Preposterously Hot Fitness Influencer Steven Kelly Shoots His First Underwear Ad for Skims

Steven Kelly looks like he portaled here from the height of the 1980s: His mustachioed visage instantly evokes some sort of supercharged Magnum, PI. But his day job is wholly of this era. With nearly 3 million followers across Instagram and TikTok, the former model is one of the most popular “gymfluencers” on social media. And now that fame is leading to lucrative partnerships.

Earlier this year, Kelly filmed his first underwear ad with the Kim Kardashian-owned Skims brand. He already enjoys “great relationships,” as he puts it, with GNC and Celsius Energy Drinks, and he just signed with UTA in the hopes of locking down even more endorsement deals. Not bad for a fresh-faced 27-year-old whose posts primarily consist of him living his sweatiest life in the gym.

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In a Zoom chat with The Hollywood Reporter, the bulked-up heartthrob — who changed up his physique by adding “30 to 40 pounds” to his frame since his modeling days — talks about the business side of effective influencing, which, for him, will soon include a personal line of gym attire.

He also shares some tips for staying in shape — and for looking your best when cameras are capturing you nearly nude in a frigid studio.

So how did you get cast in Skims’ ads? Your first ad for the brand was back in February as part of a swimwear campaign.

No. At my agency at the time, they kind of reached out and they just said pretty much, “You know, Skims saw you from your social media. They were really interested in your kind of retro ’80s, ’90s-theme aesthetic.” And at the time they were doing this almost like a bikini contest. And there were eight ladies, all very beautiful ladies that were involved, and they needed one guy that was like the announcer for the bikini contest. I didn’t know that going into it. I just thought, “Skims, absolutely, let’s do it.” It was a great opportunity, especially being the only guy I felt a little special, I guess you could say. But the shots turned out awesome.

So from there you got cast again in a men’s underwear campaign.

Then there was the men’s drop, which I didn’t know much going into it. I was one of, I want to say, over 20 guys — there’s such a wide variety of the guys they selected for the shoot and I think Skims does a great job with the diversity they choose with their talent. It was a very cool batch of badass-looking dudes. A lot of tattoos. Just studs. It’s a very different vibe. They slicked my hair back instead of pulling the hair down — to maybe play the part of this generation versus the ’80s and ’90s aesthetics that they were going for with the first shoot. They didn’t shave the mustache, on the bright side.

And this was your first-ever underwear shoot?

Yeah, that was the first time I’ve ever been in my skivvies up in front of — it’s a big production. They were doing solo shots. You’re up there in front of 20 to 30 people, all kind of staring at you, and you’re in the spotlight and it’s cold in the room and you’re trying to keep the blood flowing all throughout your body. But yeah, man, once you’re up there and the team is very supportive — kind of giving you the little step-by-steps of what to do — you’re comfortable. I was, at least.

Steven Kelly - fitness influencer - portrait
Steven Kelly

You mentioned your retro aesthetic. Can you explain more about that?

I wasn’t always the quote-unquote buff guy, the TikTok guy with muscles and a mustache. I grew up playing sports my whole life. I was planning on playing college football. I got scouted as a model at the age of 17. This was right as I was wrapping up high school; I grew up in Chevy Chase, Maryland. And I was in New York with my mom. I got stopped by this little French lady. She’s like, “Oh my goodness, you’re beautiful. I would love to have you at our agency. And we’re in New York, we’re one of the top 10 agencies.” And I was kind of thinking in my head, “What the hell is this crazy lady coming up to me?” But you know man, I had a decision toward the beginning of August, am I going to go play college football at Valparaiso in Indiana or am I going to take on this modeling gig? And at the time, it was a tough decision. August 1st came around, when I was meant to jump on that jet to go to Valparaiso, and at the airport I backed out.

You just didn’t get on the plane to go to college?

I said, “You know what? I’m going to move to New York City.” My heart wasn’t fully ready. So I picked going to New York. I did the modeling on and off for about six years in New York and then I came out to L.A.

Skims Sports 7 inch Boxer Brief in Steel Blue
Skims Sports 7 inch Boxer Brief in Steel Blue

Skims Sports 7-inch Boxer Brief in Steel Blue

Buy Now at SKIMS $24

So when and how did you start posting your workout videos that blew up on social media?

I was getting a little bit older. I was probably around 23, 24. And my modeling agents at the time, they were like, “Steven, you’re getting a little too big.” It was always that classic, “Steven, stay out of the gym. Your shoulders are too big, your skin is too tan, your hair is too long.” And that’s when I was like, “You know what? I did this thing. I traveled the world. I met awesome people. I’m going to take classes. I’m going to get my personal training certificate, and I’m going to train clients, and that’s going to be my future.” Fast forward toward the end of COVID, and I said, “You know what, training clients is awesome.” Maybe over a year ago, I said, “Let me go to the gym with a videographer and let me see if I can potentially do something with this social media.” Kind of go back to my roots of me lifting weights, me being that athlete that I was when I grew up. And then over the last year, man, it’s just been a whirlwind of a complete and utter career change.

How has it all changed your life?

With being somebody on social media six, seven years ago and then quote-unquote falling off and not really doing it, and then you come back — it was a complete rebrand. I think the mustache and me gaining 30 to 40 pounds from the last time people saw me, it was just that some people were like, “Oh, crap, I remember this guy.” And other people were like, “I’ve never seen this guy, but cool aesthetic.”

Steven Kelly - portrait - fitness influencer
Steven Kelly

So would you describe yourself now as a fitness influencer?

I do not do personal training anymore. Right now, I would say sure, a fitness influencer. Once I realized that with the social media over the last year and some change — I can make a living doing what I’m loving. Over the last year, that’s kind of the main content I have put out. It’s been me in the gym catching a little vibe with my crazy ’80s, ’90s retro gym fit. I’m 27 going on 28, and the content I put out, it’s, I try to just be a positive force for whoever’s watching it, just if it motivates them to get their ass in the gym, if it motivates them to get out of a couch, that motivates them to just, I don’t know, put a smile on their face when they’re watching me have fun doing what I love. That’s all that matters to me.

Skims Cotton Mens 3 inch boxer brief light heather gray
Skims Cotton Mens 3 inch boxer brief light heather gray

Skims Cotton Mens 3-inch Boxer Brief

Buy Now at SKIMS $18

So what was the workout video that really first popped?

It was actually the first video that we recorded. My buddy, Big Al, and myself. We hit an hour-and-15-minute workout, and he put together a little 25-second montage. And again, I had no idea what I was doing in there. We just linked up and he sent me the video. When you work out, you make weird faces and you grunt. You’re all over the place in there. I was like, “Damn, I feel like that’s an awesome video, it’s high quality,” but I was like, “I don’t know if the viewers want to see that.” So I asked him to send me over the raw clips and I kind of just put together a little 10- to 15-second montage of me not working out necessarily, of me just kind of talking to the camera, talking to Big Al, the videographer. And I used those instead of me really getting into the workout. And from that video which has, I want to say, 5 million views, we just kind of built the future from that video. I was like, “Well, if that worked, let’s do another video.”

What made you want to sign with UTA?

UTA approached me and they kind of said, “Hey Steven, we really think you can do some wonders with your social media. We love what you’re doing and we think you could have a really successful future in the digital marketing aspect of things online.” I just thought that was a perfect fit for me being with more of a digital agency versus just the modeling. I did the modeling and I know what the industry’s like. And me being with UTA, I think with their leverage and where I’m at with my career, who knows what the future holds? I’m excited to be in the position I’m in, and I’m excited to have them kind of lead me in the right direction.

In the film world, you have some of these actors who make these incredible physical transformations for films. Is there anyone who’s really impressed you?

I’d say the main guy would probably be Michael B. Jordan, who had to put on size for the Creed movies. He mentions it in multiple interviews. He put on 20 pounds of muscle in the year leading up to Creed 2. He was doing three to four workouts a day. He was eating just chicken, rice and broccoli. And I think for me, I just resonated with that because going from that 170-pound model being 6-foot-3 and then jumping up to that 220-pound marker, it kind of resonates to what I did in my fitness journey because you really do have to put the work in with the meals. You really do have to train your ass off.

What are your own tips for people wanting to be in great physical shape?

I mean, definitely sticking to a routine. I exercise, personally, four to five times a week. I get good sleep. A lot of people, they mess up their sleep schedules and they wonder why their body’s not fully recovered or they’re not putting on the muscle that they’re anticipating. So good sleep, good recovery for sure. Good healthy foods. And then I like to shoot for a gallon of water daily. Definitely want to continue high with your electrolytes. And most importantly, I would say enjoying the process, having fun with it, man. A lot of people look at it like “Shit, like this is going to suck.” But if you enjoy it and you enjoy the process and the progress that you’re seeing — you know, it doesn’t happen overnight. And I think a lot of people, they don’t see that progress as soon as they want, so they give up. Live that balanced lifestyle, and just incorporating the little things into your daily routine goes a long way.

Steven Kelly for Skims - underwear ad campaign
Steven Kelly in the Skims campaign.

I think you wore three different kinds of underwear for the Skims Mens shoot? Which pair did you like the best?

I would say the good old Speedo, those kind of European ones. That was my all-time favorite. It was kind of the statement piece. They’re cool. I like the waistband and you’re putting yourself out there and you got to own it, especially when you’re in front of all those people. I feel like, yeah, I was probably the most confident in the tighty whities, for sure.

So what else do you have coming up on the horizon?

I have my own clothing line, my own retro gym attire. They’re almost like old MC Hammer ’80s parachute pants. Those are coming very soon. I’ve been working on those for about a year. That’s what I’m probably most excited about.

What’s the line called?

You’re the first to hear it. It’s Skelly Threads. I don’t want to tie it necessarily just to me, I want it to have a broad range. I want ladies to wear it, I want guys to wear it, doesn’t matter your shape, it doesn’t matter your gender. They’re very suitable for any body type. So I’m excited to build a community around them, for sure.

Skims Cotton Mens Brief in Chalk
Skims Cotton Mens Brief in Chalk

Skims Cotton Mens Brief

Buy Now at SKIMS $16

That’s cool. How would you describe your audience in terms of demographics?

My audience is — they’re a bunch of crazy ladies. They’re a bunch of crazy guys. They’re awesome. They’re super supportive. I do look at my analytics every so often and I have about 60 percent girls and 40 percent guys. I’m one of the only guys in the fitness industry that has predominantly more females over males. I think that kind of also differentiates me from the rest of the fellows in the industry. I think it’s a great thing.

Just one more question, what do you do when it comes to mustache care?

You know what’s funny, man, I don’t do too much to it. My dad had a big mustache back in his heyday, and that’s where it kind of inspired me when he passed away back in 2020, that’s when I started kind of growing it. And for me, it was like when I was doing that rebranding, I thought the mustache to not only do it in honor of my father, because he was a big mother-effer he was a 260-pound linebacker in college, so he was huge. And that’s kind of what he was always my motivation. He’s my motivation with the mustache. And when it comes to tending to it, man, I just shave around it. I’ll comb it. Sometimes I’ll shave it above the lip. But yeah, every once in a while I’ll throw some beard oil in there, but for the most part, and I just let it ride. You just got to let it ride.

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