When drawing out the business plans for their lingerie brand Negative Underwear, co-founders Marissa Vosper and Lauren Schwab didn’t set out to built a feminist company.
“We didn’t necessarily start this company with a very feminist mission,” said Vosper. “But I think that’s part of our DNA.”
Negative Underwear launched online almost four years ago as an anti-Victoria’s Secret, a market positioning that has become popular among digital-born lingerie brands that have realized women want more from their undergarments than enough padding to grow two cup sizes. Vosper said she welcomes the competition, as it means more options in a space that has traditionally been lacking.
“There’s been a change in the industry, and you can see it in Victoria’s Secret’s financials,” she said.
Vosper joined the Glossy Podcast to talk about self-funding her brand, Negative Underwear’s positioning in the industry and what brand consulting has taught her.
Starting in the fitting room
The first observation Vosper and Schwab had when they started their business was simply how many men are involved in developing product they’ll never wear. They were at trade shows, on VC boards and running companies — and it wasn’t limited to bras, of course. They realized they could gain an advantage by starting the product process with hands-on experience.
“Bras are going to be uncomfortable if they’re made by men. How do you create a better product without understanding what truly needs to be done better?” said Vosper. “So we tried on hundreds of bras, in every department store and boutique in Manhattan. And we just were super critical about what we hated.”
Men aren’t just behind the bra business, according to Vosper. They’re on the receiving end of the way they’re marketed. When looking around the industry landscape, Vosper saw outdated messaging that followed one of two mandates: Either show it off or cover it up, depending.
“It spoke to this concept of something that you put on your body to look good for someone else, or to otherwise conceal,” she said. “It’s not about sucking you in or pushing you up, or concealing your body for someone else’s viewing pleasure, or abiding by norms. We’re not trying to present an airbrushed, perfect angel-girl who is unattainable.”
While other lingerie startups like Lively and True & Co have millions of dollars in venture funding, Negative Underwear has decided to remain self-funded, for now.
“We’re self-funded, fighting the good fight of organic growth, and it’s the biggest testament to customer loyalty,” said Vosper. “We’ve had our fair share of meetings, of course, but they felt like we were trying to be in the boys’ club — and VC doesn’t feel right to us for that reason. We would be taking marching orders from people who aren’t our customer.”