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Bonobos pants invite rear-view scrutiny

As a graduate student in 2006, Brian Spaly was unhappy with the way his pants fit him — too tight in the thighs and seat, too narrow at the cuff. So he snipped the seams and restitched them to better fit his body. “Fixing” the pants, as he says.

It's not what you'd expect from a male college student. But that DIY tailoring ultimately led to the creation of Bonobos Inc. (bonobos.com), a pants purveyor that is taking an unusual approach in marketing to men, which is what you'd expect from a graduate of Stanford business school.

“I had no idea what I was doing, but it turns out it's not that complicated,” says Spaly of tailoring pants. He also could be alluding to launching his online-only clothing company, since he runs the creative end of Bonobos out of his condo in Chicago's Lincoln Park. (CEO and co-founder Andy Dunn handles the business end from New York.)

“I'm an aggressive dresser,” says the 30-year-old, who wears the metallic pink-and-gold Bonobos around the streets of Chicago. Guys regularly offer to buy his pants on the spot, he claims.

‘Intuitive fit'

So what makes Bonobos pants different? “Most men's pants are made for a model's body, but most men don't have that tall, skinny frame,” says Spaly, who has the stockier build of a soccer player.

All Bonobos pants have the same cut. Through the thigh they are tighter than most pants. They flare into a wide boot cut at the cuff, which Spaly believes flatters a man's body by making him look taller and hiding his feet.

Waistbands are hand-cut with a curve (many brands' waistbands are cut into straight strips, he explains) and hand-sewn into the pants, which more naturally hugs the lower trunk, creating what Spaly describes as an intuitive fit in the seat, waist and crotch.

In short, says the creator, Bonobos are made to fit a man's body. “They're a slimmer fit, but not tight in the waist,” explains Spaly. “And there's a little magic in how the seat fits.”

‘10 minutes online'

Like the products themselves, the business model is unusual. Bonobos, ranging from $110 to $350, are not available in stores. Products ship out of New York, but Spaly frequently has customers come to his condo for fittings.

“There is a huge demand for great men's pants, but guys are pained by going shopping, so most default with denim,” says Dunn. “Guys want an easy way to get their hands on pants. With Bonobos you don't have to spend two hours shopping. It's 10 minutes online. And our return policy is ‘any pant, any time, for any reason.'”

As for the company name:

“Bonobos are a peaceful but promiscuous relative of the chimpanzee,” Dunn says. “We thought that was an appropriate name for our brand. Our pants have personality. And our customer base doesn't take itself too seriously.”

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