TO some, it may have been an occupational hazard; to Will Cooper, it was all in the name of fun. To promote the underwear business of which he is managing director, he put on a pair of Fat Cow pants and, as the camera clicked, poured a carton of milk over his head. The one consolation is that you can’t really see his face in the pictures – not that he would’ve cared if you could.

“I put it on my own social media,” says the man behind OddBalls. “I also used it as a job advert for a brand manager. The guy who actually got the job is in the photo room with a Santa’s outfit on and our underwear underneath having a photoshoot.”

If it sounds like a fun – albeit bizarre – place to work, that’s because it is. This is deliberate, reflecting the brand and its aim of raising awareness of testicular cancer in a light-hearted way. “We’ve taken the sort of approach that our underwear is wacky and not normal – why should we conform to the model with a six-pack and no hair on their chest?” says Will. “The idea was, why don’t we go down the route of being a bit more stupid?”

The concept of selling underwear to raise cancer awareness was devised by former Newcastle United goalkeeper Steve Harper, former Newcastle Falcons ruby player Richard Metcalfe, and Paul Varley, a local businessman and former CEO of the aforementioned rugby club. The diagnosis of NUFC player Jonas Gutierrez with testicular cancer prompted a discussion in a pub, and the rest, as they say, is history. Will came on board, initially, to handle social media, then ended up as a stakeholder. “When I joined, they had never sold a pair of pants,” he says. “It was kind of, ‘right, where do we start?’”

The company, based in North Shields, launched in 2014 and has since diversified into women’s and children’s undies, as well as other things like hats, socks and pyjamas. But the core product will always be men’s underwear – OddBalls’ slogan is: “We care about your balls and so should you!”

“The business was set up with the intention of raising money for testicular cancer,” explains Will. “After about a year, we realised that there weren’t many charities with that as their sole intention. On the back of that, we decided to open the OddBalls Foundation. Every year, the business donates 100 per cent of its profits to the foundation. So far, we’ve raised in excess of £200-250,000.”

The underwear works because it appeals to a young demographic and testicular cancer is a young man’s disease, typically affecting those aged between 15 and 49. With a 98 per cent survival rate, it’s one of the most curable cancers – the key thing, as with other forms, is early detection.

“All people need to do is check themselves,” says Will. “It’s just trying to get guys to check themselves and if there’s something wrong, feeling that they can talk about it. We want to have check yourself guides in changing rooms, service stations and toilets. We’ve created the world’s first check yourself app, which sends push notifications every month. It might have a celebrity video encouraging people to check themselves.

“We’ve done magazines, billboards with big advertising slogans, and we’re looking at doing a partnership with a big transport company. Everything is about trying to get awareness out there.”

A key component of OddBalls’ work is visiting schools, colleges and universities, where adolescent boys are told what to look for – a swelling or lump in one of the testicles, or a change in the shape or texture. If it can get them onboard from an early age, Will believes, they’ll be onboard for life. “When a boy between 13 and 18 gets in the habit of checking their balls when they’re in the shower they will continue to do it for the rest of their life,” he says. “The risk is usually once puberty starts. It’s almost impossible to get testicular cancer over the age of 50.”

The success of this policy was brought into sharp relief when, after OddBalls had given one school assembly, a teacher got in touch to say a 13-year-old boy had checked himself and found a lump. The discovery – and the fact that he told his parents – may well have saved his life.

As OddBalls’ reputation grows, more and more people are not only buying the underwear, but helping spread the message. Celebrity ambassadors include the likes of Ant and Dec and Alan Shearer and the brand has been adopted by everyone from the English Cricket Board to Welsh Rugby Union. Campaigns like 30 Days/30 Stories are hugely important.

“We’ve run it for the last three years and it’s basically stories of people who’ve been affected by testicular cancer and want to share their story,” says Will. “We had one woman whose husband had died and she contacted us and said, ‘I still want you to put the story out because I want someone else to benefit.’

“It’s one of those things where, if everything around cancer is serious and morbid and upsetting, how are people supposed to deal with it? There’s a book that’s just been released by Brenda Burling called Good for a Grin, that we’ve been a big part of putting together. That’s basically full of short stories of people who’ve had different kinds of men’s cancers. Some of them are funny, some of them are sad but have turned out for the good.

“It’s trying to pull out the positives of a bad situation. All our underwear lends itself to that. It allows people to talk about it and breaks down the stigma to do with testicular cancer and all cancers that are taboo subjects. If somebody bends over in a pub and they’re wearing Fat Cow, there’s that question, ‘What are they?’”

The foundation has considered moving into other areas like support and aftercare but, at least for now, it’s completely focused on its primary goal. “Our priority is 100 per cent to raise awareness of testicular cancer,” says Will.

They want to get more people fundraising and, above all, wearing OddBalls pants. “Within the business, the idea really is to become one of the biggest underwear brands there is, and there’s no reason why we can’t get to that level,” says Will. “At the moment, you’ve got in-house brands like Marks & Spencer and Next, and brands like Calvin Klein, then there’s a gap in the market. We want to make a stamp and be one of the brands that’s a household name.”