Once in a while, an idea comes about that changes the way an entire culture behaves. Larry Weiss, the creative mind behind Fruity Pebbles, was never short on those types of ideas, but there was one in particular that gave him enough problems to quit. However, quitting was not in Weiss’ vocabulary, and we should all be grateful for that fact because if he quit, our world would’ve never had Underoos.
Most of us probably won’t even remember the time when there were no alternatives to tighty whities. That might’ve been all right with adults, but imagine a time when there was no creative outlet for children’s underwear. Nowadays, children can be empowered by what they wear, and that idea stemmed from the time when Weiss was trying to incorporate familiar emblems and characters of power from pop and mainstream culture onto undergarments. Weiss believed that if you put a child in a pair of superhero shorts, it would do wonders for that child’s self-confidence.
Weiss knew in his heart that he was on to something. However, others didn’t quite share his enthusiasm regarding the project. Hanes passed on the idea of it. The Scott Paper Company did the same. At this point, Weiss was had already undertaken the project, and he had to carry the financial burden of all the licensing he needed to do. At least when Scott Paper backed out of the agreement, Weiss managed to convince Scott Paper to pay for one year’s worth of merchandising rights. This was enough money to allow Weiss to find another buyer for the idea, but he had his own money in the project, and there was just something about this particular concept that made Weiss keep pushing.
So he renewed the licensing, and he spent the money. He kept his hopes up that someone would latch on to the idea that he had more than underwear to sell. What he was really selling in Underoos were secret identities for children. Little did he know that this particular brand would go on to become one of the biggest licensing success stories ever, much like his Fruity Pebbles idea.
At the time, Weiss was working as a product manager for Post Cereal. He had the goal of solving the problem of kids and breakfast and why the two rarely happened in that time and culture. The solution was to re-brand their cereal products with tie-ins to what popular in entertainment at the time. This was how the Flintstones got paired up with Fruity Pebbles. Weiss also had Batman and Superman cereals planned, but although those didn’t quite make it to production, his connection to the comic industry would prove to be helpful.
An advertising firm approached Weiss in the late 1970s to see if he had any thoughts on improving the underwear category. He began to brainstorm and came up with the completely novel idea of selling underwear sets, instead of separates, that featured the designs of superhero costumes from comic books. The idea was to transform the experience of buying or receiving underwear as gifts.
Fruit of the Loom caught on to the idea and decided to take over the entire operation. Weiss accepted, and before they knew it, they had named the product after what Weiss’ 9-year-old son came up with—Underoos. During these initial stages, Weiss was concerned that his idea might be good enough for children to actually commit to. He consulted with a psychologist to make sure that no kid would actually climb out of a third-story window thinking he or she could fly because of the underwear. The psychologist confirmed that this notion was impossible for any sane child, and as soon as Weiss heard, he proceeded with his project without pause.
Soon enough, every single kid in the U.S. wanted a pair of underwear for Christmas—of all things. Kids wanted Underoos for presents. Fruit of the Loom was producing Underoos effectively, and the appeal of the product was just undeniable. This would continue to be the case until video games, cartoons, and action figures relegated character underwear to just another product category in the 80s and 90s.
Today, you can still find vintage Underoos set for at least $70 online, and as successful as it has made Weiss over the years, he plans to never retire and continues to look for the next brilliant idea that might come along his way.
You can also read:
Written by Garrett Parker
Read more posts by Garrett Parker