The origins of Body Aware go way back to 1985 when a chance game of squash between Body Aware co-founders David and Kristina in Guangzhou, China, led to a lifelong partnership. Out of this relationship came the innovative idea that men's underwear did not have to be white, ugly, and unattractive.
At the time, Kristina worked for the State Department and David worked for the oil exploration industry in China. Both were looking for a change of direction in their lives, but they had no idea what they should pursue next.
In 1986, the two married in Hong Kong, afterward they traveled from Beijing on the Trans Siberian Express. They spent their honeymoon traveling through Mongolia and Russia in the middle of winter. It was so cold that even the train's Borscht and hot Russian tea were not enough to keep out the cold of the Siberian winter. The one thing that did keep them comfortably warm was the long knitted silk underwear they had bought in China. Thus the seeds of their entrepreneurial future were planted.
Years later, Kristina worked at the United States Embassy in Paris while David researched business ideas related to clothing. David found that the market for long silk underwear in Europe was virtually nonexistent. The only thermal underwear available at the time was made from cotton jersey and not silk. David was surprised by this because silk was not only a lightweight alternative to cotton, but it also wicked away moisture and kept a dry insulating layer of air when next to the skin. It was in this eureka moment that Body Aware’s first products were conceptualized.
The next step was to get to work on their first designs. These were created, as you can probably guess, on their kitchen table. The patterns for the underwear had to be drafted to fit larger western sizing as Asian sizing was somewhat smaller. In the end, 1200 pieces were ordered from a factory in China to start David and Kristina’s brand new mail-order business. Initially, there were just 2 garments offered, a top and a bottom. The fledgling company was called Shamian Silks, named for Shamian Island on the Pearl River where the French and English traded with the Chinese in the 19th century.
As the Internet had not yet emerged as a viable market place, Shamian Silks advertised with a mail-order leaflet. Kristina found a great source of models in Marines who were stationed at the Embassy in Paris. In working with these athletic men she came to the realization that the Marines’ own underwear could be improved upon with different styling, different colors, and perhaps different fabrics. This inspiration led to the company expand its offerings to include silk jersey underwear, briefer silhouettes, and bright colors.
Body Aware Ltd, Trowbridge. Wiltshire UK, 1996
In 1990, David and Kristina had moved to the old mill town of Trowbridge near Bath in England to start a family. They also set up a small factory to manufacture new men's underwear designs. The quick growth of their company caused them to move the factory in Trowbridge 3 times within 3 years. The factory allowed for fast turnaround. From design to manufacture, the factory typically took 1-2 weeks to complete a product run, compared to the lead time of 4-6 months for clothing custom made in China. It was during this growth that the company rebranded itself to Body Aware Ltd.
Because of their incredibly skilled machinists, Body Aware continued to expand in the 1990s with several labels in production and new mail-order catalogs printed monthly. Their brands included English Naturals women's lingerie, American Built sportswear, David Nicola sexy men's underwear, Apres Noir men's lingerie, and Body Aware as the core brand of men's underwear. The first BodyAware.com website was launched in June 1996 (15 months before Google!). With the internet still in its infancy, Body Aware continued to print catalogs for another 10 years.
In this day and age, there are new brands of men's underwear coming out almost weekly, so it is difficult to imagine a time when men’s choices were limited to just a few big-name brands offering essentially the same products. Body Aware was a sensation in the 1990s because of its innovative concepts and original designs that broke the mold in men’s fashion. Body Aware’s underwear was such a hit that Kristina was a regular on daytime television shows promoting their unique designs. The company also went on to win a British television competition that searched for the best and most promising small business in the UK.
In 1996, David, Kristina, and their 2 young daughters moved to Sonoma, California. There they set up Body Aware Inc, the first United States branch of the company. Several moves later, the company found its final permanent headquarters in Scottsdale, Arizona. The company proudly makes the majority of its products in the USA. Designing, patterning, and sample making are still carried out in-house.
Body Aware Inc, Arizona, USA, 2019
There have been many changes in the company over the years, many great employees have come and gone, but Body Aware's core mission continues to be to bring a little more joy to men (and their partners) who for so long had to put up with unattractive and boring underwear!