Creating An International Status Symbol: Lessons from Thump
BY Sarah Schafer
Four years ago, Phil Rubin and Molly Bondhus started Thump, Inc., an alternative clothing design firm based in Los Angeles that now does over $2 million in sales. The clothing of the young couple (Rubin is now 26, Bondhus 25) became a huge hit as Thump picked up on the faint, but ever-quickening pulse of the "streetwear" crowd--a group which originally consisted mostly of skateboard kids. The label now is an international status symbol in Japan and other overseas spots where kids strive to look more American than Americans.
Along the way, Rubin and Bondhus have become media favorites, popping up in places like The Wall Street Journal and CNN. It's not hard to see why: these two are cool.
Recently, Phil Rubin spoke with Inc. Online about the company--the ways it cobbled together financing (from sources as diverse as raves, Japanese distributors, and the Minneapolis Community Development Association), how it mined the overseas market, and the difficulties of being in an industry where you stay hip or die.
Inc. Online: How did you create such a strong brand identity in the alternative clothing market?
Phil Rubin: We are probably in a different market than most Inc. readers. And we were never hot to sell--we just wanted to create groundswell. We sent out catalogues to people who asked, and if you called with an order we shipped it. But if something sold really quickly there was rarely more available. This way, we created a buzz, a constant one.
Then all sorts of things happened from that. For one thing, a Thump t-shirt appeared in a Soundgarden video last year, one of the most-played videos of the year. And then three months ago I'm flipping through Playboy and the centerfold is wearing a piece of our clothing. Johnny Depp was wearing a Thump t-shirt in Interview magazine. When people see that, they run out and buy the clothing; it's unlike seeing an ad where all you can think of is "oh, they paid Johnny Depp to wear their stuff."
Inc. Online: How did you originally get funding?
Phil Rubin: When Molly and I first started the company, we were throwing a lot of raves. I don't want to say how much money we made at them, but it was a substantial income. We would sink most of it into the company. We did eventually go to a bank to try to get a loan, but we were turned down. Luckily, a local reporter--who happened to know the president of the bank--took interest in us and asked the bank president to help us out. When we went to the bank a second time, the president told us about all kinds of programs we could join, whereas before the bank had basically told us there was nothing available. So we applied for a line of credit and a loan through the Minneapolis Community Development Association.