a great user experience. The other big thing is that we need to produce our products correctly. Since we’ll be producing aboard, I’ll be heading to China this July to ensure quality standards and to meet with the factory owners about the future of the Pomono brand.
WHAT’S YOUR ULTIMATE GOAL WITH THE POMONO BASICS BUSINESS? IS IT TO STAY SOLELY ONLINE? MOVE INTO A RETAIL SPACE? IS IT POSSIBLE TO SUSTAIN BUSINESS WITH JUST SELLING A SINGLE PRODUCT?
The ultimate goal for Pomono is to become a huge social enterprise. That means expanding into different categories and outlets. I do not want Pomono to solely be sold online forever, I would love for us to get into the retail space so people can actually see and feel the product before purchasing. We just need to get more traction and understand our consumers more so that we can make a retail partnership on behalf of our consumers. It is very possible to sustain a business with one product, but if we’re looking to scale up and become bigger, we need to aspire to offer a variety of different products.
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO ANYONE WHO WANTS TO START HIS OR HER OWN BUSINESS OR MAYBE JUST SOMEONE WHO WORKS IN THE MENSWEAR OR APPAREL BUSINESS?
Business is tricky and really, really f***ing hard. Finding something you love to do is important, but it’s not as important as getting started. I think that’s where a lot of people mess up. They wait and wait and wait until they find something that’s perfect, then they start and realize they either suck at what their doing or they fail and give up. I think people should audit themselves to figure out what they are good at and start a business based on their strengths. As with any relationship, if it’s right, the love and passion for what you’re doing will grow, and if it feels wrong, you’ll know that it’s time to pivot and try something else. Don’t let fear of failure outweigh your dreams of becoming successful. To those who are working in menswear and/or apparel, obviously focus on making a great product, but more importantly focus on adding value to people’s lives. There are millions of different shirts and pants companies out there. The only real way to differentiate yourself to that person is through your unique story. People will always cherish a great experience. Your goal is to prove your product is the best experience.
ANYTHING ELSE YOU WANT TO SAY TO OUR AUDIENCE?
Don’t be stupid, don’t be scared. We literally have one life to live so we might as well do everything we can to live our best life possible. Knowing that we won’t be here forever should be the reason you go after all the things you believe in. This doesn’t mean to just go out and start a business for money. If you love teaching kids, then get out there and become a teacher or mentor. If you aspire to become an artist, draw your freaking butt off! Do things that make you happy. Last off, want to thank Steven for having me and for allowing me to be a part of the GMM family. I truly appreciate it and I am incredible grateful for getting to talk about Pomono. Check us out and feel free to email me if you have any questions.