Julie Sygiel knows a thing or two about “oops” moments.
Like just last August when the founder of the new underwear brand Underbrella was courting buyers at a trade show, only to discover that apparel label Ella Moss was at the same show, pushing a new intimates line called Under Ella.
Rather than face a trademark battle over similar-sounding names, Julie and her team headed back to the drawing board. And next week they’ll begin taking orders for their new label Dear Kate, offering function-meets-fashion underwear that’s meant for a different kind of “oops” moment.
Dear Kate builds on the successful formula of Julie’s earlier label, Sexy Period, which used revolutionary fabric technology to create stain-resistant, leak-proof undergarments. The company, based in New York and Rhode Island, has several patents pending on its innovative undies.
“Every woman has a horror story during that time of the month,” Julie told Lingerie Talk. “And so many women at that time of the month just reach for something in the back of their underwear drawer. It adds insult to injury.
“We thought, what if you could have stain-releasing, leak-resistant underwear that was also fashionable? You’d never have to worry about any type of issues like that.”
Like so many bright ideas, the concept for Sexy Period had unlikely origins.
Julie, now 24, was an undergrad studying chemical engineering at Brown University in 2008 when she signed up for an elective business class “on a whim”. The professor assigned students to come up with new business ideas, reminding them that “the best business plans come from solutions to everyday problems.”
Julie’s student team began exploring the idea of spill-resistant women’s underwear and began doing market research and consumer surveys. One creative brainstorm resulted in the team posting surveys on the inside doors of women’s bathroom stalls at Brown.
“Our research found that 60 per cent of women surveyed said they experienced problems every single month,” she said.
Although she had been aiming for a career in the pharmaceutical industry, Julie said she “talked about underwear 24/7 that semester.” She spent the next two years planning Sexy Period, which launched in 2011.
Sexy Period earned rave reviews from customers, including one anonymous website comment from someone who said she wore the brand’s confidence-boosting undies during a speaking engagement at the White House.
It also attracted inquiries from market segments that Julie’s company hadn’t expected — pregnant women who worry about incontinence issues, and younger adolescents adjusting to their cycle.
“The concept had a much broader appeal than we originally envisioned,” Julie said. “A lot of new moms told us they wanted something that wasn’t exclusive to periods, and parents said they wanted something for their 13-year-old but not with the word ‘sexy’ in the name.”
The newly re-branded Dear Kate offers an expanded line of styles ranging from high-waisted briefs to bodysuits, bikinis and hipsters, all meant to appeal to young fashion-conscious women, expectant mothers and even women seeking extra protection at the gym.
Each piece features the company’s unique three-layer protective panel. The lining and middle layer are created from wicking microfiber, while the outer layer is a leak-resistant nylon/Lycra formulation. The result is a product that is breathable, stretchy and machine-washable.
As for the company’s new name, Julie said it’s meant to “give you the feeling of writing a letter to a friend. It could be your best friend, your speed dial in a crisis, someone you turn to.”
The name Kate was chosen because “it’s a timeless name that resonates with everyone.”
“We wanted a woman’s name that was not generational, and there are so many great Kates from different periods,” she said. “It just felt right, and we loved the idea of creating this persona.” Watch for “Kate” to make an appearance on the company website, offering Q&A advice for customers.
Of course, the inevitable success of Dear Kate means company founder Julie — who demonstrated a precocious business acumen when she sold 10,000 boxes of Girl Scout cookies as a child — has pretty much given up her early plan to find work in the pharmaceuticals business.
“I never thought I’d be in underwear,” she said, “but I loved it so much, compared to working in a lab every day. What I do now is so much fun.”
As for the “oops” moment involving the brand’s re-launch, the company has put it behind them with a philosophical shrug.
“Everything happens for a reason,” Julie said. “And it all turned out fine.”
Dear Kate will begin taking pre-orders on its webshop on Nov. 15, and will start shipping to customers and stores on Dec. 5, just in time for the holiday season. Pieces are priced from $28-$38.
Here’s a look at a few of Dear Kate’s styles, plus its playful first video (above) which shows CEO Julie as “every gal” modeling some of the styles in the collection.