Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Making Money With Man-Skirts

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In the beginning, there was the notion of just a single washable kilt. A loose, comfortable garment that, Steven Villegas says, “I could walk around naked in.”

And because you couldn’t just go out and buy a man-skirt in those days, Villegas made one. And when he saw how nicely it fit him, he wore the kilt to a Seattle nightclub. At the door a bouncer asked, “Where can I get one of those?” And before he even got into the party, it occurred to Villegas: It’s a ballsy step, wearing a dress. Like Braveheart, only more so.

Next, Villegas--who likes to be called Krash--scavenged up $1,500 for an office, sewing machine, computer, internet service and fabric. He named his man-skirt the Utilikilt, and soon enough, there was a Utilikilts store in Seattle’s Fremont Street Market, a Utilikilts website and Utilikilts across the West Coast and around the world. Incredibly, this year, Krash sold his 100,000th man-kilt since he introduced them in 2000.

A fervent constituency has supported the brand’s “Original” kilt (even now priced at $150, “the overlapping apron allows you to unsnap the waistband snaps without exposing any curious bits”). Krash’s kilts win converts through an ingenious network of snaps that offer an adjustable comfort that Utilikilt fans swear has no parallel.

From the cotton “Original” have come models made of lightweight nylon, leather, duck cloth and black gabardine. And though the bulk of Utilikilt’s orders come from warm-weather climes, the network of fans has fanned across all time zones, allowing the practical-minded “Workman” kilt ($230) and the upscale “Tuxedo” ($566) to brazenly coexist.

Krash calls his venture equal parts business and social movement. Most famously, disgraced Survivor winner Richard Hatch has worn the brand, but one might also spot one of Krash’s kilts among groomsmen at an offbeat wedding, or maybe on the streets of Prague--15 percent of all Utilikilts are sold in Europe.

Men from all walks of life, it turns out, are itching to lose their trousers.

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