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Alumni Profiles
reed magazine logoMarch 2010

Kitschy Coup

by Robin Tovey ’97


Don’t underestimate the cult of bunny slippers. This is what I learned from internet entrepreneurs Adam Peter ’03 and Alex Nydahl ’01, cofounders of, just one of their five active online outlets. “We’re purveyors of the finest in plush and novelty footwear the internet has to offer,” boasts Alex. If bunnies leave you cold, maybe you’d prefer the microwaveable fuzzy cat slippers (complete with lavender-scented insole!) or even (wait for it) the Freudian slippers. There are 45 different slipper styles to tempt you, marketing manager Travis Greenwood ’01 tells me.


From left: Travis Greenwood, Adam Peter and Alex Nydahl are co-founders of

Before you start wondering if this is an elaborate spoof or asking how three guys were led down the primrose path of plush, it should be noted that much of their inspiration can be traced back to the 1985 cult favorite Real Genius. The film, which glorifies goofball brainiacs in the physics department at a thinly disguised version of Caltech, features a young Val Kilmer padding around campus in bunny slippers. The film has been held dear by several generations of Reedies, and a fateful screening at the Clinton St. Theatre brought these great minds together. Greg McClellan ’01 organized a viewing to celebrate his 25th birthday, and it was there that Adam realized how much he coveted the “I Toxic Waste” T-shirt worn by Val’s character. Unable to find a replica, Adam realized that there might be an untapped market for similar kitsch. Thus Found Item Clothing was born in 2004.

At that time, Alex and Adam were friends and roommates living in Portland; once the website was up and running they brought on fellow classmate Travis to help out with fulfillment and marketing. Asked if they can attribute certain business skills to their Reed experience, their answers include “ability to work independently and proactively,” “people skills,” and “perfectionist tendencies.”

Painstakingly reproduced via close study, the Real Genius shirts were the first to be developed, and they remain among Found Item’s most popular designs. My personal favorite is the “International Order for Gorillas” logo on a classic butter-yellow tee; the color may be right out of the 1980s, but all silk screens are done on au courant American Apparel t-shirts.

But back to the bunnies . . . a costume promotion for Halloween produced real demand for the furry footwear, and Adam snagged the domain name of came next, and pretty soon they realized they had a real business model.

Ecommerce is no longer a novelty, but it has been the perfect medium for novelty items. As Alex observes, “Online retail offers access to goods and services unobtainable locally; likewise, it gives producers of niche products instant access to the largest market in the world.”

Found Item is as comfortable in this specialized corner of the apparel market as a broken-in pair of Shar Pei slippers. As the films behind the clever T-shirts have aged, they’ve gained cult followers who “obsess over small details and arcane minutiae,” and this sentimental affection for kitsch is an economic force to be reckoned with. As these enthusiasts themselves begin to age, they are willing to shell out for that connection to their childhood or to other kindred spirits who spot the references.

Travis sums it up nicely: “Some of our customers relate to the characters that wear the shirts (the nostalgia) and some of them want the shirt for its message or design (the content). We’re at our best when we take advantage of both sides of the coin.”

reed magazine logoMarch 2010