Chances are you’ve seen photos of the Sexy Pizza Rat and Sexy Cecil the Lion (and Sexy Donald Trump and Sexy Minion and Sexy Lobster, and I can go on and on…) costumes floating around the internet. They all come from one place: Yandy.com. With thousands of designs and a penchant for sexualizing even the most chaste fleeting pop culture figures, Yandy finds itself in the news year after year for their skimpy, absurd Halloween costumes.
Go ahead and keep rolling your eyes and writing your outraged articles, because Chad Horstman doesn’t care what you think of his costumes. Maxim spoke to the CEO of the Phoenix-based company to learn more about how he got in the sexy Halloween costume business, why he thinks his costumes are so popular, and what he has to say to his critics.
So how does one get into the sexy Halloween costume business? Tell me about how you founded Yandy.
I graduated from ASU with a degree in Computer Information Systems, and my brother went to Michigan State and studied Supply Chain Management. And after a couple years of being out of school and getting some real world experience, we came together to try and start an e-commerce company. The reason we chose lingerie is it was always one of the most searched for terms on search engines at the time. So we figured it would be a good market, that there was a lot of demand, and there wasn’t really that much competition. I knew a lot about SEO and how to get a site linked on a search engine, and my brother knew all about warehousing stuff. So originally Yandy started in my two car garage in 2007.
If you originally started out as a lingerie company, how did you transition to offering up these Halloween costumes?
That very first year in the garage, we brought in the sexy costumes that the lingerie manufacturers had to offer. I think we brought in sixty different costumes. And we immediately noticed that the more unique ones did exceptionally well. They had one back then that was called Tina Taxi Cab Driver [laughing], and that was the bestseller. That first Halloween just went crazy. The other best seller was a boxer costume. It was the more sexy, costume-y stuff that did well. So that first Halloween was our transition, because we really just killed it. We were calling our friends to just come and help pack orders out of the garage. It was insane.
How many people do you have on your team now?
Right now we have about 200 employees.
You may have started with lingerie-company costumes, but Yandy’s become famous for picking out fleeting pop culture icons every year — like Pizza Rat and Cecil the Lion — and making sexy versions of them. How does your team determine what becomes a costume? Walk me through the creative process.
It’s two different things. Sometimes we honestly just get lucky, like we have something that’s going into production that’s totally relevant to what’s going on. And then other times, you know, something happens and we react. Luckily we have a great manufacturer that we work with in LA, and they will do turnaround things really quickly. So maybe we can get something produced within two weeks. And it’s cool, because they’re made in the USA, the quality is really good, the fabric – you really notice a difference in our Yandy branded items, ‘cause they’re just really nice.
It’s been said that some of your costumes — Cecil the Lion, for example — are offensive. Do you just run with whatever idea you have, or do you have limits?
Well, we try to stay away from religious things. You know, like nuns, and priests. Just anything religious we don’t sell. I feel bad saying this because I’m not gonna to word this correctly...like we didn’t sell Bin Laden, because it was basically just a Muslim outfit. So we stay away from anything religious, which a lot of companies do. Sometimes one or two sneaks in just ‘cause we carry like five thousand. We also left Hillary alone. We didn’t think that would be good.
But I feel like our costumes really aren’t insensitive. The funny thing is, we’re getting our Cecil the Lion costume, but it’s really not meant to be offensive at all. Actually that’s on of the lucky ones, that one wasn’t reactionary at all. I was a lion for Halloween last year and it came out so incredible – the fake fur on it is just amazing – so we were like “we need to make this for women.” We already making it, then this [Cecil the Lion’s slaying] came out. So we decided to call it Cecil and do a charitable thing around it. So the whole idea is that we’re gonna give 20% of the proceed, which is pretty much most of our profit, to charity. We thought it was a pretty good idea. Some people think it’s wrong for some reason. We could’ve just called it “Lion,” it would’ve been fine, but then we wouldn’t have been able to play up what we were doing on the charitable side. Sometimes I think people don’t get it, but we’re just trying to make fun costumes that when people walk into a party [wearing one], they’re gonna get noticed, they’re gonna get attention. Hopefully they’ll win a contest. That’s kind of our goal.
What charity are you donating the proceeds to?
Here’s the thing about giving money to charity — you’re not allowed to say which charity you’re giving it to unless you have a formal relationship with the charity because the charity needs to basically have a source for you. So the charity that we’re giving it to, we’re no longer saying, because they don’t want us to. [Laughs.] It’s really funny, but we’re giving them the money. They’re more than happy to take the money. So just say we’re giving it to a global conservation charity. It’s like, the biggest one.
Alright, I can figure it out. What are your highest selling costumes every year?
Our exclusive costumes, like our furry animal costumes always do well. Our orange fox is big with the different festivals, it’s been a perennial seller. We have the faux fur lion costume this year that’s doing great. So all our furry animal costumes. The basics do well too, like sexy cop – we have a sexy SWAT team that just flies off the shelf because girls go as like a SWAT team. We’ll sell ‘em like 10, 20 at a time. Then the fairy tale costumes like Little Red Riding Hood, Alice in Wonderland, those types of costumes have always done well. But we’re definitely seeing a trend of the bodies changing from dresses and skirts to shorts and rompers and one-pieces. I think girls don’t want to have to worry about wearing a skirt.
What do you think it is about Halloween that really makes adults want to wear these? What makes them fly off the shelves?
You know, we sell all kinds of costumes. We sell very conservative, like theatre-grade costumes. There over four thousand choices. But what sells is what sells, and what sells right now are sexier kinds of costumes. But I feel like that’s just reflective of what women are wearing. If you go out on your average Friday night to a dance club in Scottsdale, AZ — where we live — girls are gonna be dressed relatively sexy. So I don’t feel like our costumes are really...some of them are sexier than that, maybe. But most of them are in line with current fashion. I think, actually, the backlash every year against our costumes gets less and less as people realize, this is just the way this generation dresses. And that’s the way it is.
But you also get flack for just like making something that’s absolutely ridiculous sexy. Like the one that always stands out in my mind is the lobster. I cannot unsee that lobster costume –
Exactly, though! That’s the point!
I get that’s the point — what would you say to critics who think you’re sexualizing inanimate objects for profit?
Um, mostly: LOL.
It’s funny that they don’t get it. They get angry, and it’s hilarious. It’s like, it’s supposed to be funny. If you didn’t realize that a sexy lobster is funny, come on. If you didn’t realize that a sexy slice of watermelon is funny, if you don’t realize that a sexy hamburger is hilarious, or that a sexy pizza slice is just so funny, like…I don’t know. I feel like a lot of those articles just get written by people that don’t go out. But I love ‘em, keep ‘em coming, ‘cause they’re great. Every year one of our costumes always makes number one for Yahoo’s list of “Most Stupid” or “Worst Sexy” Halloween costumes. And nine out of ten times, the one that they vote as the “worst,” is in our top 5 best sellers. So, like I said, there’s like four thousand choices – they can call it the worst but it’s really the best!