During the Covid pandemic shutdown with his company’s business put on hold, UNTUCKit’s founder Chris Riccobono got an unexpected gift. He used his newfound time to incubate a new business concept to disrupt a stagnating product category following the same process he used in the casual men’s shirt market.
“There’s no athlete in athleisure,” Riccobono quips. “You shouldn’t be working out in the same stuff you’re lying on your couch in. To work out, you should be wearing the best product available.”
“I was bored,” Riccobono shared. “I always need to be challenged, but with our stores closed, things slowed down. I started to think about another industry to disrupt where I have a problem personally that the ‘big guys’ don’t recognize and haven’t solved for.”
He hit on athletic wear after realizing that when he got ready to exercise, he’d change out of his athleisurewear clothes and into his athletic gear. “The athletic wear didn’t fit well like athleisurewear. But the athleisurewear wasn’t made for performance,” he said. “I saw the opportunity to take on the athletic space with high-end performance fabric and fit first, fashion second, instead of athleisurewear, which is fashion first, performance second.”
The new venture is called Greatness Wins.
But this time, he didn’t need to go it alone. He had a high-performance track record in business. So, he recruited a team of world-class athletes to tackle his next challenge.
- Wayne Gretzky, the “Great One” of the National Hockey League. He holds the honor of being the league’s top scorer throughout its history. Inducted into the Hall of Fame, his 99-numbered jersey has been retired across the league.
- Derek Jeter, power hitter and shortstop extraordinaire. Jeter was instrumental to the Yankees’ World Series five-time championships. He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility, only the second in history to score such recognition. Prized for his strong work ethic, he is also highly competitive, saying, “If you’re going to play at all, you\’re out to win. Baseball, board games, playing Jeopardy!, I hate to lose.” Jeter was aligned with Nike for a time.
- Prima ballerina Misty Copeland, the first African American female principal dancer with the American Ballet Theatre. A child ballet prodigy, she leveraged her grace, beauty and athleticism into an extraordinary dance career that opened doors in public speaking, publishing, and business. She previously worked with Under Armour.
Gretzky, Jeter, Copeland and Riccobona didn’t get where they are today without a fierce competitive spirit and they are bringing that winning attitude to work to their new venture, Greatness Wins. A key competitive difference is that they are all partners in the business, not paid celebrity spokespeople or for-hire influencers.
Together, they bring their personal experiences to Greatness Wins and know how to go up against the biggest names in sporting apparel: Nike, Adidas, New Balance, Puma, and Converse.
“The big brands’ sneakers are incredible, but their athleticwear doesn’t hold up and the specs are inconsistent. They haven’t adapted to the new modern-day fit. We think there is a need for higher-quality performance product,” Riccobono said. “And they’re all multi-billion-dollar brands. If we do just one-tenth of their business, we win.”
Expertise from the Experts
Gretzky and Jeter lent their expertise to designing and developing the men’s product line, which includes a full range of performance t-shirts, tanks, hoodies, shorts, joggers, socks, and hats — and a full range of golf apparel, including shirts, pants, and shorts. And because athletes start young, Greatness Wins has also extended into youth athletic apparel.
“I don’t have a bad thing to say about any of the brands that I’ve been involved in,” Jeter shared with CNBC. “But at the same time, I’ve been able to learn. So, when I met Chris and we started talking, I got involved to bring the knowledge that I have in the space to create the next great athletic brand.”
Copeland is spearheading the brand’s women’s launch, which will go live later this fall, following the same model as the flagship line anchored by innovative technical fabrics with superior and consistent fit and timeless style.
Sustainability is another important criterion, with some 80 percent of the company’s shorts being made with recycled polyester, and the base materials are free of harmful chemicals, dyes, or other negative environmental impacts. Every piece in the range is made to withstand repeated workouts and washing.
“We’ve had an incredible start with DTC online and wholesale and corporate orders,” Riccobono said. “And our return rate is only 7 percent against an industry average of 70 to 80 percent.”
Disruptive Business Model
Riccobono is building Greatness Wins using the business process he finetuned with UNTUCKit:
- Find white space in a big market that has been overlooked or ignored. “I worked in medical sales and needed a short shirt that I could look professional in but could wear untucked,” he said. “Everyone I talked to had the same problem and I didn’t know why the big companies hadn’t solved this problem.”
- Do the research but go with your gut. Without any experience in fashion, Riccobono combed the Fashion District in New York City to learn all he could, bought a raft of shirts to study the problem then developed a prototype. He also sought the advice of industry and marketing experts but stayed true to his vision rather than go the traditional path they advised.
- Forge your own path to spread the word. Starting out with less than $25,000 for advertising, he invested in NYC sports radio for a week of ads. “The return was incredible. All of a sudden there was huge demand and buzz around wearing shirts untucked.” He also ran airline magazine ads which could be had on the cheap to reach his target audience. The company has just sold its 12 millionth shirt.
- Bootstrap your way to grow big and profitable. Starting exclusively online, it tested brick-and-mortar retail with a popup. “The pop-up store was amazing, and I worked it every day to learn all I could,” he said. “The most valuable lesson I learned was that 70 percent of men need to touch, feel and try on the shirt, so we opened five stores the first year and 30 the second.” This year it will add another 5+ stores including in the U.K. and Canada. And it has also started to open wholesale accounts because the brand’s success has spun off a whole range of copy-cats. “J Crew, Brooks Brothers, Polo, Banana Republic all make shirts to wear untucked, but the customers come in asking for ‘UNTUCKit.’” The brand’s become the Kleenex or Xerox in the shirt biz.
Currently, Greatness Wins is still in direct-to-consumer mode, but from its experience working with golf pro shops which have been keen to stock UNTUCKit shirts, it has leaned into golfer-approved athleticwear.
And for its women’s launch, Greatness Wins is following the same UNTUCKit model in dressing her. “Our women’s UNTUCKit line grew organically from women shopping for their men. Our women’s brand is growing 100 percent year-over-year,” he said.
He recognizes the women’s launch will mean going up against Lululemon, Athleta and other leisurewear brands that have already cultivated a strong female following, but he believes Copeland should put it over the top.
“There’s no athlete in athleisure,” Riccobono quipped. “You shouldn’t be working out in the same stuff you’re lying on your couch in. To work out, you should be wearing the best product available.”
It’s All in the Name
And perhaps the greatest thing Greatness Wins has going for it is its name. That’s what Riccobonno discovered in naming UNTUCKit. Every ad agency he met in the early days said he needed to change the name, but Riccobono stuck to his guns.
“It told consumers everything they needed to know about the brand and I’m sure if it was Chris Roccobono shirts, it would never have gone anywhere,” he said. And the same thing happened with Greatness Wins. “Ad agencies said we should change the name; it was too strange. But when someone says, ‘Greatness Wins,’ they’re not forgetting it. And when people look at the name through the greatness-lens, they are going to Google it to find out what it is all about. Naming your company is the most important thing you can do. It’s got to stick out, be memorable and make people say, ‘I’ve got to find out what this is all about,’” he concluded.