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As you scroll through two-year-old Shinesty’s website, you’ll see a lineup of cheeky underwear for sale with depictions of scenes like mythological creatures fornicating, skeletons engaging in the Kama Sutra, and “the Jeanstring” (a denim-print thong). It would be easy to dismiss Shinesty (a portmanteau of “Shine On” and “Dynasty”) as a joke, but behind the panties, entrepreneurs Chris White and Jens Nicolaysen are leading a Denver-based company that just landed on Inc 5000’s festest growing company list in 2022. And now they’re dipping their toes into a new shenanigan: hard seltzer.
The idea came straight from the “Please Don’t Destroy” SNL hard seltzer skit that was performed in October 2021, and White just couldn’t walk away from the joke. “I mean, everyone was making a hard seltzer,” he jokes. “And we just thought, if we’re not making a hard seltzer, are we even a real company?”
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The seltzer celebrates Shinesty’s favorite holiday: Halloween. Dubbed Mummy’s Milk, the drink comes in Ghost Spit (black cherry), Jack O’ Liquid (mango), and Frankenstein’s Monster (lime) varieties. “Everyone who’s tried it and we’ve asked [how it tastes] has said, ‘It tastes like an underwear company making a hard seltzer,’” White laughs. The flavors are not too far off from the taste and mouthfeel of other hard seltzers on grocery store shelves. Our pick: Frankenstein’s Monster, which has a subtle citrus flavor that doesn’t overwhelm.
While the move for an underwear company to make seltzer seems odd, it’s actually core to Shinesty’s mission: to force the world to take itself less seriously. And seltzer is just the most recent off-the-wall product the duo has birthed. Past product experiments have included a fanny pack that turns into a rain poncho (not successful), the jeankini (wildly successful), and fur underwear (discontinued after Shinesty realized how impractical it was).
It’s this kind of humor and mindset that have allowed Shinesty to reach a wide-reaching audience. In fact, it’s so diverse that there really is no “typical customer,” White says. “We have the same number of customers who are above the age of 55, conservative, making $300k plus as we do our those under the age of 25, liberal, making less than $60k,” he muses. “My hypothesis is that certain people just like our sentiment and our silly, sarcastic humor.”
This isn’t just by lucky accident. White learned that combining humor and apparel was a winning formula back when he attended DePauw University selling T-shirts for University Tees. Shinesty actually began in vintage and novelty costumes (think a 1980s ski suit or wacky golf pants). It wasn’t until the pandemic hit in 2020 that the company pivoted to underwear. “[We realized that underwear] was the only thing that people would be buying while they’re sitting at home for who-knows-how-long,” White says. “So we didn’t do it on purpose, but we’re lucky because obviously underwear has a broader market than [novelty] costumes.”
White and Nicolaysen have made deliberate marketing and merchandising choices to draw peoples’ attention then keep them loyal. “Oftentimes, we get people through the door being like ‘This is hilarious; I’m going to buy this for my partner as a joke.’ But we also make an amazing product,” White says. “It’s extremely high-end and a better product than what you’ll find in any department store.” The quality can be found in touches like the premium micro-modal fabric used in the same factories as Calvin Klein and Shinesty’s “ball hammock” technology, which keeps everything secure and comfortable for men.
The company’s desire to build a direct relationship with their consumer is why you won’t find Shinesty underwear at Walmart or Halloween Express. Undies can only be purchased on the website. And the plan has worked: Currently over 60 percent of monthly purchases are made by returning customers.
White and Nicolaysen have accomplished what many aspiring entrepreneurs can only dream of—having fun and making money doing it. “People write us off. They say we’re a ‘nothing’ business, even though it’s clearly not,” White says. “But at the end of the day we’re like ‘who cares?’ All that matters is how you make your customer feel, and that plays out in dollars and cents.”
Don’t expect Shinesty’s Halloween-themed seltzer to be the last attention-grabbing item to come from Shinesty. While the seltzers are a limited release and only available through Halloween, you can be sure White and Nicolaysen have something just as interesting—and maybe even delicious—coming out next.
Customers can purchase Shinesty’s hard seltzer online.