The idea started out much differently. When it began, I was creating an intimates company that focused on body positivity. We’d offer a safe space to shop while breaking the rules of what traditional beauty felt and looked like. We were going to be the Breaker of Bra Chains, Mother of Boobs. It's not so punny, I get it, GoT just aired on Sunday, I couldn't help it ;)
FEARLYSS co was going to offer women a unique experience that would show them how to see the beauty within themselves.
I was inspired to start this company by all the women who are blazing the body-positive path right now, bearing it all and living without shame. These women are truly fearless, in every sense of the word. I adore the vibes they're sending out to the world, the messages like ”I love myself and I'm not afraid to share it." Aerie was ramping it up, but at the time they were still really only using tried & true models. I wanted to create something that was really based on the consumer. The human experience behind the bra and panties. So I worked on this idea for almost two years before tucking the original version away about a year ago. Where did I go wrong? Maybe everywhere.
One of the biggest issues I had was the product market fit. The original concept was twofold: it had this body-positive element, but the other piece was going to be a bra designed to reduce and eliminate back fat, without sacrificing support. Bras that were supportive always gave me back fat, and bras that didn't weren't supportive. They also weren't very attractive at all if they were made to do this. I had always wanted a bra that pushed my tissue more inward and together instead of squishing it out the sides at the underarm. I notice a lot of other women have this issue too, so I thought it was a problem worth solving. I spoke to a lot of women on interview calls, my friends, and strangers, it was all pretty well received.
Looking back now, the way these two elements fit together seems a little mismatched to me. I was trying to build a company that was body positive but then trying to sell a product that creates body-smoothing effects. So in essence I was saying, “you’re perfect the way you are but you also really need this shapewear-y type bra”. Uh, no. Does not compute.
I also wasn’t sure how to tell women that they needed this product, or if I wanted to tell them that they needed it at all. I felt like a fraud marketing to women that they must have this product to improve their lives. It wasn’t true, and no matter how I tried to spin it in my head or on paper, it made me feel like a phony. How could I tell women to love themselves as they were and then tell them they need a bra that reduces back fat? The more I thought about it, the worse I felt about selling this idea to them. My goal was always to make people feel good, to inspire and motivate them. Now when I think about this, I don’t know if the original concept would ever accomplish that.
I also wasn't enough of a saleswoman at the time. I just didn't have it in me. It hadn't clicked what I needed to do to make it so I could sell this product. For me, becoming this sort of salesperson involved getting really close to who I was on the inside. To sell my product, myself, and whatever else I'd need to sell, I needed to be deeply connected to who I was and what was important to me. Since pivoting to KRSTN NDRSN, I've had a much deeper connection with who I am and where I'm going.
Part of my failure was creating a product that was so complex. Needing iteration after iteration with a high cost of development. Every round of samples that weren't right was just more money out the window. A bra is one of the most technically challenging garments to create, aside from maybe say...tactical gear. There are so many considerations to make when designing a bra; you have to figure out just the right balance of functionality, comfort, and design to make it work for the customer. I knew how to design a bra from my career as a lingerie designer, but I was also trying to make a functional bra beyond what already exists in the current market. To build something truly new. This was something more unique than the garments that currently exist in the market — I know because I tried them all. So my mistake here was trying to build a brand new structure in an already complex product and mostly on my own.
I never found a co-founder and I needed one, badly. Working on my first company, I was soooo unsure of myself and I needed someone to bounce ideas off of, someone to commiserate with. Starting a company on your own is lonesome and challenging in ways that I was not expecting. Solo founders know this all too well and I admire those leaders so much because it takes a whole lot of grit and confidence. I’m still getting there, but it's a lot more exciting this time around, mostly because I've learned the important lesson of asking for help when I need it!
I also chose the wrong manufacturer to start working with. I vetted 20 or 30 factories before settling on one that would make my samples. I was worried about using a factory from my network due to a non-compete I was waiting out. Once we started getting samples, the first round was good. They started off well and they asked the right questions. We tweaked the design, made some fit changes, and then the next sample came in. Each was better than the last but at a certain point, somewhere around sample 4 or 5, they’d start and make 1 of the corrections, but not the other 5. I was hopeful that they would get this right. The worst part of the bra was the actual cups, but they were doing a good job executing the back design that held in your squish. But the cups were like "hello friend, wanna move a little closer?"
I also didn’t fail fast enough. I wish I had thought of a better way to make an MVP so I could test the market. The only path I saw was to show this product as I envisioned it — a bra that was pretty but served a function. It was something you could expect would do the job but would also not look like granny panties if you took it off in front of your husband. I didn’t know how to test it without making the whole product. At some point, I got lost in the middle and was determined that this product had to fit in order to succeed, so I never put it out there when it was imperfect but close.
I was scared to make decisions. Instead of focusing on what the company needed most and just making a decision, I would panic and freeze. Instead of deciding anything at all, I decided nothing at times because it felt like making no decision is better than the wrong one. I never knew what the wrong decision was in advance, or when I was making a huge mistake but not moving or making any decision at all was a worse mistake than just making the wrong one. It put me in a constant state of uncertainty. That's a part of business, though, and now I understand that there is always going to be a level of something you don't know. You can't know what you don't know. What you have to tell yourself, is that it's all going to work out in the end. No decision is the 'wrong one it's just the one you made and have to live with. Making a bad decision is a thousand times better than making none at all. At least you moved.
I didn’t start with enough capital, either. I initially invested $25,000 dollars to get off the ground. I underestimated how much I needed and how far that money would take me in the product development process. I needed at least another $25,000 to pour into development, to make sure I had the right team and the right design, to put into deposits for the product, and to build our marketing campaign. I wasn’t confident enough to pitch the idea to investors without having a garment that could actually do what I said it would do. Some of this goes back to not feeling right about the product market fit.
The absolute worst thing I did when trying to start this business was not sharing my journey with my network of friends and family. I wish I had put everything out there in the beginning so that I could have had the support of my friends and co-workers. I needed them so much. Instead, I was scared (I still find this hilariously ironic considering the name) and I worked in stealth mode and hid what I was doing instead of shouting it from the rooftop. What a silly error! When you're making something brand new, there is no path to follow. There is no road to look to and see the whole route, which means you need to rely on your network to help you shape the journey.
Of all the things I've learned about starting a business, one of the best pieces of advice I've ever gotten was to just keep going. Keep putting yourself out there, keep trying, and never stop. Rejection will happen and it's just a part of life. Be willing to move along fast after it happens and just keep moving towards your future goals. You'll get there.