For women, by women. That’s the motto behind no-nonsense lingerie brand Negative Underwear. When founders Marissa Vosper and Lauren Schwab realized the female-centric industry was run by men, they decided to do something about it. So, they created a line of comfortable bras and underwear thoughtfully focused on the basics, as only women could. We recently caught up with Marissa and Lauren to learn more about how they created their jobs.
WHAT WERE YOU DOING 5-10 YEARS AGO, BEFORE NEGATIVE UNDERWEAR?
MV: Prior to launching Negative I worked in brand strategy consulting at a few big agencies in NYC. My job involved working with existing companies to help redefine and redirect their current market positioning, or working with smaller start-up businesses to build and launch a new brand from the bottom up. The agencies I worked for were more generalist, so I worked across industries — from tech to fashion to culture. Some of my favorite clients were Google, The Smithsonian and Refinery29.
IS NEGATIVE UNDERWEAR YOUR DREAM JOB?
LS: Absolutely. Prior to Negative I worked in finance — it was a demanding environment where I challenged myself and learned a lot, but nowhere near the experience I’ve had in starting my own business. The amount you have to learn and take on with your own company is not for the faint of heart but I wouldn’t trade it. Negative has given me so much purpose and direction in my career — I’m proud every day of what we’ve built and of what we’re becoming.
WHEN DID YOU HAVE YOUR “AH HA” MOMENT OF NEGATIVE UNDERWEAR?
MV: Negative was a many years, nights and weekends project that Lauren and I pursued alongside our full-time jobs. It started with night classes at FIT and slowly evolved from there through product development, sourcing, brand building, photo shooting, web design and launch. We were pretty methodical about developing our concept and our collection and so I wouldn’t really say there was one specific “Aha” moment during that process. That said, after all those years of hard work, we finally launched on February 1st, 2014 with an exclusive article in the WSJ that really catapulted our brand onto the market beyond what we had ever thought possible — that was definitely a serious “pinch me” moment.
IS IT TRUE THAT MOST LINGERIE COMPANIES WERE/ARE RUN BY MEN!?!
LS: Ironically, yes (though that explains a lot, doesn’t it?!) When Marissa and I first started learning about the industry. we went to a lot of trade shows to understand the landscape and were totally shocked by how many people at these shows were men — from the brands themselves to the fabric suppliers to the factories. It’s pretty funny to have a man telling you how supportive a certain mesh is or isn’t. That observation made it clear to us that there was opportunity to design from a woman’s perspective – to make more comfortable garments that were functional and more minimalist but still beautiful. The reality is that most legacy industries are run and operated by men. It’s the reason why there are so many women-only categories (from lingerie to tampons!) are being rethought and disrupted by female founders with women in mind!
HOW DID YOU COME UP WITH THIS BUSINESS CONCEPT AND DID YOU HAVE EXPERIENCE IN IT PRIOR?
MV: After we took product design and development classes at FIT, we had an initial concept in mind but wanted to formalize things in a business plan of sorts. We decided to take a class at NYU about just that but ended up dropping out after a few lectures once we realized we’d be much faster at just writing our own business plan versus taking a class about how to write one. We used that period to help outline our shared vision for what Negative was all about – from our business model to our marketing plan. Looking back years later, a lot has changed, but a lot holds true!
HOW DID YOU FUND NEGATIVE UNDERWEAR?
LS: While we were developing Negative we used our salaries to subsidize the start-up costs — from sample making to web development to our initial production investment. We became very good at assessing what was a necessary cost and what was a cost that we could either negotiate or scrap all together. We found there was a lot of waste in traditional fashion companies and so we wanted to use our outsider status to our advantage – it allowed us to question and challenge the way a lot of historical companies operated that didn’t make as much sense for a company launching in 2014. After the initial investments we made, the business has been self-sustaining and we’re still self-funded to date.
NAME 3 OF THE SCARIEST MOMENTS YOU HAD WHEN DOING THIS?
MV: Hah. Starting your own business is one giant leap of faith so you could argue that it’s always a bit daunting. The day before launch was perhaps the most nerve-racking because we had no idea what would happen next — but it was also the most exciting day filled with so much hope and optimism about this company we’d poured so much love into. Fortunately it’s been a lot more exciting than scary ever since!
WHAT IS YOUR PIECE OF ADVICE TO ANYONE WHO WANTS TO STOP WHAT THEY’RE DOING AND CREATE THEIR “DREAM JOB”?
LS: Do your research, use your network and test out your idea as much as possible before you give up your salary!
IN YOUR OPINION, WHAT MAKES A WOMAN BEAUTIFUL?
MV: We always say that confidence is the new sexy. Feeling good in your own skin is beautiful and contagious in the best way.