President and CEO
COMPANY: Naked Inc.
“I’d been shooting a documentary in South America and we got stuck in Lima due to logistics. I happened to pick up a pair of underwear that a vendor was selling in a street market and it changed my life”
As most entrepreneurs will attest, business opportunities crystallize out of the blue—while driving, in the shower or over coffee. Joel Primus, the 27-year-old president and CEO of the underwear company Naked Inc., is no exception. His million-dollar idea came when he ran out of underwear in Peru.
“I’d been shooting a documentary in South America and we got stuck in Lima due to logistics,” he recalls. “I happened to pick up a pair of underwear that a vendor was selling in a street market and it changed my life.” The key, he says, was a combination of Pima cotton for which the Andean nation is renowned, and the fact that Primus, an accomplished runner and holder of 13 B.C. titles in high school and the recipient of a track scholarship to a North Carolina university, was never happy with the underwear on the market. “Being a runner, I wanted underwear that performed and didn’t feel like it was there,” he says, articulating the design ethos that led to his company’s eventual brand name. “Everything I was used to was terrible—bulky, coarse and uncomfortable.”
After returning from his documentary shoot (“I never did end up finishing it, but I want to use the 1,000 minutes of footage for a project soon”) he sourced equally elegant cotton from Italy, got a friend’s grandmother to make the first samples and launched Naked Inc., trying to convince high-end retailers to buy into his comfortable revolution.
Along the way he appeared on Dragons’ Den twice, in 2009 and 2012 (neither time did the dragons buy in, but he learned some valuable lessons); worked two jobs while pitching his company (“pumping septic and waiting tables: a horrible combination”); launched a charity called Project World Citizen that builds computer labs in rural Ghana; and took Naked to market. That’s a hell of a way to spend your mid-20s. –Tom Gierasimczuk
Meet Joel Primus at our 30 Under 30 event on April 30, 2014. Get your tickets here.