This story was written and produced by Gideon Brower.
You’d expect novelty items to have a colorful history. But the story behind edible underwear – those candy briefs that pop up as gag gifts at bridal showers – is much stranger than you you’d imagine. How strange is it? The story includes cutting-edge food science, disco, Tokyo Rose and a suitcase stuffed with cash.
Edible undies were born late one night in early 1970s Chicago, when young entrepreneurs David Sanderson and Lee Brady were sitting around sharing apple-flavored wine — and other substances — with some friends. “Puff the Magic Dragon put the idea in our mind,” Sanderson recalls. “I remembered my older brother used to say, ‘eat my shorts.” Like ‘buzz off.’ We said, let’s make shorts you can eat! And everyone thought we were totally bonkers.”
Brady and Sanderson – who are a lifelong couple as well as business partners — were undeterred. They found an edible film that had been originally designed to wrap frozen turkeys, and used it to fashion licorice-laced briefs they called Candypants. The product was both edible and wearable, but its creators say they never seriously expected it to be eaten or worn. “We approached it as conceptual art and as a sexual parody,” says Sanderson. “It ended up being this gargantuan behemoth,” adds Brady. “It kind of got out of control.”
In 1975, Brady and Sanderson gathered up the samples they had assembled in their spare bedroom and put them on display in friend’s bath boutique. What followed was a something of a marketing miracle. A student at the University of Indiana bought the first pair. Her school newspaper published an article about the novelty item, and the Associated Press picked up the story. That’s when things got crazy. “I got calls all night long from England, Australia, Canada, Germany,” Sanderson recalls. “And then NBC called and said, can you be on the six o’clock news tomorrow?”
Orders started flooding in for a product that barely existed outside of Lee and David’s spare bedroom. “Within a week, we managed to find a place we could convert into what we called the Willy Wonka factory,” says Brady. “We started hiring people. Everybody wanted to work for us. We were fun. We had parties every Friday night.”
How popular were Candypants? Brady and Sanderson say that at one point in 1976, they were selling $150,000 a month of edible underwear. They bought a 7,000 square foot historic mansion with a grand staircase and a ballet studio. The couple was young and rich — and it was the disco era. “We partied a lot,” says Brady. “We weren’t foolish, but we had a good time.”