Around the months of December and January, most college students have final exams, scheduling, finances, and social lifestyles to worry about. On top of all of that, one University of Missouri freshman is being sued by one of the most well-known brands on the average college campus – The North Face.
Jimmy Winkelmann is described by his representative as someone who has “turned 19 years of age… looks 14, and, to some, acts 12,” and also as “a handsome cross between Mad Magazine’s Alfred E. Newman… and Skippy the Punk from the Midwest.” However he describes himself as, “I guess a businessman, and kind of a designer. I’m going into pre-med and biomedical engineering, so… I guess I’m a lot of different things.”
A few years ago, as a way to help his parents pay for his college tuition, 18-year old Winkelmann founded a brand of clothing called The South Butt to parody and poke fun at brands like The North Face.
In high school, Winkelmann said he was confused by the radical popularity of logos and certain brands of clothing. “I’d see everyone wearing those North Face fleece jackets. It was to the point of insanity. All my friends wanted one, and I just didn’t get it,” Winkelmann said.
Winkelmann said that the plan of The South Butt is to show people that the popularity of a person’s clothing does not determine their popularity as an individual.
“Some people feel that if they wear those clothes they’ll be Mr. and Mrs. Cool,” Winkelmann said. “Just because these clothes are expensive, they’re not going to make you cooler. People saying what’s cool to wear is not going to make you happier or make better friends or anything like that.”
The South Butt accomplishes its primary objective of making fun of popular brands, but it actually fulfills an ulterior purpose. While The North Face was originally designed for active use outside, The South Butt boasts that it is “fit for the great indoors.” The products are, basically, what North Face products have become – not for hiking or skiing adventures, but for everyday use and consumers’ endless lounging enjoyment.
From the product’s slogan, “Never stop relaxing,” to the disclaimer on the South Butt’s website, Winkelmann has made efforts to differentiate his brand from the more popular brand, The North Face. This disclaimer states, “If you are unable to discern the difference between a face and a butt, we encourage you to buy North Face products.”
This didn’t stop The North Face from filing a lawsuit against the South Butt on Dec. 10, 2009.
“They claim that I caused irreparable damage to their iconic brand by degrading it and making a knockoff,” Winkelmann said.
Instead of knocking their knees together like David facing Goliath, which is what The South Butt’s press release compared the lawsuit to, Winkelmann and others at the company are welcoming the publicity. This news, when released on their website, included the reassurance that they were well stocked for the Holiday rush of orders they expected because of the lawsuit. The South Butt also came out with their very own Facebook application, called “The Face or Butt Challenge.” Takers see extreme close-ups of photos and are asked to discern which type of cheeks they are.
On January 4, 2010, The South Butt filed an official response to the lawsuit against them. The introduction to the 18-page response alone contains a list of words describing the brand, including “rump,” “bootie” and “saddle thumper,” to name a few.
Winkelmann retains his good humor throughout the response, and says that he does not have a bad opinion about The North Face products themselves. “They’re all great brands… If you want to think you’re a rock climber and wear The North Face, go for it,” Winkelmann said.
Since its start, The South Butt has witnessed a growing fan base. Their Facebook fan page has 497 members as of right this second, and thesouthbutt.comleaves a lot of space for positive and negative comments and feedback.
The fans include elementary school students, as proved by the recent ban on The South Butt products at a private school in St. Louis, Mo.
“It’s actually good, because they didn’t ban The North Face. They just banned The South Butt. It proves that people can tell the difference,” Winkelmann said.
Winkelmann said that the principal of the school didn’t think the word “butt” was appropriate for the young students to broadcast on their clothing. “But anything that kids can’t have, they’re going to want to wear more. So we’re encouraging schools to ban it,” was Winkelmann’s positive take on the issue.
Winkelmann described The South Butt as a “trend to go against the trends.” But even the founder of The South Butt himself admits that he’s fallen prey to popularity before. “I just bought an Apple computer,” Winkelmann said. “But I’ve never used one of those Nalgene water bottles.”