The lingerie space is noisier than ever, as numerous startups — like Negative Underwear, AdoreMe and Nubian Skin — fight to fill the void left by customers tired of old standbys like Victoria’s Secret. Lively, which launched just last April, is quickly drowning out the competition with an IRL event strategy that has fostered deeper customer loyalty and brand recognition.

What’s more, it has helped to court investors. The company, which was founded by Michelle Cordeiro Grant, an alum of Federated Brand Group, VF Corporation and Limited Brands, raised $4 million in seed funding this past October from the likes of GGV Capital and Gelmart International.

In just 10 months of business, Lively — which sells what it calls “leisuree” (bras and panties that meld the aesthetics of typical lingerie with those of active and swim) — has thrown more than 18 events, said Ali Alquiza, the brand’s director of marketing. That’s a feat for any company, let alone one that didn’t exist a year ago.

“Buying bras is hard sometimes!” said Alquiza, of their thinking behind the events. “It’s even more so when buying them online, so we wanted to create opportunities [outside of e-commerce] that make the product accessible and allow our crew to experience Lively in real life.”

Rather than taking the typical pop-up shop route, however, these events function more as community-builders.

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A lingerie spread at one of Lively’s events

One way Lively pulls off so many of these events is by collaborating with other young (mostly female-founded) companies — sharing not just expenses, but their respective consumer bases, too. “There is so much amazing energy and creativity that happens when women support and empower each other,” said Alquiza of her inspiration for the events. “It’s important to us to highlight that ‘together’ is where the magic happens.”

In December, for example, Lively held a five-day “Give and Get” pop-up in Soho, New York that saw the brand partnering with women-led brands Aday, Sunday Forever and Away. Bringing their products together, they created in-store vignettes for customers to shop — one featured the perfect jet-setting outfit, another showed a Sunday lounge look comprised of items from each brand.

Shopping was only part of the deal, however. Daily community programming included yoga classes, watercolor workshops, a lunch-break braid bar and custom-made bracelets by Ryan Porter. “We wanted the space to be engaging, interactive and a cozy place to connect,” said Cordeiro Grant.

_MG_6272Jeweler Ryan Porter created one-off bracelets at Lively’s holiday shop

“When I was building the concept of Lively, my goal was to create a brand with a strong ethos and movement, one that would inspire women to get out there and live life purposefully and confidently,” she said, adding that to create the world class brand she’s aiming for, it’s key to deliver a 360-degree experience beyond the digital realm.

“The brand can’t just live within the product, it needs to inspire [its] customers and community,” she said. That requires everything, from the packaging to the customer service, to be on-point, of course — but, in addition, nurturing a community with physical experiences is especially crucial today.

“Direct-to-consumer brands should rely on either strategic retail or their own experiences to elevate their brand positioning,” said Ashwin Deshmukh, a partner at the digital agency Hungry. Companies can’t rely on digital numbers alone to gauge the size and demographics of their customer base, he noted, and holding events can provide a better understanding. But the type of event you throw matters, too: “If you can provide something at the intersection of utility and entertainment, that’s your best shot at creating real brand advocacy.”

Lively’s hitting the mark here, with their continued emphasis on delivering more than just a shopping experience. For a happy hour series called “Power Babes Wear This” in November, the brand collaborated with fellow upstarts Onomie and Aella, and the female career site OKReal to host a panel of inspiring women, including OKReal’s founder Amy Woodside and Cyndi Ramirez, the editor-in-chief of Taste the Style. The audience this time around was especially diverse, featuring everyone from mother-daughter duos to groups of younger students.

“Creating IRL engagement with shoppers fills an emotional need,” said Emily Anatole, the associate director of Insights at Cassandra. “Despite the ease with which consumers can buy anything online today, they are choosing to make the effort to visit brands that establish a real-life presence because it lets them feel more connected to the brand and their fellow consumers,” she added. 

aellacollection_21_3_2017_11_59_4_828Amy Woodside and Cyndi Ramirez chat at Lively’s “Power Babes Wear This” event

Indeed, Cassandra’s latest SHOP report found that 40 percent of U.S. youth (ages 14 to 34) like to visit stores, even if they are not planning on buying anything. Four in 10 (or 39 percent) like the personal aspect of shopping in a store, while about one-third of them (34 percent) say visiting their favorite store is akin to visiting a friend.

Despite the practicality of a direct-to-consumer model like Lively’s, said Anatole, this younger cohort is looking for brands to deliver “a physical escape [away] from the abundance of time they spend behind screens.” They privilege connectedness over individual consumption, and are tempted more by new experiences than they are by new product. “IRL events let brands deliver [on that],” said Anatole, “facilitating connections that online shopping can’t match.”

According to Cordeiro Grant, it pays off. “The customers that we acquire at these events prove to be some of our most valuable and profitable in the long run,” she said.

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