In Bed With the Founders of Negative Underwear
Negative Underwear, a New York City-based lingerie company, has quickly become fashion’s new “it” brand. Vogue and Refinery 29 are covering the brand, and celebrities like Miley Cyrus are wearing it. Last year, its “Support the Girls” campaign helped highlight their message that no matter your age, body type or cup size, it’s ok to be comfortable (and confident) in your own skin.
This month, Negative Underwear founders Marissa Vosper and Lauren Schwab visited Refinery Hotel. Here, they share their journey from working in corporate America to running their own business. While it isn’t always rainbows and perfect Instagram pictures, we get the idea that there’s nothing else these two ladies would rather be doing.
Tell us a little bit about how you got started in the lingerie industry.
Schwab: Marissa and I met when we were best friends in college. After graduation, we went into our respective careers of finance and brand strategy. We always loved fashion, but it wasn’t a career that we pursued. We decided to take some night classes at FIT just for fun, and that gave us an opportunity to think about potential business ideas more thoughtfully. In the class, we realized we thought about every aspect of our wardrobe—except for our underwear.
What has been the biggest learning curve since launching negative underwear?
Vosper: We both came from corporate environments that were relatively structured. We were used to having a lot of infrastructure, resources and a team, but Negative Underwear is self-funded, so our team has been small. And even though we’ve grown well, our team is still really small.
There’s a huge learning curve in figuring out how to do things on your own. We learned everything from scratch, from having to do our first photo shoot to how to get a bra made to launching our website. There wasn’t anyone telling us how or where to navigate.
What is it that you wanted to change when you started the company?
Schwab: We felt like the industry and the product fell into two categories: there was the super functional but almost matronly look, or the frilly, pushed-up embellished product. In both categories, there were the expensive brands and the more everyday priced brands. So we felt an opportunity to create a product that was super functional and comfortable, with an aesthetic that was cool, contemporary and young, fitting the style of the girl who’s wearing Rag & Bone jeans and Alexander Wang t-shirts.
Negative Underwear has a large following on social media, could you tell us a little bit about your “Support the Girls” campaign and the inspiration behind it.
Vosper: For a long time, the lingerie industry has been dominated by one very strong voice, and certainly one kind of woman as the predominant image that’s displayed. The “Support the Girls” campaign showed our product across the entire size range that we offer.
We also wanted to show the diversity of ages. When we launched the brand, we were surprised that our customers were not just women in her 20-40s but also in their 60s and 70s.
The main message of the campaign is that you can feel beautiful and confident in your underwear if you’re wearing good underwear. That message doesn’t always come across in some of our competitors’ marketing, so it was important to put that out on social media to show our different personality and vibe of the Negative brand.
The staff at Negative Underwear is mainly women. Was that intentional, and was it important for your team to be an extension of your brand?
Schwab: Marissa and I worked on Negative Underwear for about 4 years before we officially launched the business. We built our team slowly and thoughtfully, and predominantly based on those who were just as passionate about the product and message as we are. People who wear bras everyday can understand what the actual pain points are, and it’s often hard to explain to someone who doesn’t wear a bra why they suck so much. It certainly doesn’t mean that we aren’t open to having men join the team, especially if they’re interested in the brand and support the message.
We’ve seen some pretty big names sporting Negative Underwear, people like Miley Cyrus and poet Cleo Wade. How did it feel to see your product on artists with such a huge impact culturally?
Vosper: Miley wearing Negative was pretty awesome because she chose to wear it just because she liked it during a photo shoot. There was no brokering through a publicist or a stylist. Miley is someone who could have any brand in the world and wear anything she wants. The fact that she would choose to wear Negative for an entire day on Instagram was amazing for us. And having Cleo Wade and other women that we admire so greatly be passionate fans and supporters continues to reinforce that Negative is more than just a great product. We have a message that speaks to women and it’s about supporting women. When women support us back it reinforces that mission.
What are some must have undergarments that every woman should have?
Schwab: The most important thing is to have something that you feel comfortable wearing and that isn’t a distraction for you throughout the day. When I was working in finance, the first thing I wanted to do when I came home was take off my bra. It’s truly an enlightening experience to have a bra that you forget you’re wearing!
Vosper: There’s also a lot of lingerie out there that’s subliminally telling you that you’re not good enough. It’s pushing you up or sucking you in or contorting your shape. As a woman it’s refreshing to have a brand that makes you feel good as an A-cup or a DD-cup. As your first layer of clothing, underwear should make you feel confident and not the opposite.
Who are some women that inspire you?
Vosper: Diane Von Furstenberg’s success in building her business from scratch as a single working mom is pretty inspiring. We’ve also met some amazing female mentors like Eva Chen, Instagram’s head of fashion.She’s an incredible example of a woman who’s managed to do have an incredible career at such a young age while also having a new family.
What advice would you give to anyone who is starting their own business or launching something that they’re passionate about?
Schwab: Do your research—really understand why you’re different, what you have to contribute to the market, who your competitors are and have a clear message. Persevere—the process is going to be hard, and there are always roadblocks. Having the ability to continue, is important in order to achieve the next level. And finally, leverage your network. One of the things we’ve done pretty well is looking at who we know and what we can learn from them, tapping into resources that are available to us. We are the first to admit that we don’t know a lot of things, and a lot of people along the way have helped us get to that next level.
Vosper: A friend who also started his own business a handful of years ago told me to always maintain an irrational sense of optimism.This is also crucial in business. You have to believe in yourself and your business beyond all doubt, because if you don’t no one else will.
Any exciting collaborations or upcoming projects in the future that you’d like to share with us?
Schwab: Yes! Later this year, we are going to be doing another round of “Support the Girls.” We hope to be able to continue that project, and to have the message amplified in a bigger way than we’ve been able to achieve so far.
Quickfire: Lauren Schwab
Stella Mccartney Elyse platform shoes.
To mix and match or to not?
Mix and match.
Schwab: Be kind.
Quickfire: Marissa Vosper
New York Pilates
Mix and match or not?
Definitely Yes, mix and match.
Fake it till you make it.