Thanks to the likes of Trunk Club and Bonobos, a new era has dawned for men’s style — let’s call it the age of “enlighten-fit” — and with affordable stylists, tailored threads and online service, a dude’s life has never been better
It’s a story made for the digital age. Brian Spaly and Andy Dunn started out as roommates while attending Stanford University business school. Spaly, a soccer and hockey player from Detroit, couldn’t seem to find pants that had enough room to accommodate an in-shape waist plus an athletic bottom and thighs, so he borrowed a sewing machine and learned to alter his own ill-fitting pairs.
After receiving a bevy of compliments, he and Dunn decided to launch Bonobos in 2007, an online trouser startup dedicated to finding the perfect fit without the worry of brick-and-mortar costs. But they split two years later due to creative differences, with Dunn continuing to run Bonobos while Spaly accepted a role as the CEO of Trunk Club, another online outfitter that sends head-to-toe outfits straight to guys’ doorsteps.
While their story could have ended in bad blood, it takes a positive turn — especially for Chicago’s stylish gentlemen. This month, both have debuted River North spaces within blocks of each other. They exchange text messages about trends in the city, and Dunn calls Spaly the “creative visionary” behind Bonobos’ founding. They take turns doing case studies of their successes for students back at Stanford. “We’re excited to still be in partnership,” Dunn explains. “We’re both trying to make it easy for guys to look good.”
They’re also both Chicago guys at heart: Dunn grew up here wearing Bulls Starter jackets and attended Northwestern for undergrad, and Spaly is a transplant who now lives in River North. “We have an authentic sense of what sucks about shopping, and we’re fixing it for guys,” Spaly says. “I get confused shopping online, and I’m a ninja — this is what I do for a living.” He cites an example: “I bought shoes the other day, and the picture was totally different than the shoe. It was a hassle, and not easy to return.”
It’s the classic complaint: Guys hate shopping. It’s hard to know, much less find, what you want. And you learn to shy away from the two sources most likely to try to sway you: pushy salespeople and significant others. But the Bonobos and Trunk Club business models have found a way to further decode a shopping process that’s infamously frustrating for men.
At the new Bonobos Guideshop, the fourth outpost for the New York-based business, men can shop a curated showroom with samples of the company’s online inventory. “If you’re going to build a company around fit, you have to give your customers an opportunity to try things on,” Dunn says.
Guys can schedule a free consultation online (Bonobos.com/guideshop), then drop by the showroom and spend 30 minutes with a guide picking through fit, style and color preferences. Guys order the products they fall in love with, which show up on the customer’s doorstep within days.
Bonobos’ guides are trained to help men find clothes that fit well and suit their personal styles. And over time, the company plans to take that information and develop an even better online experience based around what happened offline. “Part of what makes shopping in person potentially wonderful is that you’re actually having a relationship with the person you’re transacting with,” Dunn says.
Trunk Club, in turn, swung open the doors to a 30,000-square-foot addition to its loft headquarters at Ohio and Orleans streets on Oct. 23. “It was really a question of being out of space; business was growing quickly,” Spaly says. “So now you can stop by our charming, alcohol-laden warehouse where you meet cool people and learn something interesting.”
While Bonobos is its own singular brand, Trunk Club offers high-end clothing across a variety of well-known lines starting around $80 for shoes, shirts and accessories, going up to $300 for jackets. Members have 10 days to try on their gear at home, and what they don’t like they can send back with free shipping. The model has always included a consultation with a stylist (by phone or email), but with the new space guys can walk into a physical location and get some one-on-one time if that’s what they prefer.
As for the proximity of his former company, Spaly is nothing but complimentary — pairs of Bonobos pants are even included regularly in members’ trunks. “We’re excited for them to be here in Chicago,” he says. “We’re rooting for great people, and we feel like we’re all trying to get guys to care more about how they look and stop going to the mall.”
And so far, they’re doing it: delivering guys great clothes conveniently — and maybe even showing them a good time while they’re at it.
MORE IN STORE
The Chicago men’s fashion market is turning up the volume with a slew of new stores. Take a look at who else is making noise around town.
Who: The Massif Collection
Where: Bloomingdale’s (900 N. Michigan)
What: Military-inspired work wear made with stretch fabric blends to wick moisture.
Where: 110 E. Oak
What: Local designer George Zaharoff’s flagship store and collaboration with beauty expert Marilyn Miglin. The focus is on luxury wear — suits, trousers, shirts — with tailored silhouettes.
Who: Gallery Aesthete
Where: 46 E. Oak, fourth floor
What: Upmarket boutique, a reboot of Bonnie & Clyde’s. Standout designers include Comme de Garçons, Raf Simons and Rick Owens.
Who: ZipFit Denim
Where: The Shops at Northbridge (520 N. Michigan)
What: A techie take on jeans, with a row of iPads for customers to answer questions about their style so they can find the perfect pair. An e-commerce platform mirroring the iPad experience is scheduled to launch in November.
Story by Seth Putnam