"Menswear Dog" has taken the internet -- and the high-fashion world -- by storm. Here's his story.
May 23, 2018 12 min read
In this series,Instagram Icon, Entrepreneur speaks with the individuals behind popular Instagram accounts to find out the secrets of their success.
He wears $7,000 suits, $3,000 sport coats and $200 ties. Photoshoots for Jimmy Choo, Stuart Weitzman and Brooks Brothers are on his schedule. He appears in ad campaigns for the likes of Casper, Article and Subaru.
He’s also a dog.
A Shiba Inu, to be exact. The golden-haired charmer’s name may be Bodhi, but his 354,000 (and growing) Instagram followers know him best as @MenswearDog. People come for his top-dollar looks (bright-eyed and bushy-tailed in a Brooks Brothers bow tie, pensive in a black Ermenegildo Zegna suit, smize-ing in a Levi’s jean jacket), but many stay for his cheeky captions (“The Dog Next Door,” “Breaking necks with my good looks since 2009,” “Crisp air, Crispier outfit… Tag a lumber-gent”).
Bodhi has also worked with brands like Bergdorf Goodman, Banana Republic and Express, and he’s been featured in a wide scope of magazines and newspapers -- including a full-page spread in The New York Times featuring summer wedding looks from around the world. But none of it would be possible without the person behind his Instagram, former fashion designer Yena Kim.
One rainy weekend afternoon on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, boredom drove Kim and her then-partner to dress Bodhi in a crisp men’s shirt (his neck fits a size small) and knit shawl cardigan. They expected him to fidget and run off, but instead, he fixed them with a winning smile and started working his angles. They posted the photos on their personal Facebook pages, and the rest is history.
“In a way, Bodhi really helped me hit some life goals I never thought I would hit,” Kim says.
Read on to learn the ins and outs of a typical Menswear Dog photoshoot, what Bodhi is like when he’s not being a style icon and why Kim has turned down collaboration offers of $15,000 or more.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
1. How did you get your start with Instagram?
I was working at Ralph Lauren -- I designed for them for two years. It was amazing, and I also had access to a lot of inspiration. When you design, you’re always shooting with different departments, and the Ralph Lauren men’s department is really amazing -- I’d pop in there and speak to people. I was always really interested in menswear, because I loved the idea of classics and how they evolve.
My partner back then was a talented graphic designer. It was a rainy Saturday or Sunday afternoon, and we were bored. We lived on the Upper East Side, and Bodhi was lying on a pillow in the bedroom, right next to a huge window. It was one of those spots he liked to steal. We thought it’d be funny to put a menswear ensemble on him -- a classic heritage style -- and see how he did. We had seen so many dogs dressed up in tutus and pink silly bits, and we thought it’d be visually a little bit different and exciting to put really polished menswear on him. And damn, did he look good! We expected him to run off, like a normal dog, but he was really calm, started smiling and giving us all these angles.
We took pictures and posted on our personal Facebook pages. Everyone said to make it a “thing,” so as an extended joke, we created an email address, Tumblr page and other accounts, like Instagram and Facebook. (This was five years ago when menswear on Tumblr was truly exploding.) Thankfully, no one else had thought of the handle @MenswearDog for Instagram, so we grabbed it.
After we published the Tumblr page and made an Instagram account, the story got picked up in GQ the next day -- and it spiraled out from there. It was going viral, so there were publications writing about it, and you’d see three or four new articles the next day. It was my first experience into how quickly social can move, and how much effect it can have on visibility. You feel really overwhelmed, but it brings you back to the idea that people really want fun content. This was the first time I realized there was a need for hilarious, feel-good content online.
2. How much of your time do you spend on a post, and what does that entail?
It depends on the project, but you have to imagine everything that a big agency does translated into a small team. It begins with networking and sales, and then I really like to speak to the client and make sure we’re aligned on what we’re trying to promote. We come up with a strategy around if it’s a product or release and the best way to get eyes on it. Once the creative concept has been decided, I put together a team and the shoot date. Then we shoot, there’s a retouching and approval process and then it goes live. It’s a huge production.
As far as photoshoots, Bodhi needs to get in the right mood to model like a superstar. Beforehand, I give him breakfast and take him out on a walk so he feels happy and energized. If it’s summer, I give him a breeze with a fan so he’s feeling it. He needs music on in the background to really get in the groove of it, and depending on the day, I’ll play some jazz or R&B. He knows this is the opportunity to get really pampered, because there are always treats and peanut butter -- and hordes of people behind the camera telling him how handsome he is. I think he has to live that lifestyle of a diva to really feel like himself.
Everyone’s like, “He must be the most well-behaved dog in the world” -- he’s not. His behavior relies on complete bribery! And when we go to events, he’ll be looking out the window and as soon as he gets to the red carpet, he lights it up. I’ve seen it on people, but to see it on a dog is a different story -- and it’s actually a lot better.
3. What's your content strategy? How do you decide what and when to post?
In the beginning, I was very reliant on watching other agencies and influencers to see how frequently they were posting -- but I think I’ve always had this “quality over quantity” ethos, and I continue to carry it out. What really helps is going at your own pace. Some photo shoots are sustainable three times a week, but some aren’t -- for example, if the photo shoot requires custom tailoring. I post and create content when I’m inspired. There might be a really big national holiday somewhere, but if it’s not relevant to me, then I don’t care to leverage it.
We get hundreds of inbound emails with collaboration requests, but we’re only going to select collaborations that are in line with what we actually use and enjoy in real life. That’s why you follow someone, so you can get real advice, right? You could have a lot of collaborations and get paid for them, but in the long-term sense, I think it decreases the value of your page. The voice you have is not refined. Another part of it is that you’re not doing justice to your followers.
4. How do you leverage your Instagram account, and to what extent do you monetize it?
You’re essentially a freelancer, so there are months where there’s a lot of money coming in and there are months where it’s a little more content-heavy, and you’re just in your creative flow. I probably make about two-and-a-half times the amount I made as a designer.
If it has to do with a really, really good cause, and I know all the proceeds are going toward something amazing, then I’m happy to do things for free. My agents handle a lot of the monetization aspects of paid collaborations because I feel my time is best spent on creation, strategy and concept.
I’ve definitely turned down projects that are worth more than $15,000, because I just didn’t feel like they aligned with our brand. Whenever I do have these questions, I think about the reason why I started doing this and where I see it going forward -- and in that grand scheme, it becomes a very easy decision to make.
It’s the same thing with buying engagement and buying followers -- of course there are things out there you can do, but tech is ever-evolving, and when you have a system that is dishonest, you will eventually get called out for it. Don’t waste that money. Put your money into creating original content that is engaging and fresh, and I guarantee that will take you further than buying followers.
5. What's a misconception many people have about Instagram?
I feel like a lot of companies and people don’t understand how much effort goes into a career on Instagram. It’s a lot of work. There was a time when one of the agencies I worked with pushed everyone to post three times a day. And if you think about putting together a photo shoot and planning a calendar that has that much content, it’s mind-boggling to think that one person or a small group of creatives are handling all this. As we are getting more and more into social and understanding which posts and what kind of format performs well, it’s an all-encompassing endeavor as far as research and upkeep on what different channels are doing and the new types of creative content coming out (like stop-motion videos).
Every doubt there has been about social media marketing has been pretty much debunked at this point, because you’re already seeing trackable results -- it’s not something you can deny. So I feel really great about that, but whenever I do meet other influencers on Instagram, I’m always asking about time management -- like, “How are you getting all this done and still living your life?” I have a lot of respect for people who can do all of it, and do it really well.
6. What advice do you have for other people who want to build brands on the platform?
This is a very exciting time to be in social media. Even a couple of years ago, I had to make an effort sometimes to explain to companies the value of marketing through social media. Now I think it’s more of a catch-up game -- where the companies that didn’t hop into it in the last five years are starting to feel overwhelmed, like they need to catch up with the marketing strategies and ads that other companies have in place.
Regardless of what happens with Facebook’s or Instagram’s algorithm, what will always be valued for people in general is content that helps them in some way or the other. You might have a niche that deals with food and nutrition, or you might have a niche in luxury, like I am. But in each world, if there’s a way you can make it beneficial for the viewer -- maybe it’s a really compelling image to make them happy, maybe it comes with helpful tips to make their lives better -- from that angle, a lot of the questions about the algorithm and other things become smaller. It just gets to a point where, if you make something that you’re really happy with and it explodes, you have to be ready to optimize that. Other than that, I think great quality and keeping the audience in mind is the best way to go.
Also, try to create unique content -- I know this is said a lot, but it’s not really practiced. There are a lot of really amazing Instagrammers or YouTubers out there that you can absolutely reference, and in the beginning, it’s nice to see what other people are doing but there’s no real value in just catching up and having it be the same as someone else’s feed. Really becoming the best in your niche is the way to get started.
See below for five of Kim’s favorite @MenswearDog posts.
“This one is as if Shakespeare came to life and raided Hemingway's wardrobe so he can match his styling acrobatics with his verbal acrobatics. Also, he came to life as a dog, for that plot twist.”
A post shared by Menswear Dog (@mensweardog) on Mar 26, 2018 at 8:57am PDT
“Channeling that magical moment when first snow hits in the winter, and that snowflake upon your nose gives you maximum feels.”
A post shared by Menswear Dog (@mensweardog) on Jan 31, 2018 at 9:13am PST
“This collaboration with Casper was perfect because he woke up like this.”
“A study on how to wear terracotta/brown neutrals, exemplified by The Most Stylish Dog in the World.”
A post shared by Menswear Dog (@mensweardog) on Apr 16, 2018 at 12:30pm PDT
“We are all like this after one introduction course to anything, aren't we? #woke”