Ten years ago this week, I quit a job in Düsseldorf and started Cordarounds (“Lindland Clothing,” technically) with a three-week circumnavigation of the North Sea.
Entrepreneurial quests, you see, are often slow, lonely, and ultimately fruitless, so why start a company when you can start a Viking saga?
Readers will rejoice in knowing that the roots of Cordarounds lie in the Orkney Islands and Norwegian Fjords. I can confirm that Thor forged the very first button. And, if you take a deep whiff of the horizontal corduroy, you’ll get a herring high.
An Evil Multinational Corporation Has to Start Somewhere. For Now: Pants!
Cordarounds began as a two-man enterprise: me and Enrique Landa. He handled design and I handled propaganda, until we got bored and switched positions. We knew absolutely nothing about making pants. Repeat: nothing. As we dove into clothing business, the most common feedback we encountered was, “Corduroy pants don’t go horizontally.”
The First Pair Of Cordarounds
The idea of Cordarounds had existed since the late ’90s. It came out of small talk — just one of very many “what-ifs?” I asked back then. But it continued to come up in conversation, and I’m cursed with an impatience with ideas; talk about something long enough, and you have to do it.
Throughout the five or so years that followed, I begged women I knew or dated in the fashion biz to make me a pair. Ultimately, it was Enrique who connected me with a Ukrainian named Stella who sewed the world’s first Cordarounds (pictured below). Newly single, I wore the pants — pleated, no less! — on the dating scene, and one woman after another would stroke my leg and say, “Ooh, they’re horizontal.”
Lindland & Landa: Pantmakers
To know Enrique is to understand that hyperbole and magic trumps all. So, the ethos of Lindland Clothing was grandeur extrarordinairre! Some examples:
- Our Motto: “An Evil Multinational Corporation Has to Start Somewhere.”
- Our Offices: a giant, pant-shaped Zeppelin moored over San Francisco (this is what we told people, at least).
- Our Promise: a certain optimism in each pair.
- Our Most Popular Party: San Francisco’s First Certifiably Straight and Single Male Fashion Show.
- Our Theme Song: Click to Listen
- Our First Worldwide Marketing Campaign: a two-pronged attack against the concept of longitude and the vile, villainous VC (vertical corduroy).
- Our New Products: Launched Tuesday at noon in concert with San Francisco’s weekly public safety alarm. We called it “The Cordarounds Fashion Klaxon.”
- Our First Production Pair: sent to Antarctica, so we could claim to be more popular than vertical corduroy on at least one continent.
Some Early Notebook Entries (on loan from the Smithsonian):
This Was Never Going To Last
To say I didn’t want to succeed is wrong. To say that I didn’t work doggedly at it would be way off. But how could it possibly work?
I imagined a Doomsday Clock on the wall — we were always one minute from midnight.
When the New York Times wanted to run a story on Cordarounds, we contacted our hometown newspaper to get them to scoop America’s newspaper of record. And they did!
Our friends had to be models. We had to throw parties. Because when would I ever be in the fashion business again? Never.
We held pancake sales, speed-eating contests, and led the city of San Francisco on a bar crawl. There was never a dull moment, because we were living out fashion’s equivalent of a bucket list.
Why The Funny Newsletters?
They began as a stalling tactic. The Times covered Cordarounds three weeks after we launched, and we outsold out inventory by about 5x. So, I had to convince people to wait three months to get their pants.
This was make-or-break stuff, so I sent out weekly emails with jokes about what people could do with their trousers when they arrived. It created a Pavlovian (pant-lovian?) effect, where 99% of people stuck with us and enjoyed the wait.
After we caught up with sales, a friend in the ecomm biz said I had staggeringly high open rates, so I kept it up. Why? The Cordarounds editorial creed: “99% Fiction, 1% Fashion.”
2005/2006 Product Launches
- Summerounds (horizontal seersucker)
- Skirtarounds (sold by Lazenby, the Cordarounds romantic spokesman for women)
- Reversible Smoking Jackets (sold by the Devil)
It Takes A Village To Run A One-Man Pants Company
Enrique ultimately succumbed to good sense and got a real job, but I’d gathered a cast of supporters along the way.
My friend Rence built our website from Santiago, Chile. My friend Anthony punched up newsletters jokes from his job at the CDC. And a growing number of customers became friends and co-conspirators. One, Scott Faber, ultimately invested in the business and helped turn it into the 50-person fashion leviathan it is today.
I’m quick to credit all the others, because that’s been the magic of the experience. Without it, loneliness would have gotten the best of me and surely forced me to hang up my horizontal cords and become the CEO of Halliburton.
As you can see, the roots for today’s crowd-fueled clothing business started way back then. Creative people are out there. Everywhere. Doing all kinds of things. And they thrill in the opportunity to play along with like-minded folks.
It was fun to write this. But it only covers the first couple of years (and lightly, at that) of the Cordarounds biz. If you’d like to learn more, let me know and I’ll dive deeper.
Note: I have about a thousand equally funny artifacts I can share.