In 2016, CEO Andreas Palm and creative director Christian Larson joined forces to launch Stockholm-based CDLP to make men’s underwear matter.
“We had never cared about underwear ourselves, because there wasn’t much to care about,” Palm said on the latest episode of the Glossy Podcast. “So we designed for ourselves, in the beginning; we made a product we wanted to wear.”
Doing so quickly caught the attention of fashion authorities including GQ and Esquire in the UK, which wrote about the “new masculinity” and sustainability the brand was bringing to the category, Palm said. In addition, retailers including Mr. Porter and Barneys showed early interest by placing orders.
In the seven years since, CDLP has expanded to product categories including sleepwear and swimwear. It’s also grown substantial businesses in international markets; the U.S. drives a majority of its sales, and it’s recently launched in the Middle East.
This year, as the brand approaches profitability, the founders have their sights set on growing the women’s category, which launched in September.
Below are additional highlights from the conversation, which have been lightly edited for clarity.
Validation via wholesale
Palm: “Direct channels have always been the main part of our business. But I cannot understate the importance of having [retail] partners. … We started by selling at Maxfield in L.A. and Apartment Berlin. That led to having a dialogue with Mr. Porter, MatchesFashion, Browns and so forth. We [started selling] at a department store in Stockholm, Sweden called NK, which is “the” department store. And Barneys was a big milestone.… We opened up with them in New York, Chicago and San Francisco, from the get-go. These were all super important for us. … In the direct-to-consumer era, the benefit was that anyone could start a brand and say, ‘We make the best.’ But the problem was that there were 100 brands a month that were saying that, or saying, ‘We’re disrupting this [product category].’ And sometimes that’s not enough. … Someone needs to validate that. Right when we started working with Mr. Porter, they made a feature that said, ‘Our favorite underwear brands.’ We were at No. 1, and they featured two other brands that had been around for 50-60 years. That gave us a lot of validation. … Today, adding a new wholesale partner wouldn’t make that much of a difference. … But in the beginning, for a brand to go up against the giants, like we did, it’s key to get that type of validation. … But wholesale has never been more than 15-30% [of our sales].”
Men’s ‘sensual’ evolution
Larson: “Our reason for being is to be there for that man who’s started to care more about his belongings, his garments. Most men, if you asked them around [the time we launched], wouldn’t necessarily have thought that much about underwear; they saw it as a necessity. We felt there was perhaps a bit of a cultural shift where men started to think more about what they wore underneath and to choose garments more carefully, allowing themselves to also feel sensual. Perhaps if I asked my dad, ‘Did you ever feel sensual in your underwear?’ I don’t think he would even know what to answer. But if I asked friends around me now, I think they’re much more confident in speaking about their sensuality. Underwear is what you put on first thing in the morning and what you take off last or not at all. It’s the garment you wear the most. So it has a strong connection to the way we are when we are almost nude. … And us men are going through a cultural shift in the last 10 years that has been quite dramatic, in the way we think about these things.”
A new focus on profitability
Palm: “There’s always been a huge interest in investing in businesses like ours that have direct sales, a relationship with the consumer and steep growth. We’ve grown almost 100% year-on-year since our inception. Everyone in venture capital or venture capital-funded businesses knows that that all changed in 2022. We, as many other brands did, turned from focusing on growth to focusing on profitability, which we’re approaching soon — to make sure that we secure a long runway. … We’re not building company values to build company values. We’re building a great business that will be profitable over time. We were venture-backed in the early years, and we were approached by so many people that wanted to invest in the last couple of years, but that climate changed last year. I felt sorry for the [many] great brands that ran out of money last year, because, all of a sudden, the whole venture capital industry just turned 180 degrees and stopped funding businesses. For some businesses, it’s hard to turn to profitability that fast. But we, and some other brands, have had the right circumstances to be able to do so.”