It took only one trip to the mall to show Megan Grassell what was wrong with the bra industry. And 10 months of hard work to figure out how to change it.
Today, the 18-year-old high school senior from Jackson Hole, Wyoming, is the founder of Yellowberry, an underwear company that’s making wholesome, age-appropriate bras for girls aged 11-15.
That’s the sort of thing Megan couldn’t find a year ago when she took her kid sister Mary Margaret, then 13, shopping for her first bra.
“It was an awkward moment for her, but a chance for me to show off my sisterly knowledge,” Megan wrote in the Kickstarter pitch that helped get Yellowberry off the ground.
“I couldn’t believe the bras that she was supposed to buy,” she added. “The choices for her, and for all girls her age, were simply appalling to me. They were all padded, push-up and sexual. Not only that, they did not fit her body properly, which automatically made me wonder ‘Where were the young, cute and realistic bras for girls?’ There were none!”
That ‘Eureka!’ moment was the spark that created Yellowberry — and may have ripple effects throughout the teen lingerie world, which has been the target of significant consumer activism in recent years.
“It was literally like an epiphany,” Megan told Lingerie Talk this week. “I was holding a bra in my hands and I just said, ‘This is not okay. I’m going to make bras for girls.’”
She turned to the crowdfunding site Kickstarter hoping to raise $25,000 to launch Yellowberry, and was stunned by the response. When the 30-day campaign ended on Sunday, it had raised almost $42,000 to finance Yellowberry’s first production order, making it one of the most successful Kickstarter campaigns ever for an underwear or lingerie start-up.
Yellowberry is as much a movement as it is a bra company, using its marketing and merchandising platform to fight back against the hyper-sexualized commercial environment that adolescent girls face every day. Fans are called “Berries” and the company’s motto — “Changing the bra industry for young girls” — boldly challenges the status quo.
“Yellowberry will be different because at the core of the company what we want to do is sell a bra in a non-sexy way,” Megan said. “In lingerie, that’s a new idea.”
“For those girls aged 11 to 15 the options they have to buy are for the most part overly sexual. They need a different bra that doesn’t scream ‘sex’.
“You shouldn’t have to buy a sequined push-up bra when you’re 13. You shouldn’t have to feel pressured to look a certain way.”
Yellowberry is already on the market, with a professional website and online shop selling two youth bra styles in four colors, with cute names like ‘Tweetheart’ and ‘Tiny Teton’ for about $40. The cotton-spandex pieces are soft and metal-free, designed to provide a comfortable transition between children’s undershirts and the style-driven world of molded cups and T-shirt bras that lies ahead.
“Yellowberry gives girls the idea that they don’t have to grow up so quickly,” Megan said.
“We’re not saying what’s right or wrong. It’s not my right to tell someone what’s appropriate or not,” she added. “I just want everyone to have another option.”
The Yellowberry name is a symbol of the need to nurture adolescent girls during a critical and challenging time in their development.
“Think about a berry before you pick it,” Megan said. “It’s still yellow. It’s not yet ripe. It has to go through certain stages until it is ripe. And you can’t rush those stages because they are what will eventually create a beautiful berry.”
Megan had no experience in business or fashion when she came up with the concept for Yellowberry, but that didn’t stop her.
She worked with a seamstress in Jackson Hole to develop prototypes, sourced a manufacturer in Los Angeles and spent months fit-testing samples with the help of local friends.
She had a gut feeling the concept would catch fire, but after the first four days of her Kickstarter campaign, Yellowberry had received only $2,000 in donations and little attention. Undaunted, Megan reached out to Facebook groups, companies and online groups that promoted causes aimed at empowering young women.
Then, however, schoolwork intervened and Megan headed to Guatemala for a week-long class trip, a journey that left her without internet access for a full day.
When the students arrived at their Guatemala City hotel, Megan plugged in her computer, checked her Kickstarter campaign … and started crying. Yellowberry had gone viral overnight, and was already past its $25,000 funding goal.
More than 1,000 donors contributed to the campaign, many of them young girls — and their parents — who are enthusiastically supportive of the new company and its mission.
Related: Why A Teen Training Bra Is Worth $40
Part of Yellowberry‘s undeniable appeal is its authentic marketing (the company’s promotional photos use non-professional models) and the heartfelt values embodied in its mission statement.
Yellowberry espouses six ‘mantras’ that are printed on its hangtags, and which were written years ago following the tragic death at age 5 of Megan’s youngest sister Caroline, who fell from a moving float during a parade.
Those mantras, written by Caroline’s godparents as a tribute to the little girl’s bright spirit, encourage people to celebrate their youth in a loving and natural way… and not feel so rushed. ‘Water the flowers everyday’. ‘Watch quietly and observe’. ‘Find a hug when you need one’. ‘Go barefoot’. And finally, ‘Campfires are rare; eat as many marshmallows as you can’.
Megan has taken those truths and applied them to Yellowberry‘s business plan and its broader purpose of supporting young girls.
“Caroline is still powerful in my mind,” she writes in her biographical sketch on the Yellowberry website. “She taught me through both her life and her sudden death to slow down and enjoy each day as its own.
“These statements help reiterate the values behind my simple goal: build a bra that is unique, colorful and young made for all girls who love and enjoy their youthful, yellow stages in life.”
While her classmates look for summer jobs, Megan will be running Yellowberry full-time (with her mother, Lynn) until next spring when she heads to college in Vermont. The company is already working on future designs and hopes to offer underwear choices with its next collection.
In the meantime, she has a message for all those mall brands targeting pubescent girls with sparkly, padded push-up bras.
“Girls come in a lot of shapes and sizes, but the bras I seen when I go shopping all look the same,” Megan said. “They’re creating a false sense of variety. Not everything has to look so similar.”