Three years ago, a group of college friends reunited at the Virginia Gold Cup. One of them wore a pair of bright-orange pants. Little did he know, those pants would become the brunt of a practical-joke-turned-Instagram-account that would rack up over 10,000 followers, attract the attention of big-time lifestyle brand Vineyard Vines, and set the group of friends on track for a clothing company of their own. That company’s name is Rhoback, and this is how it came to be.
But first, back to those bright-orange pants. One of the wearer’s friends, Matt Loftus, thought it’d be a fun idea to swipe them (when their owner was asleep) and start wearing them around DC, passing them between friends, and documenting the whole thing in photos. To take it one step further, they started an Instagram account, posting the photos to @BrotherhoodoftheTravelingPants.
“We beat the joke practically to death,” Loftus says.
To the guys’ surprise, however, the account took off, racking up a few thousand followers within a couple weeks. That’s when Kevin Hubbard, Navy Yard resident and one of the guys in the “brotherhood,” had the idea to reach out to a few lifestyle brands “to see if they’d give us a free pair of pants in exchange for a fun marketing story,” he says.
Vineyard Vines responded right away. Not only did they agree to send over lots of free product, but they also offered to make the friends’ Instagram account their marketing campaign for the summer. The guys snapped pictures wearing Vineyard Vines, tagged the company in their posts, and soon their account had over 10,000 followers. It was an easy win-win.
But though the guys were loving their free clothing, they discovered they all had a common problem: They were sweating through their shirts. That’s when they thought, Why not make our own? They’d already built up a social audience, and clearly, they had a knack for marketing apparel. How hard could it be?
They bounced the idea around for a year—until inspiration hit in Zimbabwe. While doing service work there, I.S. Dunklin, one of the brotherhood guys, stayed with a family who owned two Rhodesian Ridgeback dogs. Huge, athletic dogs, the guys read online that they “crave activity.” It was love at first sight.
“‘This dog craves activity’—we kept saying that line over and over again, and the next thing you know, we were turning that into the ethos of our new company,” says Hubbard. “We wanted to inspire people through clothing to get out there and be active.”
That was the start of lifestyle activewear company Rhoback (a shortened version of Rhodesian Ridgeback), which currently sells performance polos, hats, and visors. The founders knew they had a following among the Vineyard Vines set, which is why they started with polos, rather than more traditional activewear. The shirts, which are designed by Loftus’s wife, Kristina Loftus, are meant to be transitional: something you can wear to play sports like golf or tennis and also to go out socially.
“A lot of the performance polos on the market are a little too baggy for most guys, so we brought them in on the sides, made them equal length front and back so you can wear them tucked or untucked, and made the collar stiff so it doesn’t flatten out,” says Hubbard.
As a nod to their dog inspiration, the polos feature a dog logo on the front (inspired by the Loftus’s own Rhodesian Ridgeback, Bunker) and two small parallel lines just underneath the collar in the back. Those lines, which vary in color depending on the style of the shirt, represent the spinal ridge that gives the dog breed its name.
Although Rhoback sells primarily through its online store, Loftus’s dad also built a wooden teardrop camper for the company, which the founders drive up and down the East Coast (with Bunker in tow), stopping to sell their merchandise at various markets and lifestyle events. Ten months after it officially launched, the company has run through its first two orders and is about to get in its third. In December, Rhoback is adding quarter-zips to its lineup, and next year, activewear T-shirts and women’s polos.
The @BrotherhoodoftheTravelingPants Instagram is now the @rhoback company account. As for the original bright-orange pants? Their location is a mystery.
“They were last seen when one of the brothers was doing a backflip off a human pyramid,” says Hubbard.