Bra shopping is about to get more interesting. A swathe of upstart retailers are trying to take a piece of the $100 billion bra and underwear market that continues to be dominated by Victoria’s Secret.
One of them is ThirdLove, a company founder by Heidi Zak, who started the company when she found herself shopping at Victoria’s Secret in her 30s. Zak, formerly head of retail at Aeropostale, said she doesn’t called ThirdLove “lingerie” because “real women wake up in the morning to put on a bra and underwear,” not lingerie.
Zak joined this week’s Glossy Podcast. Edited highlights below.
Online commerce will be changed by startups, not legacy brands.
Zak said that everyone knows the numbers: The online bra and underwear market is growing 18 percent year-over-year, according to Research and Markets. But retailers with brick-and-mortar presences will not be the ones to capitalize, she said. “It takes a different mindset,” she said. “Retailers want to focus on online, but it’s still not what they think about first.” Companies still measure success by comparative store-sales, so that’s what they think about first, she said. Online startups are in a prime place to change things.
Mass retailers are often slow to accept competition.
Zak said that one reason that mindset or mentality is not quite there is because often big companies don’t see threats or competition coming. Zak was at Aeropostale when Forever 21 was the new kid on the block, and was taking pieces of the teen market away from the Aeropostales and Abercrombies of the world — a trend that has continued today. “[Our teen] into fast fashion, it’s a new thing, let’s pay attention,” Zak told executives. But there was a disagreement that the Aeropostale customer was fleeing, and a lack of understanding of the threat from fast fashion. “Most retailers know what they know and it’s easier. There is no push to change,” she said.
Retailers are very hesitant to acquire innovation.
The reason big retail brands haven’t gone after smaller innovative companies the way CPG brands have is often because of a siloed mindset, said Zak. The key to acquiring companies is to let them operate independently and keep its brand. “A big brand often doesn’t have the comfort level it needs to do that,” she said.
The hardest part of building a retail business was the factories.
Manufacturing was very difficult, said Zak. One part of the issue is that factory owners are male, so are heads of production and there is a boys club like there is in the VC landscape. Best factories are also at capacity and often don’t want small clients that are only putting in small orders. The solution was a lot of face-to-face meetings in China, spending a lot of time with factory owners. “It was about getting to know them on a personal level,” she said.