Polo shirts are a dime a dozen in the men’s industry, but one brand has built a solid business with a tortoiselike approach to the race — and thanks to its slightly maniacal rabbit logo.
Since its founding in 2005, Psycho Bunny has built a $20 million business with its high-quality polos that sport an embroidered logo of a bunny with pink ears and its teeth hanging over a skull and crossbones.
“I was a little mystified by it at first,” admitted Ken Giddon, president of Rothmans, a men’s specialty store based in New York. “What makes another polo line unique and salable? But it has a logo that appeals to a lot people — it’s irreverent and fun — especially to the guy who feels funny representing a big-name brand. Plus, the price-value relationship is tremendous.” The brand’s classic polo retails for $85.
Giddon installed a pop-up for the brand in his store in early June and “we sold the heck out of it,” he said. “It was our most successful pop-up in terms of dollar volume. It had a five-week run and it surprised us every week. We sold around 500 units out of the New York store, and it’s not like they didn’t have competition — we probably sell polos from 10 other guys.”
As a result, Psycho Bunny has become a part of the regular mix at Rothmans. “We’re very bullish on the line,” Giddon said.
Kevin Harter, vice president and men’s fashion director for Bloomingdale’s, has carried the brand for several years. “Psycho Bunny comes with a unique logo that evokes an emotion, usually a laugh with their offbeat name, and makes you think ‘tradition with an edge’ — which is very relatable to Bloomingdale’s. The price/value is undeniable and the ability to cater to a broad customer base across all regions is unique. There is still a sense of discovery with the brand 12 years later.”
So what’s its backstory? Psycho Bunny was the brainstorm of Robert Godley, a U.K. native whose apparel industry background includes Drake’s of London and Turnbull & Asser. Godley left school at 16, kicked around as a ski instructor and attended merchant navy college before eventually joining David Evans & Co. Silk Printers in London where he “learned the trade.” Within a couple of months he was traveling the world doing screen-printing for Giorgio Armani, Etro, Kiton, Ralph Lauren and others. He then joined Turnbull & Asser to design its neckwear, followed by Drake’s before being lured to the U.S. to serve as creative director of Polo Ralph Lauren.
But that stint lasted just over a month. After suggesting the company update its neckwear assortment, he was shown the door. “I was too opinionated,” he said with a shrug. So with nowhere to live — “all I had was a suitcase and a bicycle” — he decided to branch out on his own. The Japanese agent for Drake’s “asked if he could license my name, so I put together a neckwear collection.”
Since his days at Drake’s, Godley had been playing around with logos, using a skull and crossbones and eventually adding bunny ears. “Rabbits are cute and lovable and when you see a rabbit, you smile. And it was the first toy that my granny gave me when I was born — my son has it now — so it was a very important symbol to me personally.”
It was a buyer who commented that the logo looked like a psycho bunny — “and the name stuck.”
Separately, Robert Goldman was struggling to keep his family’s neckwear manufacturing business afloat. Goldman has deep roots in the industry — his mother worked for Ohrbach’s and Abercrombie & Fitch and his father’s family started the Robert Stewart neckwear manufacturing business in 1919. Goldman himself cut his teeth in the Macy’s training program and also worked for Lord & Taylor before joining the family neckwear business in the early Nineties.
Goldman and Godley met at the Designers Collective in New York about 20 years ago “and just got along,” Godfrey said. “We were both neckwear guys.”
Once Godley had his own collection, he started meeting with every potential customer in New York, and also sought out Goldman to be his business partner. “He told me if I could get an order from Barneys, he’d go into business with me. I got the order.”
Initially the line was just neckwear, followed by English woven scarves, but it wasn’t long before they set out to create a better polo shirt.
Things were a little dicey in the beginning. The first batch of polos they had manufactured in Turkey were so bad that “we threw away 5,000 shirts,” Godley recalled, “and we got stung with a huge tax bill because the duty was 19.8 percent.” A Chinese manufacturer wasn’t much better, but eventually a plant in Lima, Peru, agreed to “take a risk on us,” Goldman said.
Today, Psycho Bunny’s shirts are made from 100 percent pima cotton with taped seams, side vents, mother of pearl buttons and the Psycho Bunny logo, which boasts more than 3,000 stitches. They sport an athletic fit as well.
“We knew we had to drive business through a core product,” Goldman said, “so the idea was to create a replenishment item that we could later expand.”
The partners also invested in trademarking the bunny logo. Good thing, since in 2011, Psycho Bunny sued Nike for using a Sinister Hare logo on T-shirts. The two ultimately settled, Godley said.
Today, Psycho Bunny offers polos from $85 to $115 that it describes as “traditional with an edge.” There are also graphic Ts — including a collaboration with artist James Goldcrown; henleys; hoodies; sport shirts; loungewear; shorts; jeans; swimwear and boys’ wear. A golf collection recently launched at Bloomingdale’s and Nordstrom and the brand also signed a license with Peerless Clothing for tailored clothing that will enter the market for spring.
Even so, 70 percent of the business continues to be polos and T-shirts. In addition to department stores — Dillard’s is also a customer — Psycho Bunny sells around 150 specialty stores, including Syd Jerome in Chicago and Gene Hiller in Sausalito, Calif.
“We felt selling at full price was critical,” Goldman said, “so our core product is excluded from ‘friends and family’ sales and we exited Amazon.”
Instead, the brand hopes to grow by “penetrating more independent retailers and becoming more of a lifestyle brand,” he said.
In addition to the U.S., the company has eight stores in Japan through a licensing deal with Itochu and there are plans to have 12 by the end of this year and 50 by the end of 2020, they said. In revealing it had acquired the master license for Psycho Bunny in Japan last July, Itochu said it expected retail sales of the brand to be two billion yen, or around $18 million, in the initial year and four billion yen, or $36 million, in five years.
Additionally, there are three freestanding stores in South America and the brand is planning to move into Mexico as well.
Last year Psycho Bunny added a third equity partner, Alen Brandman of Canada’s Thread Collective, which is now managing all production. “He brought a lot of knowledge and experience to the table in addition to capital and infrastructure,” Godley said, “and he’s looking at retail options in the U.S.”
Looking ahead, the partners said they would like to eventually get into other product categories, including shoes and women’s wear, and are seeking out collaborations with “established American heritage brands,” according to Godley. “We’re looking for licensing partners who are specialists in their field.” And he’s not expecting it to be a hard sell. “That’s where the fun begins — everybody wants the logo.”