The founders of the Romphim. The group met while pursuing graduate degrees at the Kellogg School of Management. (Courtesy of RompHim)
The founders of the Romphim. The group met while pursuing graduate degrees at the Kellogg School of Management.

Courtesy of RompHim

The rise and fall of the RompHim: How a viral sensation was born and the reason it came to an end

March 5, 2020

The Monthly

The RompHim is dead. Long live the RompHim in our hearts.

The viral clothing sensation that spawned dozens of summer ’fits, memes and copycat garments is no more, the company announced in a Feb. 12 news release. A brand some had forgotten even existed was gone for real — and it left many wondering why it was conceived in the first place. The sole purpose of the formerly famous fashion statement’s existence was to answer one question: what if the world had rompers, but for men?

The product went live on Kickstarter on May 15, 2017, and the responses were immediate and visceral. The reactions of journalists, social media personalities and everyday citizens ran the gamut: in one article, a reporter from Esquire said the RompHim was the reason she “(didn’t) want to live on this planet anymore,” and in the next, a journalist at Mic called it “the best thing on the Internet.” One weekend, the romper was even featured in the Weekend Update segment of Saturday Night Live.

That month, the product made over $350,000 in pledges on Kickstarter — significantly more than the company’s initial expectations. But in the years since summer 2017, the RompHim’s popularity has faded as other trends have come and gone. Still, that one summer changed the lives of the company’s four founders forever.

Before the RompHim went global, its founders were graduate students in the Kellogg School of Management. Elaine Chen, Chip Longenecker, Alex Neumann and Daniel Webster-Clark (Kellogg ’17) met each other through their degree program, and became friends in the months leading up to their pivotal realization. Chen said the idea for the company came to them early on in their second year of graduate school, near the end of 2016.

“We were discussing how we thought that there was a real gap in clothing and fashion options for men relative to women,” she said. “We were brainstorming ideas of alternative options that could exist for men that we didn’t think really existed or were a viable option today, and I pitched that I personally just love a good romper.”

Luckily enough, so did thousands of future RompHim fans. From there, the idea took off. As they wrapped up their degrees, the four founders took on an independent study for credit to give them time to further develop their idea.

Longenecker told The Daily that the ability to incubate a business while in school was invaluable to the company’s success. At Northwestern, he said the team was able to collaborate with friends and get feedback that helped them decide their product was viable for the market.

Kellogg Prof. Benjamin Jones, the group’s faculty adviser, said it’s not uncommon for Kellogg graduates to create successful companies soon after their graduation, but most are focused outside of men’s fashion. And while it’s difficult to predict which startups will find the most success, Jones said he’s never seen anything from any of his former students affect the cultural conversation quite like the RompHim.

“I remember opening up and on the front page on the website there were two pictures,” Jones said. “One was a picture of Vladimir Putin and the other was a picture of one of the founding team members wearing a RompHim. And I thought, ‘Well, this is going quite well for them.’”

But with virality comes responsibility, and the orders came in massive quantities. Longenecker said after the launch in May 2017, just before the founders’ graduation, the company had to fulfill thousands of orders for chambray rompers. The only problem? There wasn’t enough chambray in the world to meet the quantities RompHim needed.

Due to the unexpectedly massive demand, Longenecker said it was hard to become comfortable with running the business until after the Kickstarter orders in the beginning of summer 2017 were completely filled. He said it took a few months to get the materials and manufacture the garments, but once those needs were met, it became easier to step back and look at the big picture to form a long-term plan. The company began to start taking orders from its website, expanding its range of patterns and fabrics and even growing its line to include RompSuits — the male equivalent of a jumpsuit.

While going viral was an unexpected and pleasant surprise, Longenecker said the true power of the company came in the community it created. Even after the Internet success died down, he said loyal fans would return for years because of their love for the product. Because of this relationship, he said the RompHim ignited a personal fascination with entrepreneurship.

“Sometimes I’m like, damn, that was cool,” Longenecker said. “For me, it’ll be a lifelong passion that I’ll need to figure out a way to stoke the flames of.”

However, all good things must come to an end. Chen said all four founders have full-time jobs in addition to running the brand, which had become progressively more difficult to balance.

Through a series of tough conversations, she said the group came to the mutual conclusion that they had all reached the point where they were ready to step back from the company. Though it was difficult to let go of something they had worked so hard to create, she said she felt it was the right decision.

Though the RompHim’s life may be coming to a close, Chen said the four founders will take the memories they share with them for the rest of their lives. More than virality or success, she said she will always appreciate the chance she got to start a company with three of her friends and create a product they were all proud of.

“What gets me the most excited when I think about RompHim is when I see someone wearing it, and they’re having a great time, or when we get a really excited customer email about how this piece of garment helps them feel more comfortable in who they are and allows them to express themselves in a fun way that they haven’t felt before,” Chen said. “I think those are the moments that we cherish most.”

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Twitter: @jacobnfulton1