Both finding and filling white space in the crowded fashion market are difficult, so 70-year-old lingerie manufacturer Gelmart is teaming up with entrepreneurs to bring their ideas to life. 

On Tuesday, Gelmart announced FullStride Ventures, a brand incubator and venture arm set to launch two brands this year. Later this month, it will kick off WKND Nation, a style-infused leisure line meant to easily transition from weekdays to the weekend. It will follow-up with a third brand in the fall that will focus on “elevated, sustainable and affordable basics,” according to the company. 

Through FullStride Ventures, Gelmart will incubate its own brand concepts within or adjacent to the lingerie and loungewear categories. It will also provide outside startups with investment, plus infrastructure and operational support, as needed. Its offerings include supply chain management, design and product development, marketing and retailer connections. DTC brands in Seed and Series A investment stages will be the focus.

FullStride Ventures has already shown proof-of-concept with Gelmart’s first incubated company, Lively. The direct-to-consumer lingerie brand, launched with Victoria’s Secret alum Michelle Cordeiro Grant in 2016, sold to Wacoal for $105 million in 2019. Along with maintaining her CEO duties for Lively, Cordeiro Grant now serves as a FullStride Ventures strategic advisor.

During a virtual press event last week, Cordeiro Grant called meeting Yossi Nasser, Gelmart CEO and FullStride Ventures founding partner, “a lottery ticket” when planning to start her brand in 2015. “He saw Casper, he saw Warby [Parker], he saw Harry’s, and he said, ‘We can do that. I’ll bring supply chain, you bring brand,’” she said. “And then all of these backend opportunities came together.”

While Lively started with Cordeiro Grant’s idea, FullStride Ventures is taking a more proactive approach in designing its built-out portfolio.

“Market factors that we look at [when concepting a brand] revolve around the potential for community, the growing consumer interest in the space and the current environment in that space,” Nasser told Glossy. “That includes whether there are one or a few dominant incumbent players, or a lack of brand ingenuity or innovation.” 

The next challenge is finding a founder with relevant brand or product experience for the incubated brand. For WKND Nation, FullStride recruited Phuong Ireland, with experience at American Eagle and L Brands, to be co-founder and CEO. It appointed stylist Sofia Karvela as co-founder and creative director. Prior, “I had tried to start my own [company] and had failed miserably,” Karvela said during the event. Allison Bloch, also of L Brands, was enlisted in spring of 2020 to lead the brand launching in the fall.

“The brand concept takes shape with the founder, who builds the brand, the product assortment, the community and the emotional connection,” said Caroline Levy Limpert, Gelmart CMO and FullStride Ventures managing partner. “We [seek founders] with the ‘merchant toolbox’ — this skill set that includes knowing how to build a business, manage a P&L and work cross functionally, and having a deep understanding and appreciation for the consumer.”

Gelmart operates a vertical supply chain, via owned factories in China and the Philippines, and has largely built its business as the largest private-label player in intimates, and is behind brands for Target and Walmart. According to Nasser, the privately held company has seen 25-50% annual growth in the last 10 years, and both the company’s owned brands and private-label business have seen “healthy growth.”

Even so, the ramped-up DTC play reads as a response to pandemic-driven company challenges, with fashion retailers taking a hit. “The segment of our business that has stagnated has been licensing to department stores,” Nasser said.

FullStride Ventures’ goal is to incubate and invest in 1-3 brands per year for the next three years, said Nasser. “We want to be a significant, concentrated and invested strategic partner, and we seek to invest in subsequent funding rounds that the companies pursue,” he said.