We all know the feeling … hot, sweaty, anxious, shifting in your seat, your Levis riding . . . and . . . your ass hurts! Yes, you’ve got it: exam time.Ache no longer my exam-cramming friend. No longer will you feel the pain of lengthy exams, or the crotch constriction of your Levi’s during lecture. Embarrassed by the “I went to Bucks last night, slept in my clothes and came to class” wrinkles? Fret no more! Ladies cry for them, men die for them, and yes the rumours are true: It all started here. Modrobes, saving your crotch since 1996.
Brock celebrity grads go far beyond Rick the Temp. We have Steve Debus. Founder and designer of the infamous funky, bright, bedwear-to-daywear Modrobes, he is not afraid to tell you that he wants you in his pants, or shoes, skirts, bags or any of the other 70 articles of fashion that Steve is proud to call his own.
The former Sarnia resident has dreamed since he was a child of having the whole world in his pants. No, it isn’t some sort of sick male fantasy, it’s business propaganda. Debus, or “Saldebus” (his designing name), at the tender age of 10 sent some of his own shoe designs to Nike. Although he never heard back, the next addition to Nike’s new line resembled that of Debus’. Ripped-off, or just good at determining marketability?
Debus did not feel ripped off. He says it gave him more confidence in his design ability to see that he was on track with popular stylistic thinking. During high school, after countless run-ins with administration over uniform violations, it was easy for Debus to see his calling.
“I didn’t want to look like everyone else,” he said.
He enjoyed pushing the boundaries, matching his clothes from head to toe, and creating new looks by cutting collars and wearing loud and bold colours and styles.
“Our dress code forced me to be more creative in coming up with cool looking clothing that wasn’t breaking the rules,” he says.
After high school, he attended a silk screening course at Lambton College (Sarnia) to learn the basics of T-shirt design, a skill he used selling shirts the following summer in the resort town of Grand Bend. Unfortunately, he was once again ripped-off — this time by one of his cottage-mates, who stole one of Debus’ designs and sold it in his own store.
In 1989, Debus decided to attend Brock University. He liked the small school atmosphere, strong lacrosse team, and his brother went here. He wanted to take a liberal arts education and his combination of business and politics courses allowed him take a wide variety of classes. It was at Brock that “Saldebus” started to blossom.
For a second-year business project, he designed the exam pant. This loose fitting, butt-padded pant is stain resistant, wrinkle free, and dries in 10 minutes — a clearly practical and economical choice for any student. But his prof didn’t think so. Debus earned only 75 per cent for the project.
What’s he got to say about the grade now?
“Thank you for making me work twice as hard as anyone else in the class for a lowly 75. By the way, I deserved less because my financials sucked!”
Debus is no longer getting a tepid reaction from the Brock business department.
According to Sharon Broderick, lecturer in the department of management, marketing and human resources, Debus is, “a classic example of entrepreneurial marketing,” and “a great success story.” Debus and his company are featured in the marketing 2P91 class and text as a case study.
The following year, with a loan from relatives, Debus loaded up his station wagon and drove across Ontario, campus to campus equipped with a table, boom box, and stack of pants. Seeing students sporting his class project around campus “really confirmed the gut feeling I had.
“And it also spawned Modrobes, I couldn’t be more thankful or pleased.!”
He graduated in 1995 with an honours degree. In 1996, following the success of the exam pant, Debus founded Saldebus Lounge Clothing (aka Modrobes) with a $10,000 loan from family and friends. Debus then took campus table side shopping to a whole new level. For two and a half years he traveled to universities with the sales pitch of, “If these are not the most comfortable pants that you have had in your life, return them and I’ll give you your money back.”
“Comfy crotch pleasers,” however, were not as much in demand as he had thought. After the first seven months, Modrobes was $70,000 in debt. Refusing to give up, Debus hung on until that fateful week in 1996 when he sold 400 pairs at Western. Before that he had never sold over 50 pairs in a week. He felt he might have been able to pay back the money he owed and became convinced he was going to live his impossible dream. From there Modrobes popularity grew and he began doing trade shows and events like Edgefest and Woodstock ‘99.
In December 1997, Saldebus Lounge Clothing opened its first concept store on Queen Street in Toronto. A year later, they expanded to North Toronto, and this past August they opened a Vancouver location.
Steve Debus has successfully turned his one-main traveling campus crusade into a $5-million empire with distribution in over 445 retail stores across Canada (like Athlete’s’ World and Jean Machine) while eschewing much mainstream advertising.
“I still love going to events and shows in the van and seeing peoples’ faces … being out there and not stuck in windowless offices,” he says.
Modrobes sponsors a variety of “home-grown” talents in fields as diverse as DJ-ing, snowboaring and dancing. Modrobes also sponsors the Brock lacrosse team.
The company can also be found rearing its loud, colourful head at a slew of skateboarding events, BMX races and rock concerts. They were involved in Snow Jam at the CNE this past summer, the i-dance fashion show (a free electronic music rally at Nathan Phillips Square) in September, the New Musik Festival, and the Edge Trade Show Magic in Las Vegas this August where they won “Best Booth” and gained American exposure.
According to Debus, “They [Americans] were shocked by this cool, new line from nowhere and now their economy is in the toilet, so we are going a different route.”
Debus remains committed to listening to customers and “participating in their reality.” This is apparent from the plethora of diverse events and demographics that Modrobes gets involved with. Inspired by their market, Debus believes that it is important to stay remain engaged. Currently targeting a 16-20-year-old market looking for comfortable, streetwise, reasonably-priced clothing seems to be doing Modrobes just fine. The spring/summer line release went well and is their largest line ever. They have introduced denim pants, which, according to Debus “is ironic because we’re known as the alternative to denim in Canada.
“But we happened to come upon some really lightweight denim that fits perfectly into the Modrobes realm, so we are going to try to displace Levis in Canada. Wish me luck — he has had a hundred year head start!” Modrobes has also launched a shoe line, fulfilling one of Debus’ childhood dreams.
“I was very happy and then I was not so happy because we licensed out the manufacturing of the shoes and the quality of the shoes wasn’t to our standards. So we had a bunch of screaming matches with our shoe partners, canned them and now we’re going to do it ourselves.”
Modrobes products are available throughout Canada, and are soon expanding into the States via on-line shopping. Debus plans to take the same route that they did to capture Canadian fans, by touring American universities. They are planning to become universal, but have no plans to change the way they design. “Americans love our stuff already so we just wanna make it available for them to buy.”
So how far will Debus go to get us into his pants?
“As far as it takes and a few steps more to make sure you are happy … Our mission is to give people cool clothes in a unique way and make them feel good about it.”