The brains behind the 'sexy pizza' costumeOctober 30, 2013: 9:26 AM ET
Yandy.com founder and CEO Chad Horstman talks about his company's offbeat getups and its viral marketing strategy.
By Colleen Leahey
FORTUNE—Amid the thousands of skimpy Halloween ensembles cluttering the Internet this year, one shone brighter than the rest. Featured on The Daily Show, Today, and countless blogs, the Sexy Pizza costume – skin tight with screen-printed pie toppings and padded crust shoulders – is either a sharp parody of women's ritual Halloween-time self-objectification, or its perfect embodiment. The costume comes by way of Yandy.com, which also sells Sexy Carrot and Sexy Killer Whale costumes. The progenitor of this eccentric trick-or-treat eye-candy? 35-year-old Arizona State grad Chad Horstman.
The site targets "a certain type of girl with a lot of confidence who wants something unique and stands out from the crowd," he says. Based on the company's offerings, Horstman defines confidence as the desire to wear skimpy outfits that mimic ears of corn. "Our costumes are meant to be funny and ridiculous. People need to see that," says Horstman.
In 2005, Horstman was working as an Internet marketing consultant for Fortune 500 companies. In his spare time, he launched several ecommerce sites. One sold cigars, one sold pepper spray, and one sold lingerie. The lingerie platform took off, and he convinced his brother Evan to quit his job as a supply-chain manager at Boeing and join the start-up. "As a guy, you know, we don't really like to go to Victoria's Secret [to buy gifts]," says Horstman, explaining why he created an intimates site. Initially, he was targeting men – but the platform attracted women instead, and the brothers went with it.
They didn't foresee Yandy's foray into "sexy costumes." During the company's first Halloween, its suppliers were selling scanty holiday outfits. Horstman decided to carry them. "It was perfect timing," he says, explaining that frequenting ASU parties taught him that this market existed. Yandy's costume business only accounts for 26% of its sales, but that didn't stop Horstman from launching his own line in 2010. "It's fitting because I've always been into Halloween since I was kid," he adds.
That year, Yandy introduced a trio of animal costumes (Sexy Fox, Sexy Panda, and Sexy Polar Bear) to the world. Costing upwards of $150, the full sets include fluffy dresses and leg warmers topped with faux fur hoods. "We were really proud of those, " says Horstman. "That's what kind of launched it for us."
Yandy's line now offers a wide range of styles inspired by cultural trends and Horstman's personal genius. Miley Cyrus's VMA performance inspired one of this year's bestsellers: a nude bikini set sold with a matching foam finger. Yandy is marketing its Sexy Killer Whale parallel to the Blackfish documentary. Last year, one of Yandy's hits was its Sexy Big Bird getup, a nod to Mitt Romney's attack on PBS. (Perhaps the Sexy Fast Food collection is referencing America's obesity struggle?)
The seeds of Horstman's designs are sometimes illogical—he says he created the Sexy Killer Whale costume because "a lot of girls love going to Sea World and they love Shamu" – and he doesn't always listen to feedback. Sarah Chamberlain, Yandy's director of marketing, hated the Sexy Pizza idea. "Jon Stewart loved the Sexy Pizza costume," Horstman affirms, referring to the costume's debut on The Daily Show. "Once girls realize guys will love the costume, they change their mind." Horstman's creations are purposely over-the-top. His aim is to help his customers win costume contests, while also stirring some grassroots marketing. "We've demonstrated an ability to produce these costumes and get them to go viral and get attention online."
While plenty of people laugh with Horstman, others are offended by the way his company sexualizes Halloween. He realizes his costumes aren't for everyone, but adds that the sexy pizza isn't "really that sexy." After all, it offers its wearer full coverage. Yandy also carries 270 plus-sized costume styles, on top of its 2,300 traditionally-sized offerings. The founder's main goal is to provide "costumes that make you look good and feel good about yourself." And that is what Sexy Corn/Hamburger/Killer Whale/Carrot outfits do.
As Yandy's sales continue to increase, so does its inventory. The company plans to remain an ecommerce-only platform and is about to outgrow its 30,000 square foot warehouse. Until consumers no longer crave skimpy outfits for Halloween night, Yandy will continue dishing out Sexy Pizza to its hungry, female buyers.