“Is that Chunks?” is a question that comes up in my life nearly once a week: when I catch the brand’s technicolor claw clips in my friends’ hair, on shelves at stores, or while scrolling through my Instagram feed. I even mindlessly found myself asking it while watching a Vogue Korea video featuring Jisoo from Blackpink. She showed off a black-and-white checkered hair accessory, which just so happens to be Chunks’ best-selling product, and told the camera, “I really wanted this, so I waited a few weeks for it to be shipped from overseas. I have this in all colors.”
In less than three years since its debut, Chunks — and its founder Tiffany Ju — has created a brand that has become an international conversation piece, an object of desire, and this decade’s North Star for modernizing the ‘90s claw clip trend. Inevitably, it’s also spawned countless copycats, but more importantly, it’s made hair accessories fun and fresh again.
Through its cheeky, amorphous shapes and unexpected colorways, Chunks is showing people how to express themselves in ways beyond bold makeup and vibrant dye jobs — all while proving that you can ethically and sustainably produce products in China. In 2021, Chunks even passed the million sales mark, founder Tiffany Ju shares with TZR.
Ju knows better than anyone that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Before the days of TikTok and Instagram, Ju created ombre-dyed tights that quickly went viral on Tumblr. Then, people began ripping off the transparent acetate sunglasses she was making so aggressively that she no longer feels like the idea was hers to begin with. Not one to be discouraged, she says, “It just means the things I'm doing are resonating with people.”
At the end of 2019, Ju began thinking about what her next big thing would be, and Chunks started coming to fruition. Ju sat down with TZR from Chunks’ new warehouse in Seattle to share how she took the business she started by herself from her basement to a team of 10 supplying the adorable clips and barrettes to major retailers, like Urban Outfitters, and a dozen different countries.
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On Conceptualizing Chunks
“In 2018, I [realized] Y2K and ’90s nostalgia were going to be big. I, personally, wore a lot of hair claws at the time, but I could never find cute ones in the states. You'd have to get the ugly plastic-y ones from CVS or Walgreens.
“So I saw that gap, and everything about it made sense. No one else was really doing it, and I already had some experience manufacturing overseas with my previous business. The margins were good, the turnaround; the price point was great. You know, I didn't have a ton of money to start with, but the minimums were really low. Chunks just checked all the boxes. In early 2019, around March or April, was when I officially launched with a handful of styles from my house.”
On Picking Its Memorable Name
“When I started to mood board what Chunks would be like, a lot of my inspo images were artists who made colorful chunks — like resin, melted plastic, or acrylic blocks with stripes in them. I always gravitated toward really fun color combinations and textures. The entire year of 2018, I made a lot of really bright textile art. So the name obviously came very easily — I just love colorful chunks of stuff.”
On Chunks Hitting Its Stride In 2020
“I think I kind of lucked out having a pretty good product for quarantine life. No one was getting haircuts, and everything was waist-up on Zoom. It was also a good price point and something you could easily send to a friend or a relative that you hadn’t seen in a while.
“The Checker Claw definitely took on a life of its own and brought in a huge amount of people. It hit a good sweet spot of trendy [meets] neutral but also fun and colorful. It was all those things combined, so from 2019 to 2020, our business grew tenfold.”
On Chunks’ Game-Changing Manufacturing Process
“[Plant fiber-based] acetate seemed like the highest-quality, most sustainable material for our clips. I've always been aware of how wasteful fashion can be. I went to fashion school, and something that was always in the back of my mind was creating as responsibly as we can — especially with plastics. Plastics are insane and not as renewable and even less recyclable than we think.
“Also coming from the maker world, there was always this shame around stuff made in China. As I developed the brand, going to craft shows, and talking to people about it, it seemed to really resonate that I was so upfront about Chunks being made in China. It's something we all have a knee-jerk reaction to, but we're not really sure why. Our facts are not updated.”
“Chinese manufacturing is not a monolith. We are trying to make that a big part of what we stand for. We want to be really transparent about what we're doing, where we're producing, and how we're producing. We're not embarrassed about it. We are proud of the relationship we have with our manufacturers because they're awesome.
“We do a combination of custom-designed and stock acetate with the manufacturers, and they splice all of it by hand. I design the actual claw. For the Checker Claw, I knew [the manufacturer] had this one acetate that was kind of checker-y, but it was wonky and wavy. Initially, I started out with a slightly different shaped claw with their [original] pattern. When that was doing really well, checker started getting really big. Then, I worked with our manufacturer to make that checker perfect. As soon as I got the pattern in a good place, I updated the shape. A handful of months later, I started to see all the copycats.”
On Knowing Chunks Was More Than A Fad
“People would DM me to tell me they ran into someone in the elevator in, like, San Francisco, wearing Chunks, and [that] they were wearing Chunks too. All of these bonding moments were happening, and I still hear those [types of stories] now. It’s such a cool everyday moment of finding your people and being brought together by an object you’re wearing in your hair. Our social media manager and I make sure we engage with everyone. I've had full-out, lengthy conversations with people about things in DMs.
“I've always been in fashion and accessories, but it bothered me that they’re not meaningful enough. They are frivolous things to do, but Chunks really does bring joyful moments into people's lives and helps them feel seen. It inspires these points of connection, and that's been really meaningful to me.
On Seeing Chunks On K-Pop Stars
I’m Korean American, so it’s fun to see Korean artists, like Jisoo, do some cool, crazy sh*t. Growing up, there was a very conventional way to be. There are still the doctor and lawyer [career expectations], but it's so amazing to see people doing weird shit. Koreans have come so far economically. They aren’t in a struggle anymore, so this generation is so privileged. With privilege comes the permission to self-express and to be weird.”
On Chunks’ Next Big Launch
We are developing hair combs right now. But we really want to stick with hair accessories since it’s such a fun niche to play in. Down the line, we might expand to metal clips or different materials if we can find a sustainable way to do that.
Also, we have two collaborations coming up. One is with this Seattle-based artist named Neon Saltwater. She does really cool digital art and interiors. We’re also working on a collaboration with a Mexican jeweler based in California named Georgina Treviño. She does a lot of “pierced” pieces [Think modern metal earrings adorned with old-school barbells and belly button rings], so we are doing a line of pierced hair claws.
On Ju’s Dream Chunks Collaboration
Crocs! It would be fun to do chunky little Jibbitz.
You can check out Chunk’s current hair clip selection, which ranges from $5 to $24, on chunks.shop. If you need some suggestions to shop, here are some of my favorites.