Stefan Loble wants to liberate your life by changing your pants. It’s an idea that’s wild enough to work. Loble recently launched a Kickstarter campaign to springboard his apparel company Bluff Works into business. He has one flagship product and a promise: to eliminate the time we need to spend caring for our pants, so we can go follow our dreams.
It’s an idea that Loble keeps close to his heart. It’s one he is definitely passionate about. For those required to wear slacks on a daily basis, it is an ever persistant problem that they wrinkle, are difficult to care for, and dirty easily. Whether people want to or not, they will be required to dedicate some part of their time to laundering their pants, wearing alternative pairs, or limiting their activities based on the clothes they are wearing. Loble knows it doesn’t have to be that way.
His pants for men are the result of multiple years of personal research in textiles, fashion, and life experience. They are designed to endure multiple wears and a myriad of situations without wrinkles, odor, distress, or stain. Throw them on in the morning, ride your bike to work, go the office, and spend the afternoon running and splashing at the beach. They will still be great to wear the next day.
Loble has been working on Bluff Works since May 2010 and has been waiting for the proper time to launch his Kickstarter campaign. In the days before the planned launch, Loble attended an entrepreneurial event in Harlem where Barbara Corcoran was speaking. Loble told Corcoran his story and asked if she would do the honor of pushing the projects launch button. Corcoran enthusiastically obliged.
Pants by Bluff Works has already surpassed its funding goal on Kickstarter due to the contributions of over 500 backers.
I recently had the opportunity to talk with Stefan Loble about his Kickstarter project, and his goals to start an apparel company.
Tell me what you did before you decided to fix the problems with the world’s pants.
For a long time, I’ve had creative ideas. At the time I focused on apparel, the competing ideas were a mattress company, a watch company—there was a social networking website in some shape or form in there—and a waterproof camera housing. I had many creative ideas I was interested and I was unhappy at my day job. I’d had great jobs in software in the past. We lived in Asia, then I came back to New York City and got this software job, and it just wasn’t fantastic. So I started spending more and more time on my creative pursuits.
I hit a point where my lease was up and, you know, rent is extremely high in New York. I had to make a decision whether to renew my lease for a year. I didn’t feel like I could stick it out at my day job for a year. The only way I could stay in New York was to leave our apartment and move in with my parents for three months. I had to figure out if I was going to stay in New York and pursue something entrepreneurial or go back to the west coast, or overseas. Keep in mind, I have a wife, and at the time I had a year and a half old son. So my son slept in the closet in my parents’ house for three months while I got my act together.
Where does your solution come from? What makes your pants different?
I had owned other great pants. I’d owned travel pants, which had amazing wrinkle free properties, but they looked goofy. I couldn’t wear them to the office. By looking at the offerings in the market I thought I can draw from a number of products and if I take the best of each one of them and I put it together, boom, maybe I can make something. The inspiration was that I needed something I could wear a couple days in a row. When living in the city, even washing, never mind ironing, is difficult. I just thought, look we’ve gotta be able to do this for a couple of days. We’re talking about pants here, not about underwear.
How many days could I go without washing the pants before somebody noticed?
It’s a little bit personal. I haven’t had any issues with odor. I get comments on the site, people keep asking me, but I have had no problems with odor. And I think I’m a pretty good test subject for that.
I’ve easily worn the pants ten wears. And that may include a bike ride home from work. This past winter, a typical trip for me would be a flight to Detroit to spend for the holidays there with the family, go to a couple gatherings in the pants. Then fly to Montana, and go to a few more gatherings there with the other side of the family—literally wear them to play ice hockey. I needed an extra workout one day so I ran home, through the snow, in them, and then wore them on the flight home. And you can do all those things in the pants, and you can still look presentable at the end of all that.
Have you observed people’s pant-wearing habits? Is there a large group of people who complain about how wrinkles and presentation and pant upkeep is getting to be too much?
It came first from a personal experience. Just to say “It’s driving me crazy,” and then when I asked other people how they felt, they said “yeah, it drives me crazy too.” There are very few truly unique inventions if you think about it. Everything that is put out in the marketplace benefits from past inventions. And, of course, I did not invent wrinkle free or multi-day pants. I think I just invented a better pair. When I look at the other ones out there, no one is passionate about it. No one says whatever you are doing in your life is way more important than ironing or even washing. That’s what I want my pants to fulfill: other people’s dreams.
Why should I trust you to make pants for me? The fashion industry is huge; somebody has to be working on this. Why can you save us from our pant-driven woes?
There are really two things here: there is trust in Kickstarter, and then trust in a company beyond Kickstarter. The trust in Kickstarter is that I already have the materials sitting in the factory’s warehouse in New York. I still have to source the pocketing and buttons, but these are smaller things. I have tackled the hardest part of the problem, which is the material itself. The second thing is, being in New York, I have hired for the right expertise. And this isn’t expertise I’ve been hanging around with for a week or two. I’ve been with the same fashion consultant for two years. Being so far along increases the likelihood of success. This is not a case where I’d really like to make pants but don’t have the materials yet. In fact, I’ve been wearing them myself for a year, as have a number of wear testers.
After Kickstarter, my goal is to start an apparel company. And that is definitely a more difficult challenge. Based on my business background, it’s one I think I’m up for. There’s a lot of change going on with Kickstarter now where people are doing very well on there, but it doesn’t necessarily mean they will be successful outside of Kickstarter. But, that is my goal.
You’ve already far surpassed your funding goal on Kickstarter, what’s coming next?
The first thing is to gear up for this line of pants specifically, and to make good on all my backers. I’ve had enough support to consume enough of my minimum order that I will be producing two or three thousands pairs in the factory. I need to project how far I will go with Kickstarter and I need to produce inventory for the fall.
Beyond that, I have a number of ideas. People have been asking me about a women’s line. I’d like to do shirts, I’d like to do luggage, I’d like to do socks, and I’d like to do underwear. I mentioned underwear a little bit earlier. My pants are multi-day and wrinkle free, but I’m not going to try to make multi-day and wrinkle free everything. My goal is not to make multi-day underwear or wrinkle free luggage. I have specific ideas about what I want to do in each of those product areas that I’m really passionate about and that I want to bring to life. I need to fulfill Kickstarter first, and then I need to turn this into a viable web business.
Are you looking to find retail partners for Bluff Works, your apparel company? How will you structure your offering?
It will be a company, Bluff Works. It will be a web-only presence. The idea is that by protecting that margin, I can distribute the benefit to the consumer in terms of a better product, or a better price, and also for me in terms of cash flow. Retailers definitely provide a lot of insight, and exposure to customers, but my goal is not to be a $2 billion apparel company in 10,000 retail outlets. It’s not my ethic; it’s not my interest. I want to be a smaller company that’s just making absolutely fantastic products, with a passionate following, that are only available on the web at a great price.
What’s your relationship with Kickstarter? You have funded many projects.
It’s interesting. Sometimes it’s easier to given than it is to receive. Running a company is a lot of work and I am more than grateful for what everyone has done for me. But I still really enjoy giving on Kickstarter and I have a list of number of campaigns that I’m going to back based on what my backers were funding. I’m just really passionate about it. It gets these creative, entrepreneurial juices going. I funded 32 projects before getting my own off the ground. Some were bigger contributions and some were smaller, but people are just chasing their dreams out there and there are some amazing projects. That just makes me really happy.
A $70 pledge buys you a pair of Bluff Works pants. The pants come in three colors.