From Kickstarter to sold out: How a teen is shaking up the lingerie industry
The image used on the Kickstarter campaign for Yellowberry, a lingerie company that makes bras for girls aged 11-15. (Yellowberry)
Allison McNeely, Special to CTVNews.ca
Published Thursday, April 17, 2014 7:23AM EDT
Last Updated Thursday, April 17, 2014 7:25AM EDT
Last March, high school senior Megan Grassell took her younger sister to the mall for a very important trip. They were going to buy the teen her first bra.
What should have been a rite of passage and a bonding moment for the two sisters ended in disappointment when they couldn’t find anything age-appropriate for 13-year-old Mary Margaret.
“Nothing was realistic to her body. It all just looked the same – padded and push-up,” Grassell told CTVNews.ca in a telephone conversation from Jackson, Wyo. “She was embarrassed.”
More than a year after that fruitless search, Grassell is the founder of Yellowberry, a sold-out line of cute and age-appropriate bras for girls aged 11-15.
Grassell decided to get into the lingerie business a week after that shopping trip, when she received a somewhat unusual gift from her father – an expensive, high-quality women’s bra.
The bra was a gag prize her father had won in a downhill ski race. Because he couldn’t use it, he gave the bra to Grassell and she loved the soft fabric and lack of underwire or back-clasp. She realized this was the kind of bra she wanted to produce for girls such as her younger sister.
“I had an epiphany,” Grassell said. She thought, “I’m going to make these for girls. Someone needs to do this. I’m going to do this.”
Despite being totally new to making bras, the 18-year-old and her mom started working with a local seamstress last April to produce a design.
In mid-February of this year, Grassell received her first samples of two styles of colourful bras made with cotton and spandex and without any metal hooks or wires.
Now, the “Tweetheart” is available in a blue/green or pink/yellow pattern. The “Tiny Teton,” the design originally inspired by her sister’s fruitless quest for a starter bra, comes in solid blue or purple.
The bras sell for approximately US$30 to $43 each on the Yellowberry website. Orders can be shipped to Canada.
Grassell used her own money, earned from summers working as a waitress and pumping gas, to fund the design and development of the first Yellowberry bras. But she realized she would need to raise money to actually have them made. So Grassell turned to Kickstarter, an online fundraising platform, and social media to spread the word about her fledgling company.
Grassell raised nearly $42,000 for Yellowberry this March when her 30-day campaign went viral, exceeding her original $25,000 goal.
She launched her Kickstarter campaign on March 7. Just a week later, she had already met her target.
Grassell received the good news while on a trip to Guatemala with her high school class. She turned on her phone after a day of travelling and hundreds of pledge emails flooded her inbox.
“I was with my friends in a hotel room and I immediately fell on the floor and started crying,” Grassell said.
Today, she has a small manufacturer in Los Angeles working to meet the growing demand for Yellowberry bras.
“We have tripled our original order of a few hundred bras,” Grassell said.
Chicago-area mom Wendy Whipple is an early supporter of Yellowberry.
She first heard about Yellowberry in March, 2014 when a friend posted a link to the Kickstarter campaign on Facebook. She immediately pledged $50 – a commitment level that buys one Yellowberry bra in the colour and size of your choice.
The Yellowberry bras immediately struck her as being attractive and perfectly age-appropriate for her daughter.
Whipple said the bras are perfect for young women with special needs, including her sixteen-year-old daughter with autism.
“She has some co-ordination issues, especially with handling a regular back-clasp bra,” Whipple said. “It’s much easier for her to manage something that she can pull over her head.”
Most of the pull-over bras currently on the market are bulky and utilitarian, Whipple said.
Grassell is eager to create a kind of “social change” with her bras. In a message on the Yellowberry website, she said she wants to help young girls who feel societal pressure to look a certain way. She wants her younger sister to feel comfortable in whatever she wears.
Grassell said some people have told her the bras are too expensive at $40. The price point is hard to avoid, she said, because the company is young and the product is made entirely in the United States.
But she wants to eventually be able to sell the bras at a lower cost.
“I want Yellowberry bras to be available to everyone who can afford to buy a bra,” Grassell said.
Grassell said she thinks the lingerie industry has forgotten about pre-teen girls.
She has big plans to expand Yellowberry’s offerings of cute, age-appropriate underwear.
She plans to develop nude, mocha and white-coloured bras, as well as to release two new styles. Grassell said she hopes to place the new styles and colours on the Yellowberry website in the coming days for eager customers to back-order.
These new offerings are certainly in response to a healthy demand. A notice on the Yellowberry website says that the current stock is completely sold out, but customers can expect the website to be fully restocked by May 15.
Grassell and her mother, who helps her run Yellowberry, have been keeping busy with the day-to-day operations. She plans to defer her acceptance to Middlebury College in Vermont for one year.
As for high school? Well, it’s her last semester and she has a fledgling company to run.
“I don’t do as much homework anymore,” Grassell said.