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Pizza Rat’s 2-Day Journey from Viral Video to Sexy Halloween Costume

Spot the difference. (Photos: Courtesy Matt Little; Courtesy Yandy). 

“I feel like this is the year of the meme costume,” says Chad Horstman, CEO of Yandy. He should know; of the costumes on a recent BuzzFeed list of “21 ‘Sexy’ Halloween Costumes That Should Never Have Been Made,” Yandy is actually responsible for 11 of them. Their latest viral hit: a sexy “Pizza Rat” costume, a minidress with pizza slices for pockets meant to invoke the viral video of a New York City rat carrying a full slice of pizza down some subway stairs.

This is the company that makes a Sexy Cecil The Lion costume. They also make a Sexy Donald Trump costume (renamed Donna T. Rumpshaker). They make a Sexy George Washington costume, a Sexy Hamburger costume, and a Sexy Squid costume. Each Halloween, Yandy sells roughly 500,000 costumes.

Yandy began in 2005 when brothers Chad and Evan Horstman, just out of college, started an online business selling lingerie out of their garage in Scottsdale, Arizona. They soon realized that the same lingerie companies also make various sexy Halloween costumes. They began to carry the costumes, which became the new company’s biggest sellers in its first year. Today Yandy still sells lingerie and some other accessories, but it’s their racy Halloween costumes, some of which are now designed-in-house, that have garnered the most attention.

More 2015 topical “sexy” costumes: Donald Trump and The Dress. (Photos: Courtesy Yandy)

Weirdly enough, this is also a company that cares about the quality of its products. Though it sells all the major brands of Halloween costumes, the kinds you’d find in any Party City store, about 90 percent of its in-house designed costumes are made in the USA, from decent-quality materials.

The sexy Pizza Rat costume costs $90, about three times more than the cost of the generic “sexy whatever” costumes that begin populating mall shelves in early October (and are thrown in the garbage by November). The Pizza Rat costume “costs $90 because it’s not made in China, and actually the fabric is really nice,” says Horstman. “It’s like a cuddle fabric, almost like a plush doll.” 

The Pizza Rat costume came about in exactly the way you’d think it did: there was a meeting of the small Yandy staff, and just like your Facebook feed, everybody there was talking about the viral video. An investor suggested doing a costume, and they thought: why not? Yandy had done timely costumes before: a Big Bird costume (the mask was licensed, the yellow dress was just a yellow dress) to capitalize on Mitt Romney’s gaffe about cutting funding to PBS back in the 2012 election, for example.

Two variations of "Sexy Cecil the Lion"

Two variations of “Sexy Cecil the Lion”. (Photos: Courtesy Yandy)

“It was really late in the season, but we were in luck because we already had, like, a sexy mouse costume, that we make in L.A.,” says Horstman. “We called one of our designers in L.A., we told her our idea, to take our existing mouse costume and add slices of pizza to it. And she was like, ‘we should make them pockets, so they’re actually pizza pockets.’”

Because it was a modification to an existing costume, the initial run of 15 costumes was created in only two days. Normally, says Horstman, an idea from scratch would take about two weeks to make. The Pizza Rat costume is already sold out, so naturally the company is making more. 

His and hers lobsters and skunks.

His and hers lobster and skunk costumes. (Photos: Courtesy Yandy)

Horstman loves making funny, topical costumes. “This year we had a Cecil the Lion, and 20 percent of our proceeds from the Sexy Cecil the Lion costume go to a wildlife charity.” Initially Yandy had listed the name of the charity on the site. Why not, right? But the charity didn’t see it that way. “They contacted us and said ‘don’t use our name,’” says Horstman.

The most consistently popular costumes are classic fairytale characters like Little Red Riding Hood and Alice in Wonderland. Group costumes are also perennial hits. “We have a Sexy SWAT Officer, and it sells in bunches, so I think girls are going out as SWAT teams,” says Horstman. “That thing just flies, every year that’s usually in our top three sellers.”

Yandy makes stupid sexy costumes for men, too; there aren’t as many as there are for women, but men can opt for Sexy Skunk or Not So Sexy Lederhosen costumes.

But this year, the number one best-selling costume is “The Dress.” Yeah, the one that looks blue and black or white and gold depending on whom you ask. Yandy’s version is a minidress that’s divided right down the front, so one half is blue and black and the other half is white and gold. “That one’s really resonated with women,” says Horstman.

Sriracha and corn "sexy" costumes Sriracha and corn, anyone? (Photos: Courtesy Yandy)

Sometimes the ideas don’t work out. Take one costume Yandy produced early on. “I was dating a girl from Nebraska, and I went and visited her family’s farm and saw all this corn,” Horstman says. That year, Yandy designed a Sexy Corn costume, a yellow halter top patterned in squares that sort of look like corn kernels along with a green skirt that sort of looks like a leaf. “I thought it’d be cool for groups of girls to go as a sexy cornfield,” he laughs. “That one wasn’t so successful.”

The Horstman brothers laugh about stupid sexy costumes the way anyone else does. They know exactly how ridiculous the stuff they make is–they’re not desperately trying to make any object or theme seem sexy; they just think “sexy watermelon” is a funny phrase.

“They’re MEANT to be dumb,” says Chad Horstmann. “I try to make costumes that people will actually like and that could maybe win a costume contest,” he says. “If you walk into a party as a pizza slice, there’s a good chance a lot of people are gonna vote for you.”