Starting over is never easy, especially when it’s success, not failure, that sends you back to square one.
The small Minnesota-based brand Irely Intimates had built up a devoted fanbase during its first three years in business by offering a single, unique product — stylish lace panties with a hidden pocket on the backside for stashing keys, ID or other needs. The innovation was awarded a U.S. patent, guaranteeing Irely a lock on its profitable little niche in the underwear industry.
Today, however, Irely is gone, the result of a top-to-bottom brand makeover that saw it rebooted last month under the new name Urban Undercover. A Kickstarter campaign was launched on May 1 to help the rebranded label announce its transformation and raise $15,000 to expand their production capabilities.
But why tinker with success, especially since the new product line remains unchanged from what was offered under the Irely banner?
“It was a difficult decision and one of those situations where you just had to trust your gut,” founder Sairey Gernes told Lingerie Talk. “We had a great product, but we just tried to push it in a direction it didn’t want to go in. I decided we needed to stop and go back to our creative roots.”
Launched in 2010, the original Irely was distinguished — and burdened — by its unusual name, a mashup of Ireland and Italy meant to reflect Sairey’s family heritage. Problem was, many people (including me) mispronounced the name as “eye-ree-lie” instead of how it was meant to sound (“eye-er-lee”). As well, the profusion of tech products using “I” in their branding made the cute lingerie brand “sound too utilitarian and not as much fun as we are,” Sairey said.
But there was a bigger issue in how the brand connected with consumers: Irely‘s founder had misjudged the value of her own invention. While Sairey promoted Irely based on its clever little pocket, shoppers were more impressed by its portability — the Irely panty could be folded up into its pocket, creating a travel pouch no bigger than a credit card. Women loved that.
“When we first came out, it was all about the pocket,” Sairey said. “I didn’t realize the number of women who take an extra pair of underwear with them for emergencies.”
Urban Undercover addresses both those issues, giving the product a consumer-friendly name that reflects its usefulness and a new marketing pitch that focuses on its convertibility and portability. The new slogan is “Have underwear, will travel” and the company even has its own hashtag, #sparepair.
“Going back to the drawing board was really tough, because you feel if you are in business that you should always be moving forward,” Sairey said.
“We kind of feel like we’re starting new with a new brand. We have fabulous followers who are loyal to the product, and the feedback we’ve gotten is amazing.”
After anguishing about her brand’s direction last fall, Sairey plunged into the rebranding process just after Thanksgiving. There were a lot of bases to cover, and the Saint Paul entrepreneur found an invaluable ally in the creative team at Initio Advertising, a local shop that approached her about repositioning her brand.
The team revisited the brand’s original concept and core values — simply, to create beautiful lingerie that’s comfortable — then set to work on finding a better name.
The rebranded label would need new photography, a website, a logo, messaging, social media tools, a promo video, hangtags and more. Everything would need to come together in time for the Kickstarter campaign launch on May 1.
So far, so good. Urban Undercover received over $7,000 in contributions during the first four days of its Kickstarter campaign, and is nearly halfway to its target with 27 days still to go. The campaign has attracted backers from such faraway locales as Singapore, Paris and London — incredible reach for a one-women midwestern business.
“That’s outreach we couldn’t have gotten anywhere else,” Sairey said. “And there is so much approval. Just to hear that is … awesome. It makes me want to cry.”
Urban Undercover remains loyal to its Minnesota roots, though the Kickstarter funding will allow it to move its manufacturing to a New York factory. If the crowdfunding campaign surpasses its target (which appears likely), Sairey has plans to expand the Urban Undercover range and possibly include gift items to fit in the panty pocket.
The emphasis going forward, though, will be on UU‘s value as a purse-size travel solution, with the added bonus of that back pocket.
“We had a great product and a great idea and we just needed to get them to work together,” Sairey said. “I finally feel like it’s clicked.”