NYLP: Welcome to the New York Launch Pod, a podcast highlighting new startups, businesses, and openings in the New York City area. I’m Hal Coopersmith, and stepping onto the Launch Pod, we have Julie Sygiel, the founder of Dear Kate. And this should be one of the more interesting podcasts, because Dear Kate is a women’s apparel?
Julie: Yeah, apparel and underthings company.
NYLP: An apparel and underthings company based in New York. Welcome to the podcast, Julie.
Julie: Thank you, Hal.
NYLP: So tell us about Dear Kate.
Julie: Sure. So we make performance wear for women, and that’s both underwear and yoga pants. We started out with underwear and then launched the yoga pants last year. And so what’s different about us compared to other lingerie companies is that every pair of our underwear and pants has our patent pending lining in it. So it’s our special fabric. It’s called UNDERLUX, and it’s actually three different layers. So it’s the ultimate underwear for women. I can go into more detail if you want, but yeah, it’s awesome fabric.
NYLP: Why is it the ultimate underwear for women?
Julie: So the beginning thought is that every woman has a horror story during that time of the month. And so how come no one’s making better underwear, right? Like men and women’s bodies work differently, but we’re using the same fabric in the underwear that we’re wearing. So we asked the question, “Why can’t we make the Wonder Woman pair of underwear?” So you would never have to hand wash it. It would be super comfortable. It’d be really cute. So many women, during that time of the month, they’re like reaching into the very back of their drawer to wear the ugliest pairs. And so why can’t we make something that is cute, comfortable, that also has a thin protective layer so you’re never caught off guard? You’re totally covered no matter when it is.
And so that was the idea. And I worked for about two years to create our fabric until we finally created the combination that we have now. So it’s awesome to wear when it’s that time of the month. It’s awesome to wear when you’re working out. It’s great for new moms. And frankly, a lot of my friends were like, “I’m wearing your underwear every day. It’s just my favorite pair of underwear that I have in my drawer.”
NYLP: It took you two years to develop the fabric?
Julie: It did, yeah, to do the fabric development and the designs and the patterns and everything.
NYLP: So how did you develop the fabric?
Julie: I worked for about two years with major domestic fabric manufacturers here in the U.S. They have research and development teams. I approached them and said, “I have this idea that I want to create the best functional underwear for women on the market, and I’d like it to be stain releasing. I’d like it to be leak resistant.” And they said, “I think there’s only one way to do this.” And they said that we had to put a plastic layer into the underwear. So we went ahead and got a sample of this fabric with a plastic layer laminated onto the inside. We sewed up a pair of underwear and decided that this was totally the opposite of what we were going for. I don’t need a Gore-Tex jacket. I don’t need a yellow rain slicker in my underwear. I just need something better than a regular pair of cotton underpants.
So we went back to the drawing board and said, “What can we do that makes it protective so you’re totally covered, but it’s actually really comfortable and stretchy and soft like a normal pair of underwear?” And so that’s what our patent is on, our patent application I should say, because it hasn’t issued yet. But hopefully, fingers crossed, in the next few months it will. So our patent is on the use of this fabric in underwear, and we’re able to make a leak-resistant garment without any plastic layer. So it’s super breathable. It’s super comfortable. Like you put them on, and you forget that you’re wearing any type of functional underwear. It just feels like your favorite underwear.
NYLP: Without going too much into your patent, the materials already exist in the world, correct?
Julie: We actually custom make every batch of fabric for ourselves. So we worked with the companies to do custom finishes and different features and properties on each layer of the fabric.
NYLP: And one of the things that’s interesting is that you’re manufactured in New York City.
Julie: We are, yeah. We do all of our cutting and sewing in a factory in New York.
NYLP: Why is that?
Julie: We started out in Pennsylvania. So we haven’t always been in New York, but we have always been in the U.S. And when we started getting bigger, we moved from Pennsylvania to the New York factory. It’s easier, frankly, to manufacture here than it would be to manufacture overseas. The turnaround times are much quicker. And Heidi — she’s our operations director — she actually is able to go out to the factory. She spends almost one whole day every week at the factory. So she’s checking everything that they’re doing. She makes our patterns. I do our designs. She makes the pattern. They make a sample. We can get it back in a week and a half if we’re really pressed for time. It’s a luxury, actually, to be made here than have to wait a month for something to turn around overseas.
NYLP: Where’s the factory?
Julie: It’s in Queens.
NYLP: What’s the increased cost of manufacturing in New York City as opposed to anywhere else in the U.S. or overseas?
Julie: We’ve looked into different options for manufacturing, and nothing beats what we’re doing right now from both a cost and logistical standpoint. You have to factor both of those in. But when you think about the amount of money that you would spend shipping thousands of yards of fabric overseas — we’ve developed great relationships with our fabric manufacturers here or the U.S. and we love working with them — it’s not really cost-effective to go overseas unless we had massive quantities and huge volumes. So right now, it’s still a great deal for us to manufacture here, and it’s the most enjoyable one by far.
NYLP: So how did you come up with the name?
Julie: It’s interesting because people hear “Dear Kate,” and what they’ve told me is that they intrinsically like it. And that’s what we were wanting in a name. We want something that feels warm. It came out of the idea of an advice column, so “Dear Anne,” or “Dear Abby,” Dear Kate. Kate’s a fictional character, but she could be your best friend. She could be your speed dial in a crisis. You’re like, “Oh my God, what do I do?” and Kate has the answer. One reason that we chose the name Kate is that she can be any age, and it was important to us to choose a woman’s first name that isn’t generational. So Kate could be five. She could be 82. And when you think about it, any woman who has her period and who’s older can wear our products, so we wanted to be able to speak to all of them.
NYLP: You mentioned that there’s a wide range of available customers, but who is your target?
Julie: It’s tough to say who our target is. We do see the most people buying our products are women between the ages of 24 and 35, but we have women who are in their 60s and 70s who are buying our product. We have women of all ages. We have moms who buy them for their teenage daughters who are getting their period for the first time. So it’s all over the map, and I would say we do make an effort to make sure that everything that we put out in terms of marketing resonates with that 25 to 34-year-old audience.
But also the litmus test I like to say is, “Would my mom get it?” And so my mom is in her 60’s. And so if she would get the joke in our email, then it’s okay to put in. Or if my mom wouldn’t be offended, then it’s okay to put in. But if she wouldn’t get it, then it’s too colloquial and too specific to an age group.
NYLP: Is there a place geographically that you sell better than any other area? Do you do well in New York, in the U.S., overseas?
Julie: I don’t think there’s any surprises in terms of where we do well geographically. It makes sense that the biggest cities, population-wise are the biggest customers. I would say that we probably do slightly better on the coasts — on the East Coast and the West Coast — compared to say, Chicago or somewhere in the Midwest. I’m not sure why that is. I think that, in many ways, people in New York and also on the West Coast, it’s easier to reach them in the different channels and the different blogs that we’ve been profiled on and things like that. So I’m not so sure that’s an effect of people being early adopters on either coast. It’s more that we’ve been able to reach them easier.
NYLP: How have you been marketing yourself?
Julie: We’ve tried a million different things. We went through a couple of years where I feel like I said yes to everything. Someone approached us, wanted to work together, and I was like, “Definitely. We’ll do it.” We’re going to do everything possible to get in front of people.
NYLP: Including this podcast.
Julie: Including this podcast. You sent me a very compelling email, so I was happy to oblige. But in the last year, we’ve really focused on more meaningful outreach. And what I mean by meaningful is thinking about how we can genuinely tell our story and talk about the underwear and talk about how it came about and the purpose behind it, and our ideology and philosophies. And that seems to be so much more effective than simply paying for a banner ad on a website or paying for a billboard. We haven’t yet purchased a billboard. Maybe we never will. But I’m a big fan of earned media instead of purchased media.
NYLP: So what is your philosophy?
Julie: Oh, goodness. It’s hard to distill that into one sentence. It depends on if you’re asking me . . .
NYLP: You’re not limited to one.
Julie: Yeah. It depends on what you’re asking me about. We’ve tackled a lot of different things in our marketing, and I really love to look at ourselves as a company that pushes the envelope not only in the products that we create, but also in how we portray them in the marketing that we do. I love that we use models to showcase our products in our lookbooks who are people that we admire because of who they are and what they do and not simply how they look.
So most of the women who wear our products in our lookbooks, they are not traditional models. They’re dancers. They’re singers. They’re athletes. We had a florist. We had women in tech. And that, to me, is more aspirational as a customer, to see a woman who’s a mover and a shaker who’s wearing her underwear. And she’s like, “I wear this underwear when I get [beep] done.” And that’s like, “Okay, yeah. I want to be like her, and so I want to buy that underwear,” versus someone who was born with great genes and could be a lovely, wonderful person, but I don’t know anything about her when I look at her advertisement for another lingerie company. So we make a point to profile the people who we have in her lookbook. Who are they? Who are they behind the face? And what have they done? Why are they interesting? And so that, to me, is something that is unique about what we do, but not a lot of people are doing.
NYLP: If they are people that you admire, how do you approach the people to model?
Julie: Right. Like how do we get someone to be in our underwear in front of cameras?
NYLP: That’s right.
Julie: Some times are harder than others. We are very deliberate about who we ask to model for us, and we basically write them a love letter and say, “Hey, this is why we really admire you and why we think you’re cool. And we would love to feature you.” And we like to think about our brand and our newsletter as a platform, right? And so we have this opportunity in every collection that we launch, we have the opportunity to promote different women and what they’re doing. And so might as well use that opportunity for good, to promote things that are cool, that are inspirational. And so, in a way, that is a benefit to the models who we’re highlighting. And so we try to sell it. And it’s fun. We are not super uptight. We’re going to make you look good. We’re going to make you feel good. It’s going to be a really fun day of shooting. And at the end of the day, not everybody says yes, but a lot of people do. And the people who do, we are really, really psyched to work with.
NYLP: One of the campaigns that you did was the Ada campaign. And your campaigns are named after inspirational women?
NYLP: And how do you find those names to come up with?
Julie: For a while now, we’ve named every campaign after a woman in history. And sometimes they’re very well known women. Sometimes most people haven’t heard of these women, but they’ve all led interesting lives. And so we pick someone. And oftentimes, the models who are in the lookbook share some similar characteristics with the women who we’ve named the campaign after. So actually, most recently, we invited Caroline and Cristen to model for us, who are the hosts of the Stuff Mom Never Told You podcast. And that collection is named after Nellie Bly, the famous journalist. And so they are podcasters. They consider themselves journalists. Too bad we don’t need a male podcast or model, but they’re great. They have us covered. And so it’s really fun to see them come. And we have a blurb in the lookbook about the older person in history and what she’s done. And we just think about women who we think are cool. Like what industry are we admiring today, and let’s highlight what they’re doing.
NYLP: So the Ada collection, that was named after Ada Lovelace?
NYLP: And the history lesson, who was that?
Julie: She’s credited as the world’s first computer programmer. Not the first female computer programmer, but the world’s first.
NYLP: And for that campaign, what did you decide to do?
Julie: Oh well, we invited six women who work in tech to model for us. And for us that wasn’t anything out of the ordinary. We had had the Ella collection, which was named after Ella Fitzgerald, where we invited an independent singer/songwriter to model for us. We had the Margot collection, named after Margot Fonteyn, where we had a ballerina model for us.
And we were talking in the office about how much we appreciate women who know how to code. I know a little bit of HTML, but I can’t code a whole website or anything like that. And in today’s age, where everything in our society basically depends on technology to run and to exist, I have such a respect and admiration and appreciation for the women who know how to code. So they’re either making that code happen — they’re creating it — or women who know how to code who then are at the decision-making table that are implementing policies and creating businesses that depend on code. It’s so important for them to be at the table. And I admire them so much that literally those are the conversations we were having. And we’re like, “This is obvious. We should feature women in tech in our next collection.”
And so we did. And sure, I know that women in tech is a hot button subject, and we definitely had conversations beforehand about, “How are we going to shoot this lookbook? Let’s make sure that we’re not sexualizing the women in our photos. We’re showing them doing things.”
So that’s another thing that we try to do in all of our campaigns is we love to show women doing things. They’re not just standing there looking sexy for the camera, for whoever’s looking. It’s like they’re on the move and they’re making things happen. So in our women in tech photoshoot for the Ada, they were coding. They were collaborating, working on their computers, and having a good time. And in my mind, in no way were they really looking at the camera and making sexy faces or doing anything that was inappropriate or sexualizing them.
But still, because our society is so weird, in a way, about women in tech, and sometimes uncomfortable with it, the press had a field day. And we had a lot of good conversations about what does it mean to be in your underwear if you’re not an underwear model? And it’s not something that we intended. It’s not a dialogue that we started, but we were able to then respond and say, “Women should be respected regardless of what we’re wearing.” So whether I’m in my underwear or in a bathing suit in front of you, or I’m in a full suit, that has no relation to how smart I am, how driven I am. Like you don’t know anything about me if you see me in my underwear. You can make assumptions, but you really don’t know anything.
And so in that respect, it’s like why is it okay then for models or athletes to be shown in underwear? But oh, if you’re a women who works in tech, you better cover up because men are going to look at you and they’re going to make assumptions. And to us that seems really unfair. We’re all women and so we should be really allowed to wear whatever we want and respected regardless of what we’re wearing. I want to be judged on my actions. I want to be judged on my accomplishments. I don’t want to be judged on how I look. And so there are a lot of fascinating conversations that came out of that lookbook. And at the end of the day, I’m glad we did it, even though the goal wasn’t to start this huge controversy.
NYLP: After you released the lookbook, what were the next few days like for you?
Julie: We released it on a Thursday, I think. And then the next day, timemagazine.com released an article saying, “Controversial lookbook features women coding in their underwear.” It was like 4:30 in the afternoon on a Friday. And so I’m like, “Okay, this is going to die down over the weekend. People, they’re going to forget about it.” And then all of a sudden on Monday we started getting emails, and it was like Fortune who wanted to do an interview and talk about it. And then it was elle.com that wanted to talk about it, and Business Women and Business Insider, all of these different publications. “Why did you do this?” “What is your take on this?” “What does this mean about women in tech?”
And so pretty quickly we learned, “Holy moly, this is going to be something that’s really big.” And one of my friends sent me a text and she’s like, “This is ridiculous that people think this is controversial. This is a woman in her underwear. We all wear underwear. It probably covers more than a swimsuit at the beach.” And so she’s like, “I’m going to post a picture of myself working on my computer in my underwear in solidarity to be like, ‘This is not a big deal.'” And she’s like, “What should I hashtag it?”
And so we were talking, and a couple of other friends have reached out and they were like, “This is crazy.” So we decided that the most appropriate hashtag would be #notcontroversial. And we sent an email to our newsletter and we were like, “Hey, this is what’s happening. People are calling our campaign controversial. We don’t think it’s controversial to be in your underwear. And if you stand with us, and you back the women in tech who model and you back our other campaigns, show us a picture, hashtag it ‘notcontroversial’ if you want to. No pressure.” But we got a lot of support and about, I think it was over 50 women posted selfies on Instagram in underwear with the hashtag “notcontroversial.” And it was super cool to see how many people were like, “I support you, but not only just in my thoughts, but I’m going to post a selfie in underwear to show you that I really truly believe what you’re doing is cool.”
NYLP: So how do you balance the line of being not controversial as an underwear company? Or do you say, “I’m not going to push the limits.” Because, at least in terms of marketing, it seems as though a lot of fashion companies and everyone else is kind of pushing the limits, but you’re trying to be not controversial, it seems like.
Julie: I would say that we are trying to do what we feel is right. And I do think we want to push the limits of society. I think there are lots of long-standing beliefs by society that could stand to be challenged. So I would say that that particular campaign of having women in their underwear shouldn’t be seen as controversial, right? We’re saying that it shouldn’t be seen as controversial, even if some people do see it as controversial. So I would never say that as a brand we don’t push the envelope or we don’t push the limits, because we definitely do.
NYLP: How do you want to push the limits then?
Julie: I think that there’s a lot of societal beliefs or maybe uncomfortableness with periods and with things that have traditionally been women’s topics. And it’s sad, in a way, because almost every woman gets her period, and it doesn’t have to be something that people are embarrassed about or ashamed of, or like you have to hide from everybody. And women are getting their periods younger and younger, right? So middle school girls, and I think as a society we want to teach them that, “Hey, this is normal. This is totally okay. You can talk about it with your friends. Nobody should make fun of you for it. It’s not a bad thing.”
But it is one of those things where everybody, when you’re walking down the hallway at school or in the office and you’ve got a tampon, you’re just not going to hold it. People shove it up their sleeve or down their sock or in their pocket. They don’t want anybody to know. And it’s just kind of silly because if you had a migraine or something, you wouldn’t think twice about telling, “Hey, I’m not feeling great. I have a migraine.” Yet there are so many people who would never ever in a million years in the workspace be like, “I feel really bad today, I’ve got cramps.” But it happens, right? And so you just pretend that you’re feeling great.
And so to me that such a sign of you’re a woman. You have a period. There are all of these feelings, good and bad, that come with it. And it doesn’t have to be something that we have to feel like we have to hide. So in that way I think there’s a lot of room to push back against the current status quo on how people behave around periods and around women’s issues in general. And that’s one of the reasons that we decided to launch our First Time video. I don’t know, did you see our First Time video on YouTube?
NYLP: I saw a few of the videos.
Julie: Okay. So it’s like we asked 20 women to tell us about their first experience getting their period. And some of them, they were humorous. Some of them were sad. And it was just cool to see people talk about them, and how for some people it’s a really big deal to get their period. For other people, it’s not a big deal. But overall, we should talk about it. And it was just really cool for us. Amazing to see, when we launched it, in three days it got over 200,000 views. And so to me that shows me that people are interested in changing society and in changing cultural norms and cultural behavior. And I would even go so far as to say that 2015 is going to be the year of the period. It’s not even halfway over yet, but there have been so many strides in terms of media talking about periods that I can’t wait for the second half of the year.
NYLP: For those of us who haven’t been following so closely, what have been some of the indicators of the year of the period?
Julie: Sure. I probably follow it closer than some people do. But Ruby Carr, she’s an artist and a poet. And so she posted a photo on Instagram that was part of a series relating to menstruation. And so it depicted a girl who was sleeping, and she had a period spill. You could see the period on her sweatpants and on her sheets. But she was fully clothed, right? So there was nothing scandalous about it from the perspective of what she was wearing or how much skin she was showing. But Instagram deleted it because they said it violated their guidelines. And Ruby fought back and said, “Hey, I demand an explanation. Why is this photo deleted? I don’t think it violates your community guidelines. I think you’re just squeamish and awkward around periods.” And so they reinstated the photo and I think they actually deleted it again and then reinstated it. But it brought a lot of attention to differentiating factors between what really is objectionable versus what is just uncomfortable. So that was one thing that happened.
The other thing that happened this year that was pretty remarkable is an Australian tennis player who was playing . . . I’m not sure what match it was, if it was the Australian Open or . . . it was a big match and she lost her game, and then was interviewed about it. And someone asked, “What contributed to your performance?” And she said something about she didn’t feel well and it was related to girl things, very clearly talking about her period, which was really unheard of before then. It was always something that female athletes didn’t want to be seen as weak and didn’t want to be seen as using their period as an excuse. And all of a sudden she said this, and it was like this rallying cry to acknowledge that your period does sometimes take a toll on your body. Even on the world’s most fit, accomplished athletes, there’s still the realities of being human. And it’s okay to talk about them if you really felt an effect. So that was something that particularly was in the tennis world as big conversation.
NYLP: Moving on from the year of the period and back to your company, how many pairs of underwear do you offer at any one time?
Julie: It varies. We try to launch a new collection every month on our website. We have three different categories, so some of the pairs are sporty. Some are basic. Some are fancy. We try to have something for everyone. So anyone who’s interested in trying our technology, they then come to our website, find something that they like. And I would say we phase out the older styles. But right now we have about a hundred different products on our website, and almost every pair comes in five to eight different sizes. So we have size extra, extra small through 3X. Not every pair is available in every size, but we do our best to be size inclusive. And yeah, it’s a lot of underwear.
NYLP: How many items, I guess, are available at any one time? It seems like 500 to 800?
NYLP: Is it hard keeping track and keeping all those items in stock?
Julie: We’ve definitely been sold out of a lot of things, and it is tough to keep restocking because . . . it’s so funny. Sometimes one collection, the smaller sizes will sell great, and then you have another collection that looks so similar, and then the larger sizes will sell out. And so we do our best to continually iterate. And when we’re ordering we look at what sold well in the past of a similar type of collection. So we definitely do a fair amount of forecasting, but certainly we have been sold out of our most popular items quite a bit.
NYLP: What are the variations in the collections? What differentiates between them?
Julie: We have sporty underwear. We have the Hazel, which was really popular. And we came out with three different Hazel collections with three colors each. All the Hazels are black fabric and they have a bright colored trim on the edge. They have piping on the sides. And so the Hazel sold really well, so we just kept making more fun colors. And we’re actually launching another round of Hazels in about a month. So that’s been a great seller. And then we have the Jackie. That’s our second sport collection.
But we have a bunch of fancy collections. We just launched the Lucy, and that has satin in it for the first time. So I was super excited to use satin. We have lace. So it’s fun trying out different fabrics and different materials. And it never ceases to amaze me at how many different preferences there are in underwear. You really don’t know what kind of underwear a woman wears. If she likes really basic, solid color, like beige underwear or all-black, or really fancy all the time, or always sporty. Women have their favorite type of underwear.
And sure, we branch out of that here and there, but I would say we all have . . . not everybody. I’m not making generalizations, but a lot of people have their favorite style. And whatever they’re going to buy, it’s going to look similar to that style. So if you’re a thong girl or you’re a hipster girl or you like the higher rise briefs, that’s what you’re going to get. So it is a challenge to find something that speaks to everyone, but I think we’ve done a pretty good job of it.
NYLP: How do you come up with the different designs?
Julie: Yeah, how do I get design inspiration? I don’t know. I’m always taking inspiration from what’s out there. You can’t really see a women’s underwear when she’s walking down the street, but you see what colors are popular. And I look at different blogs and stuff. I’m on Pinterest. And it’s kind of whatever I’m feeling. We also love to do color polls on Instagram, and those are some of our posts with the highest engagement. So people do really love giving their opinion, and it’s legitimately super helpful for us to know what they want to buy.
NYLP: How has your growth been year-over-year?
Julie: It’s been great. So what I can tell you is that from 2012 to 2013, we grew over 400%. And then from 2013 to 2014, we grew another over 400%, so it’s been a busy last few years.
NYLP: That’s incredible growth. How many people are on your team right now?
Julie: Right now we have five full-time team members. We also have an intern for the summer who’s awesome.
NYLP: What’s it like growing that much so quickly?
Julie: It’s great. Growth is good. Sales make me happy. The more growth, the better. In the beginning everyone tries to scare you, right? When you’re pitching investors and they’re like, “Oh, so what plans do you have in place when you . . . that would be awful if you got that many orders.” I’m like, “No, it would be wonderful. We’ll figure it out.” And we always figure it out, right? The worst thing in the world is to not have enough demand. But my goodness, when you have demand, you put it on back order. You sell. You preorder, and then you fulfill. And it may not always be on time, but you try to make the customer happy. If they’re not, then you exchange it for something else. There are times when people order something and it was out of stock, and we have to reply back and be like, “Hey, sorry, we didn’t catch this.” So it’s not perfect by any means, but yeah, it’s exciting. It’s really fun.
NYLP: With such incredible growth, how have you been able to forecast demand?
Julie: Sure. That’s a great question. And I think one of the things that has helped us a lot and that we really appreciate about manufacturing in New York is that it’s a fairly quick turnaround time. So if we have the fabric in stock, we can manufacture more product in two, probably three weeks is a more realistic timeframe. And so we’re not placing bulk orders of ginormous amounts. We’re placing smaller size initial orders, and then we see what is selling well, and then we order more of that.
And we’re not always able to restock fast enough. There are plenty of times when we are sold out of something. And we get emails from customers that are frustrated. They want to buy the set of six and it’s sold out in their size. So they’re saying, “When are you going to have this again?” “When are you going to have more?” And definitely we’ve lost some sales because we couldn’t keep up with the inventory needed, but I think we’ve learned better. And the more that we sell, the more data that we have in terms of different styles sell better in different sizes, and so we have different size ranges that we’ll order for briefs versus hipsters versus thongs.
And we try now to get into the habit of ordering more fabric in the beginning so that we can be more nimble and flexible as different things sell that we may not have predicted. Because no matter how much you forecast, it’s never going to be dead on because things change. It’s amazing how much like a certain press outlet will feature us. Another press outlet could feature us, have almost the same story, and because they have different readership, totally different items on the site will sell.
NYLP: How much does a pair of underwear cost?
Julie: It depends what style you want, so it ranges from $28 to $58 on the site. We give a discount for first-time customers, so you can get 20% off your purchase if you sign up for our newsletter. So that makes it easier to try something out to make sure that you like them before you buy a whole bunch. But we also have sets of three to six pairs that you can get. So if it’s something where you do really like them, we’ll give you a discount to buy more than one and make that easier.
NYLP: You make more than just underwear, right?
Julie: We do, yeah. We make yoga pants as of last year.
NYLP: How did you decide to expand into yoga pants?
Julie: It was funny. It was unexpected, right? We had never really thought about active wear when we first started. It was all about underwear. But we saw just how well our sport collection sold. Women love wearing our underwear when they’re working out. It’s like they’re sweating, it’s gross, and our fabric really helps. So we knew that women loved our underwear when they were running, when they were at the gym. And we did a survey a little over a year ago, probably a year and a half ago, to all of our customers and said, “Hey, we’re thinking about branching out and adding on another product category.” We gave them 10 options and said, “What would you most like to see?” And yoga pants by far was the winner.
And the cool thing that we realized is that if we put our patent-pending Underlux fabric lining inside the yoga pants, then there would really be no reason to wear underwear underneath them because it has all of the properties that you would ever want from a pair of underwear and more. And so when we took it there, we realized, “Well, wait a second. If you’re not wearing underwear, then you can be running for miles. You can be running for a marathon. You can be working out super intense, and you’re not going going to have to worry about bunching with your underwear underneath your tights. You don’t have to worry about any underwear lines showing when they’re under your pants.” And so all of a sudden, we were like, “This could be really awesome.”
Some women already don’t wear underwear underneath their yoga pants already. They’re comfortable doing it. I was previously not comfortable going to the gym with no underwear on. I was just like, “I can’t do it.” But I tried it, and it was like, “This is kind of amazing.” Not to overstate it, but I felt really free. And I was like, “This is great. Let’s do it.” So it took a long time to figure out the patterning and everything. And we finally launched a Kickstarter last June and it was a big hit.
NYLP: How many pairs of underwear-less yoga pants did you sell in your Kickstarter campaign?
Julie: Well, our goal was to raise $15,000. And in terms of number of pairs, they were approximately $100 each. One hundred fifty pairs was our goal, and we weren’t sure how popular they would be. But we sent out an email to our newsletter and said like, “Hey, two weeks away. The big day is coming up.” And then we sent out an email the day of and said, “Hey, we’re so excited it’s here. If you want to pre-order a pair of yoga pants, go to our Kickstarter page and check it out.” And within one hour of launching the Kickstarter, we had made our goal of $15,000. And so we were blown away. Literally in the office we were screaming when we hit our goal, and people were like, “What is wrong with you?” And we went to get supplies for mimosas so we could celebrate. So we worked really hard over the next 30 days to promote the campaign, get as many people as we could to find out about it, and ended up raising $158,000 over 30 days.
NYLP: So what do you do next?
Julie: So then we got to work on ordering the fabric. We had to actually specially order a specific sewing machine for a factory to use a side arm flat lock sewing machine so we could have really smooth, thin seams on the pants. And so we waited for a long time then for the pants, for the fabric to come in, and then we waited for the machine to come in all the way from the Japan. It was brand new. And it was out of stock when we ordered it, so then they had to make a custom machine for us. So that took forever, but we were able to get the pants out in time for the holidays in mid-December. We shipped everything out last year.
NYLP: From start to finish, how long did the process take?
Julie: We launched the Kickstarter the last couple of days of May. And it depends on what we’re defining as start to finish, but yeah, it was a long process. And sometimes I’m like, “Oh yeah, we’ll just whip that up.” But it really does stake a lot of work to develop something that’s new that you’re not in the habit of doing already.
NYLP: What’s been the response to underwear-less yoga pants?
Julie: Well, ABC.com said that we may just be the next darling of the workout world. So we got a lot of press love, and also a fun number of Instagrams, people taking pictures working out in their pants. And great feedback. Our customers are wonderful. And I think what I really appreciate about them is that we’re working on our activewear 2.0 line right now, and so we sent a survey. People are not shy about telling as what they like and what they don’t like about the pants. So we have very specific directions of the changes that we’re making from version 1 to version 2. So I’m really excited for our next version.
NYLP: Who would you say your competitors are?
Julie: We have a couple of different competitors. I would say two main underwear companies in the functional underwear space. So THINX underwear does period underwear. And then Knix Wear is a company out of Toronto that does incontinence underwear, I would say. But we’re all so small, right? So most women don’t really know that functional underwear exists and that there is something better out there than Gap or Victoria’s Secret. And so I think for us, right now, we’re competing against the companies that have a well-known, established presence. So our biggest challenge is how do we make sure that every woman across the U.S. and around the world eventually knows that we exist? Because right now, if they don’t know that we exist, they can’t even make the decision to try our product or not try it. They’re automatically not trying it.
So it’s funny, we’re in this in-between stage. We’re like, “Yeah, we have competitors.” But the real opportunity is all these people who are currently in the dark and unenlightened. They’re not enlightened. Is that a word, “unlightened?” They don’t even know how they could be feeling when they put on our underwear.
NYLP: They’re in the dark ages.
NYLP: So how are you going to fix that?
Julie: I talk about underwear 24/7, literally. It’s 10:00 on a Thursday and I’m talking about underwear. We are hustling. We’re reaching out to a lot of people who have an audience and have a platform, and can try the product and then say, “Hey gals, this is my experience. I highly recommend you try ’em.”
NYLP: How do people find out more about Dear Kate?
Julie: They can go to our website. It’s www.dearkate.com. And we have a video where you can watch the technology in action, see all of our different styles. And yeah, email us. Ask us any questions.
NYLP: Are you only available online?
Julie: We’re primarily available online. We have about 40 stores or so that carry us, like independent lingerie boutiques, but I recommend buying online. We’ve got excellent customer service, so if it’s too big or too small, we’re happy to swap that out for a different size. And we have the full collection available on our website, whereas most of the stores pick one or two styles that they like.
NYLP: Well, Julie Sygiel, thank you for enlightening me about the world of functional underwear. It’s been great having you on the podcast, and thank you for sharing your time with us.
Julie: Absolutely. Thank you for having me.
NYLP: And if you want to learn more about the New York Launch Pod, you can visit nylaunchpod.com or follow us on social media @nylaunchpod.SHARE THIS: