Big Interview: Aaron Sanandres, CEO, Untuckit

The man behind the fashion retailer often credited for propelling the popularity of the untucked shirt trend is Aaron Sanandres. He sits down with Retail Gazette to explain why Untuckit launched in the UK at such a volatile time, and reveals the US retailer’s plans to expand to mainland Europe.

By guest author Sahar Nazir from Retail Gazette

When Untuckit was born in 2011, it did more than help customers “find the perfect shirt” – it also helped escalate the growing fashion trend of the untucked shirt.

Eight years later, the retailer has finally crossed the pond, launching two 1600sq ft stores in London: one in Covent Garden and another in Westfield London shopping centre.

“Our incentive to launch Untuckit was to help shoppers who had trouble finding a shirt that looked good untucked,” chief executive Aaron Sanandres told Retail Gazette.

“It’s a matter of finding what kind of shirt they like so it’s meant to be an efficient and stress-free shopping experience.

“I remember first looking at ourselves and thinking, ‘did we really just stumble on a gap in men’s fashion?’”

Thanks to success, Untuckit has undergone a vigorous expansion scheme in the US – with its total store estate reaching 85 in 2019. But with store closures affecting thousands of jobs in the UK in recent years, Sanandres’ decision to launch the New York-based retailer in London may no doubt seem questionable.

However, Untuckit had already endured a “retail apocalypse” in the US, and was therefore “no stranger to uncertainty”.

8000 stores closed the first year we opened. Another 10,000 retail stores in the US closed in 2019 alone,” Sanandres recalled.

“We’ve opened 80 stores in that time and our stores are doing phenomenally.

“There’s a reason that stores are closing today, it’s not a new problem that they’re struggling with.”

Sanandres’ knowledge on customers’ desire for the perfect shirt didn’t come from an extended career history in retail. In fact, when he started Untuckit he was still serving as a partner at PwC.

“When I started the company, the biggest challenge was the fact that I had no retail experience,” he said.

Despite this, Sanandres went to Columbia Business School and believes his 18-year career at PwC helped prepare him for his own business.

PwC is very much a data-focused business. I was in the M&A practice which was looking at data and trying to extrapolate where that data is going based on very limited sets.

“At Untuckit, that’s what I’ve done, we were growth marketing, or what they call ‘growth hacking’ or performance marketing, all these terms didn’t exist in 2011. But that’s what we were doing.

“It started off with ‘how do you actually make a shirt’. I learned a lot.”

With a name like Untuckit, Sanandres said he found it difficult to gain the trust of branding experts. Many were in doubt that it would be viable brand name because it was not “sophisticated” enough.

“There’s no brand out there that has a functional description embedded in its name. That’s been one of our best decisions,” Sanandres reflected.

“Branding experts also told us not to go out too early with direct-to-consumer.

“They told us we needed David Beckham wearing our shirts that would build this groundswell.”

Rather than recruiting celebrities to promote the brand, Sanandres decided to take the erratic route of advertising through radio – something, which traditional fashion retailers have avoided.

Despite the hesitations, Sanadres said the radio advertisements worked in favour as Untuckit saw 100 new people on the site back in 2013, and now sees 50,000 to the site each day.

“What we liked about radio was having a captive audience that we could get in front of without them really needing to see the shirt to know what we stood for,” he said.

“From radio, we went to print mags and from print mags, we went to MTV.”

Untuckit has confirmed it will launch a loyalty programme this year, but besides that, Sanandres said his further goals for Untuckit include establishing the brand in the UK, and crossing the channel to expand to mainland Europe.

“We want to be a global brand. The only way to be a global band is to just show up,” he said.

“You need to have a physical presence in these countries to really make a move, become a global player the same way Ralph Lauren might have done or Tommy Hilfiger may have done, right?

“If you look at these companies, 50 or 60 % of their revenues are driven from non-US operations.

“The ultimate goal is to have a brand that’s truly global, where we’ve got stores in 40 different countries.”