On April 2nd, which is not April Fools’ Day, Patagonia informed a finance company client that it will no longer sell co-branded fleece or puffer vests to their crowd, citing a refinement of its corporate values. An article in Buzzfeed ran their statement:
I was understandably taken aback by this notice, as I have often made light-hearted fun of my venture capital comrades in arms (or without arms I should say, vestwise), and this removes a major source of opportunity for me. I mean seriously, how will I be able to tell all my middle-aged white VC friends from the rest of the bros without their vests? Oh wait, I still won’t be able to do that. Never mind.
Can you imagine the incredible Schaudenfreude that is now taking place at venture funds where they already got their logo-emblazoned vests and thus can think of themselves as “old money” VCs while the new guys have to suffer with the uncustomized vests of the common man? Such a pity.
I tweeted about this tragic turn of sartorial events the other day and got some pretty funny responses, mainly about what alternative gear should be considered in light of current events. Most common was a suggestion that socks could make the man, but I disagree. Socks do not show themselves. I myself have quite a collection of socks that say very inappropriate things on them and I wear them all the time in public precisely because no one can see what’s on them (unless I specifically show them). It’s kind of a secret handshake thing. And while VCs love the clubbiness that might lend itself to secret handshakes, the point of the vest was to outwardly demonstrate that “masters of the universe” sensibility so no one could mistake you for say, a lawyer or accountant. Socks are too hidden. One can’t advertise one’s financial prowess with socks. We need another item to prove the Emperor, in fact, has clothes.
Now one could go with the current love of all things retro and kitschy and bring back the Members Only jacket. You remember them, right? If you don’t, please don’t tell me. The Members Only jacket was popular in the 1980’s and had this fantastic corporate tagline: “When you put it on, something happens.” Now isn’t that mysterious and potentially awesome…or awful. Anyway, the jackets were typically made of satin or a quasi-silk-like-not-found-in-nature-polyester, and often in fun colors (I recall having a pink one). The jackets were the proof you were cool until they became so ubiquitous (I see you fleece vests!) that they, too were left to history. But hey, we could bring them back and emblazon fund logos on the back, kind of Happy Days style. It would be quite a sight to see the guys clustered together at Sightglass or Philz, throwing back espresso and looking like they just came from a Flock of Seagulls concert, especially since that the puffed-up hair in the front thing is back too.
Too cute you say? How about shoes? I love shoes! I have written about shoes (see here) and there is a perfect precedent for this: a pair like Dorothy wears in the Wizard of Oz. Sparkles are very on-trend right now and would really light up a good firm logo; red is the ultimate power color (though tough in the finance world given it’s negative cash flow connotation). One awesome feature is that when you’re alone right before the next Board meeting starts, you could click them together and say, “There’s no place like the breakeven point.” Perhaps you could even get transported to Kansas when the company’s CEO informs you that there has been just a small security breach….
OK, I know, it’s hard to get the men to wear sparkles, at least in public, even if they are multi-functional. So how about Allbirds, which are sort of sneaker-like wool shoes which are already all the rage in Silicon Valley and spreading south and east among the movie star set. I admit it, I own four pair of these things myself in different colors. Headquartered in SF and with provenance from New Zealand, which is very hip right now, all the company would have to do is fire up the embroidery machine and get those logos ready for prime time. They could even re-brand the personalized VC pairs as All-Bros and take advantage of the fact that the Total Addressable Market (TAM) is twice the size as it is for vests! I mean seriously, you sell TWO shoes for every ONE vest to the same customer! Now that is a business model. Many of the same people who own the vests already own the Allbirds, though they would have to get a new pair if they want their firm name on it. Or wait, I have an idea! We could create a marketplace for people who own Allbirds to find people who will add the logo to their Allbirds via some sort of blockchain something or other. Damn, I’m good. Note to self: Allbirds is actually a B Corp, so they can still get their logo emblazoned Patagonia vests should they so choose.
Fine, you say shoes don’t do it for you? How about a hat? Guys like baseball hats and we could brand it the “Re-Cap,” which is darn funny. Of course, it will make hat head of that oh-so-perfectly-coifed messy hair thing, but hats and logos are perfect for each other in theory. On the other hand, it might seem a bit rude to wear one’s hat inside and to a meeting. And at a certain age, wearing a baseball hat when not headed to a baseball game looks a little, well, déclassé.
I actually tried to start a VC unicorn headband trend last year when THIS article came out but I guess the hat/headband thing is tough on the hairdo and, if you’re tall, it might bang into the top of the airport security scanner as you jet off to Burning Man (not a problem with which I am personally familiar). Plus, if you are the backer of numerous unicorns, you might have to add multiple protuberances to the band and end up looking like the Statue of Liberty. I get it – not hot.
Bras could be an interesting play, but the TAM in the VC world is far too low. The COGS could never get low enough to be practical with such low volume. Granted, there are some men who would benefit from them too, but again, like socks, people rarely wear bras on the outside unless they are Cardi B.
Similarly, orange jumpsuits seem to be rising in popularity among the VC crowd given the recent college admissions scandal, but orange is so last year, and I have to believe this is going to be a tough sell given that orange and the color of money fundamentally clash.
Man, we are running out of options here. Entrepreneurs have the t-shirt market pretty well cornered. Wearing t-shirts with their company logos under a “just casual enough” jacket is their thing. If VCs start doing that, it will be hard to tell all the guys apart (ha ha).
Maybe we need some sort of special customized Apple watch with a bespoke logo band? Or a big old belt buckle that proudly features the firm logo, rodeo style. I did a quick google search on “what do cowboys say?” and one of the first things that came up was this highly relevant saying: Don’t let your yearnings get ahead of your earnings. Now that is situationally relevant. On the downside, it’s really hard to get into a Tesla with a cowboy hat on. Next?
Wait, I know! Tattoos! I like the idea of tattooing firm logos on the upper arm – where it might have otherwise said “Mother,” now it will say “XYZ Capital” or, better yet, “OGP,” which would stand for Original General Partner (rather than the OG tats sported by actual gangsters),. That would give everyone something to show off on their arms, which will help assuage the discontent they feel while they are wearing their logo-free vests. Of course, one might change firms and have to add another logo, but the whole full tattoo sleeve thing is very popular right now – there might even be room to add the logos of your whole portfolio, and even something pithy on your knuckles like E-X-I-T on the left hand, and OR-D-I-E on the right. Another option: F-A-I-L and F-S-T-R, which would be awesome since it’s so popular to spell company names like that these days. I have to fight the urge to say, “Excuse me, can I buy a vowel?”
This tattoo thing is working for me. In fact, I like the idea of adding an additional set of tattoos on the eyelids that one could use to deliver a targeted blink at that oh-so-perfect moment in a Board meeting. Mine would say “EBITDA” and “Try It” on my right and left eyes, respectively. Or for those special moments when the company misses plan, “Down” and “Round” would add the perfect blinking punctuation to a disappointing plan miss.
So, to my friends on Sand Hill Road, University Avenue and South Park, don’t despair; your tattoo logos will be the gift that keeps on giving long after Patagonia has saved the world. And you will never accidentally leave them in the overhead compartment.