Slunks: The 80s-inspired swim brand taking over California

"You can't be a Nike, you can't be an Adidas, but you can be a Slunk."

It takes confidence and vision to launch a new brand, especially in the packed, $69 billion athleticwear space. A weird name helps, too. 

Slunks, hybrid swim/athletic shorts out of Laguna Beach, California, wants to become the next lululemon.

"In our own fun way," said co-founder Chris Reames, who grew up surfing and playing beach volleyball in this Orange County town. 

Slunks combine shorts with built-in compression shorts. The outer short is made entirely from a fabric made of recycled plastic water bottles. Designs tend toward the colorfully patterned and lengths are shorter, hitting mid-thigh on most people. 

As for the unusual name, Slunks is what older beach volleyball players on Laguna’s Victoria Beach used to call Reames and his friends.

"They used to call us Slunks, and use terms like ‘get slunky tonight’ " he said, to capture a lifestyle ethic of "work hard/play hard/party responsibly."

If it all sounds a little 1980s, that was the inspiration. Even though Reames was born four months before the decade ended, he claims an ‘80s soul. "The ‘80s are fun, bright, loud, and they seemed like a good time," said Reames.

Slunks were introduced in 2017 at the annual Manhattan Beach Six Man volleyball tournament, which attracts crowds of teams and spectators each August. Reames put together a team and they wore the first pairs of the shorter shorts at that summer’s tournament. 

It seemed natural to Reames, who played college volleyball, and co-founder Marcus Hairston, to infiltrate the region’s competitive, club volleyball community. They enlisted a couple high-profile teams to wear custom Slunks instead of ordinary athletic shorts.

"At first the coaches were hesitant, but once they saw how much the kids liked them, it started to take off," he said. 

Next up on the influencer hierarchy: Music stars. Justin Bieber was photographed wearing a pair of Slunks last spring. Then Shawn Mendes was featured wearing the brand in the current People magazine Sexiest Man Alive edition. The leaders of the Chainsmokers are Slunks fans, too.

This has Reames thinking of aligning the Slunks brands with music festivals. "You could wear these and feel comfortable all day," he said.

Marketing is still grassroots and social media-focused. Reames is currently redesigning the website as direct-to-consumer is the only sales channel for now. He is also expanding the brand to include women’s apparel, under the name Slunkinis. In other brand parlance, events are "slunktions" and Reames goes by SlunkEO.

As the shorts take off among athletic California high-schoolers, Reames wants to use organized sports to spark geographic expansion. The volleyball teams wearing Slunks as part of their uniforms have attracted new teams from Hawaii and Nevada to do the same.

Beyond volleyball, club soccer, basketball and lacrosse are other niche markets to capture.

"You can't be a Nike, you can't be an Adidas, but you can be a Slunk," said Reames. "We want people to feel comfortable in their own skin."

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