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Bras and Boobs – Many people around the world who are reading this could be like “I understand!” When I complain about how uncomfortable bras can sometimes be. Bras are either cute but meant for women with a smaller chest size, or they’re ugly and expensive if you have a larger bust. And that’s where Frankly Apparel comes in: It’s a braless clothing company — a first of its kind — and it’s here to change things up for those of us with larger cup sizes.
Founders Heather Eaton and Jane Dong met at Stanford University’s MBA program and successfully launched their scandalous clothing company via a Kickstarter campaign during the worst time in society’s existence. Heather is a former management consultant out of Deloitte’s Chicago office, where she has worked in everything from innovation-focused nonprofits to film studios. Jane worked at Goldman Sachs in New York as an investment banker where she was recruited after attending Columbia as a recruited golfer. When she realized that paper storage company mergers weren’t crowded for her, she joined Uber and eventually ran UberEats US & Canada Driver Acquisition.
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In the middle of last year, Heather and Jane launched a Kickstarter campaign with an initial goal of raising $25,000. Their goal in choosing Kickstarter was to be able to fund inventory for their first batch, which would mean hitting a certain bottom line with the manufacturer. They exceeded that goal in less than five hours, doubled it, and ultimately raised more than $50,000.
The “light bulb” moment that frankly inspired was a very personal one for Heather: Finding the right bras really has been a struggle, even from the early stages of puberty. She explained to me that as a young teen, she was excited to go bra shopping and join the ranks of being a “woman” in the sense that she would wear an actual bra and not a training bra (because that’s the bra thing), but nothing seemed to fit; And now as an adult, she still feels the same way. “Women with large breasts have been left out of the braless movement because we have a lot of things to consider – support and security are a much bigger concern with large cup sizes because excessive movement can be painful. I know the struggle firsthand, and I think it can… It’s particularly frustrating for those who have large breasts, especially in comparison to the rest of their body,” she says.
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One of Frankly’s distinguishing points is its innovative volume split system. Honestly allows you to choose a bust size that is different from your waist size for a dress or panty, without having to worry about fit. “We’ve found that nearly half of our customers benefit from split sizes, which just shows how many women are looking for the clothes that fit them best,” Jane says.
Sustainability also plays a major role for the brand. Through its “Studio” pre-order program, Frankly aims to collaborate with its customers to produce more of what they want, to avoid unsold inventory. The company uses the Higg Index for sustainable, high-quality materials and fabrics, and the clothing is manufactured in Los Angeles by ethical companies.
As of August 30th, Frankly had already shipped to 42 out of 50 states and had gone viral on TikTok more than once – and topped more than 5 million views with one of their videos. Their customers already praise their unique size scheme and the company as a whole has very passionate people. While they currently only ship to the US, they’ve already seen significant international demand in just a few months since launch. Heather and Jane view their clients as co-creators in the sense that they aim to incorporate their feedback. As a direct result, Frankly will be expanding its size range to 4X with its next collection, coming out this fall.
When I talked to Heather and Jane about their trip, this is what they had to tell themselves:
On Kickstarter Campaign Fundraising for Brand Launch…
Jane: Honestly, we actually started out as a class project that Heather and I worked on while doing their MBA at Stanford. We were taking a class called Startup Garage, during which we had to do nearly 100 user interviews. We got a lot of positive feedback and enthusiasm for our idea, but to really verify that the women wanted something more from the status quo, we needed to see them support it with actions and spending. We pooled our savings together (late payment tuition) to launch a Kickstarter campaign to fund inventory for our first batch. We reached our goal in less than 5 hours, and ended up with more than double our initial goal of $25,000 over the course of our campaign. We spent almost no money on advertising or marketing, which showed us that women are just waiting for a way to ditch their bras.
How their different backgrounds paved the way for a successful entrepreneurial venture…
Jane: On the surface, Heather and I might seem very similar. We both work in areas like investment banking and consulting, and we met in business school. However, as we delve deeper into what we spent our time doing, it becomes very clear that we are different. Heather is a great design thinker, has graphic design skills, and has an eye for a product that I don’t personally have (unfortunately). Heather is also the one with more fashion experience next door, having implemented a product strategy with a popular footwear company. I love hanging around spreadsheets; You will tolerate it. Sometimes we come from really different points of view, but because we understand the logic of the other person’s thinking, it helps us make better and more comprehensive decisions than if it were just one of us.
Heather: I can’t stress enough how beneficial it is to have a co-founder who is fluent (and enjoys!) all the parts of the job that you don’t do. Our strengths are integrated: Jane handles operations and finance as her background is investment banking and driver operations management at Uber, while I manage product and brand using my graphic design/marketing, consulting, and product expertise at Ruthie. We implicitly trust the other party’s decision-making process regarding areas in their field. We have done well so far and it has made the work more interesting.
Investment banking and advisory are great first-time jobs. You learn how to work hard, be resourceful, make analytical decisions, and communicate effectively. As an entrepreneur, I really don’t think you could ask for a better background. We are both used to conquering mystery and diving into what we don’t know and learn. This has allowed us to make significant progress in an industry in which we are basically outsiders.
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How to choose the right co-founder…
Jane: You often end up spending more time with the co-founder than you do with your spouse or partner, so when you’re a “co-founder of dating” keep that in mind. Choosing a business partner requires that you trust them 100% – you share everything with them, from your Social Security numbers to your company’s bank account. You really need to believe that even in difficult situations, they will do the right thing for the company. While having different strengths and interests honestly definitely helps, the most important thing is that you can make tough decisions together and keep moving forward. Founder disagreements can really blow up the company, and we think about constantly giving feedback, talking about how we feel, and making sure we’re honest with our values and future.
On the innovative scale system and proprietary size division system….
Heather: We honestly started with the goal of making the braless fashion trend more inclusive to a greater range of cup sizes. In the past, clothes were never designed to fit people with “disproportionately large breasts”. In fact, the costumes are explicitly designed for a B cup. This is especially crazy considering that the average woman in the US wears a DD! When we sat down and started talking about how we could give more people the chance to go braless, we came up with a size split. With our split sizing, our clients can choose their size based on their chest size and waist/hips size separately. We always hear from customers that this is the first time they see all of their measurements being the same size on the size chart. This is so much fun for me finally Giving clients a choice I’ve wanted for myself for so long. Our goal is to continue expanding our size to fit more bodies and chest sizes.
In their mission and why the outspoken movement is about so much more than just going into a bra
Heather: Back when we ran Kickstarter, we had this bag with art from New York City artist Julie Cleveland who said “bras are a social construct.” this is exactly right! We wear bras to make our bodies more “lookable” in society. Oftentimes, this is intrinsically related to making our bodies more male-looking, to the detriment of our comfort and needs. Almost women all over the world claim that they hate wearing bras, but if you ask a woman to go out in public without one, she will often tell you that she never can. This just does not sit with us. But we are also realistic. Just because you know it doesn’t make sense to restrict a perfectly normal part of the body that more than 50% of humans have, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you want to be the only one leading the task to release the leaps at work. We want to be a small step towards a more gentle future. We help our clients regain their comfort, without increasing the anxiety that sometimes comes from being exposed in public.
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It’s also about challenging the status quo in fashion. Why haven’t bras really changed in the last 50 years? Why not design clothes for real women’s bodies, instead of expecting women to change their bodies to match their clothes? Our mission is to empower women to demand more, starting with what they wear. We’ve put up with an industry that isn’t designed for the average person for far too long. If we can raise our expectations with something as basic and universal as clothing, imagine other ways we can demand change. Frankly named after this line from Gone With The Wind: “Honestly, honey, I don’t care,” and that’s us. We don’t care how things get done before or what society thinks. Fashion did not work with women for a long time. It still doesn’t work, so we’re here to turn things around.