Underwear: there’s nothing unusual about wearing it. The marketing hacks who concern themselves with this type of thing say 94% of us do; the rest “go commando.” Nor is there anything new about it: the loincloth, arguably the most frill-free undies ever sported by homo sapiens, made its fashion debut a few millennia ago.
So why, if so common and time-honoured, does underwear reliably evoke such naughty glee among schoolkids? And why do most of us, as we mature, stop giggling about our so-called “unmentionables”?
Such questions have been deeply considered by Jason Sutherland, a 33-year-old designer and entrepreneur who grew up in Terrace. He’s applying the answers to an ambitious international business whose products have already met the privates of a number of celebrities.
His company has generated an international media stir, and even the fashionistas are taking notice: for example, Stephen Cojocaru, the West Coast style editor of People Magazine, declared Sutherland’s high-end garments a fashion must-have for 2006.
Sutherland is the self-declared “Director of Stitches and Inches” (a.k.a. CEO) of Ginch Gonch, his Vancouver-based company which bills itself as the “hottest and youngest underwear company in the world.”
Only two years in business, Ginch Gonch is cranking out 20,000 units of underwear a week, including briefs, jockstraps, thongs and matching t-shirts and tanks. Six sporty new designs are introduced four times yearly and promoted as collectables.
And clearly they’re cut from an other-than-mainstream cloth. Besides funky, comic-book colour combinations, they feature series names which are at once gleeful and suggestive: Jollycocks, Weiner Eaters, Crotch Rockets and Beaver Eaters (adorned by roosters, hotdogs, motorbikes and beavers, respectively).
“Our creatives are pretty outrageous,” says Sutherland, speaking from his Yaletown office.
Believe it or not, these outré garments had their genesis in the fallout of Sept. 11, 2001, which rocked Sutherland’s previously successful businesses as a film production designer and supplier of props to the Vancouver-based film industry. Sutherland began mulling over the question of how he could better insulate himself financially from the vagaries of world events. He found the answer on vacation in Thailand, thanks to an underwear misadventure.
“I bought a pair of designer underwear for $60. They shrank, and went up my butt. I thought, ‘This is ridiculous.’”
Where others would have seen hopelessly exposed butt cheeks, Sutherland saw a golden entrepreneurial opportunity. He would address this glaring gap, by designing and producing high-quality underwear—with a difference. It would reflect Sutherland’s own gregarious, creative and pro-sex attitude, and evoke the same giddy naughtiness in adults that underwear provokes among kids.
Sutherland’s cheeky humour, savvy marketing and some fortunate timing has helped Ginch Gonch find its way into many drawers – particularly among the gay community.
“We own the gay market,” acknowledges Sutherland. “Gay men love them; lesbians love them.”
Out Magazine called it “the year’s hottest underwear.” In March, Ginch Gonch made the news for its appearance at a fundraiser for the Cutting Edges, Western Canada’s only gay men’s hockey team. And a provocative cowboy theme in Ginch Gonch products and advertising, such as that which pervades the Grab Your Bulls series, suggests the company’s skilled marketers are surfing waves created by that groundbreaking Oscar-winning movie, Brokeback Mountain.
“It wasn’t purposely planned that way. Had we [anticipated Brokeback’s success], we could have seized more marketing opportunities,” he laughs. “Cowboys are hot,” he adds, pointing to his own cowboy boots. “So are cowgirls.”
According to Sutherland, it’s gay male clients who are driving an innovative Ginch Gonch marketing scheme which celebrates that childhood torment endured by anyone who’s had a sadistic older brother: the wedgie.
In case you’ve repressed your own wedgie memories, or have never experienced this perineum-traumatizing ritual, wedgies are administered by firmly gripping the waistband of an unsuspecting person’s underwear, and wrenching it skyward with as much abruptness and force as can be mustered. A really effective wedgie, supported by high-quality underwear, can actually lift the victim off the ground.
For months, the company’s website has featured an online wedgie contest, in which Ginch Gonch wearers submit photos and videos of real wedgies-in-progress. Fill in the required personal information fields, and you, too, can cast a vote for the most moving wedgie performance. The winning submission, or submitting winner (you decide), walks away with $5,000.
Sutherland concedes that web-based wedgie contests are “not helping [our marketing efforts] with the straight skateboarder market,” but insists that gay men aren’t the only ones getting their knickers in a twist. “Women love Ginch Gonch,” he says, whether it’s on them or their men.
He recalls an incident in Vancouver that brought this point home to him. He’d just parked the Ginchmobile, a company vehicle painted to resemble a huge underwear-clad posterior, outside a Vancouver restaurant. When he walked in to join the Ginch Gonch-sponsored fashion show inside, a table full of women saluted him by standing up and dropping their pants to reveal their Ginch Gonches.
Sutherland firmly believes that in social settings, women respond more warmly to men with the confidence to wear something silly or colorful. “Our typical client is someone who is confident, playful, secure, and comfortable with their sexuality,” he concludes.
For Sutherland, Ginch Gonch is about rediscovering a silly, light-hearted approach to matters “down there”—and to life generally. It’s why his management staff shun sober titles like “communications manager” in favour of “Director of Public and Privates,” and “Director of Cuties and Duties.” It’s why “live life like a kid” is his company motto. It’s why he named his company after the uniquely Canadian schoolyard colloquialism for underwear: translated into any language, Ginch Gonch makes people giggle.
Today, Ginch Gonch is shipping its high-end skivvies to places as far flung as India, Dubai, Singapore, Japan, Africa, Iceland, Europe, Australia and Central America. It’s even made its way back to Sutherland’s home town: you can get your own Crotch Rockets at Kristin’s Emporium in Terrace.
© Larissa Ardis 2006