The founders of Negative Underwear quit corporate jobs to start a lingerie brand in a male-dominated industry.
By Tessa Trudeau
"A bra is a complicated garment to make," says Marissa Vosper, cofounder of minimalist lingerie line Negative Underwear. "But we believed that if you edited it back to its most essential parts, you'd make something much more functional and comfortable." Vosper and friend Lauren Schwab made a collection of bras and underwear so in demand they've not always been able to keep them in stock.
Back in 2009, the two University of Pennsylvania alums realized they weren't happy in their corporate careers—Vosper in marketing consulting and Schwab in finance—so they began taking night classes at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York. "We had no problem finding brands that resonated with us in terms of ready-to-wear, footwear, evening wear, accessories, outerwear—but there was this one category of intimate apparel that felt like a neglected afterthought," says Vosper of how they landed in lingerie.
"We saw a market where, on the one hand, you had really high-end, fanciful, overly decorated lingerie that felt either inaccessibly priced or totally non-functional," she explains. "And on the other end of the market, you had these sorts of functional, go-to basics that were maybe more affordable and more comfortable but certainly nothing that you'd be excited to wear."
Paring the design down to just the essential elements of a bra, they were able to focus on their mission to make chic intimates that you actually want to wear, sourcing top-of-the-line materials and fabrics and fixtures from around the world. "We could find the best mesh for our cups, the best hooks and eyes for the back closure," explains Schwab of their approach to minimalism. "We could find the best strap elastics, because we weren't spending money and time on all those other bits and bobs. So that's really how we got to our materials—finding the best of the best for the fewer pieces that we chose."
The two pooled their resources and business school know-how to fund and found Negative Underwear in 2014 with no help from investors. "It wasn't a message we wanted to put forth that our business was run by women but funded by men," explains Schwab. "We looked at a couple of case studies and it felt like there was a lot of risk to raising money that [would push us] into a path that didn't feel true to us. There are so many companies owned and operated by men in categories targeted at women. We do think that part of what makes us different is that we have a very female-oriented point of view at Negative. Our entire team is women and all the money that's behind the business is built because of the business."
From factory mishaps to working through nights and weekends, startup life is not easy, Vosper and Schwab will be the first to admit. But the bet they made five-and-a-half years ago was certainly worth the hand. "There's so much hard work involved in starting a company—especially a self-funded company," admits Vosper. "If we didn't have something that resonated truly and deeply with people, if we didn't have so many women email or message or stop us to tell us how much they love the product and that it's made a difference in the way they feel about themselves, I don't think we'd be doing this. One of the best parts of starting this company is the number of women that I think we've impacted for the better. It feels like a big source of pride and fulfillment to be able to say that we're doing something for women, by women."