Mariana Hernandez never forgets where she came from, or how fortunate she is to be where she is now.
So when the 27-year-old entrepreneur launched her new business earlier this year — the lingerie label White Rabbit — she knew she wanted to use it to empower other women like her to take control of their own economic destiny.
A native of Mexico now living in New York, Mariana partnered with an NGO in Mexico City called Fabrica Social, a fair-trade social enterprise that helps indigenous women develop their creative skills, find markets and become self-sufficient. A percentage of every White Rabbit sale will go towards supporting 30 women textile artisans at a Fabrica Social project in Hidalgo.
White Rabbit‘s unique bamboo-lace briefs are also manufactured by a family-owned Mexican company that offers fair wages and good working conditions for its female workers.
“We wanted to be involved in some sort of work that supports Mexico,” Mariana told Lingerie Talk. “There is so much inequality and so much damage to women in Mexico and we want to be a part of changing that.
“We were very lucky and fortunate to be able to come the U.S., and the least we can do is contribute to Mexico because they still need a lot of help.”
Mariana moved to the U.S. from northern Mexico in 2005 to study at the University of Pennsylvania, where she graduated with a masters in bioengineering. After four years working in the field (including a summer job building prosthetic devices for children with cerebral palsy in China), Mariana and her husband Cristian Rios came up with concept for a lingerie brand that combines their altruistic passion and fascination with clever, next-level business solutions.
The entrepreneurial bug had been part of Mariana since childhood, when she set up her own baking business and sold pastries at school. More recently, she and Cristian (a retail consultant for Fortune 500 companies) tested the business world with a startup that sold truffles. When that didn’t pan out, the couple began looking at specialty niches in the lingerie market.
“I wanted something much more dynamic,” she said. “I found I’m more interested in how businesses work and how to improve them.”
After researching the industry, Mariana developed a concept for an affordable line of high-quality basics made from bamboo fabric imported from China and trimmed with U.S.stretch lace. A sustainable natural fibre, bamboo has properties similar to modal or cotton but with superior breathability and antimicrobial properties; in the lingerie world it’s typically only seen in loungewear pieces.
“It took us a long time to get the product right,” Mariana said. “Bamboo is a material that’s hard to work with and it’s challenging to manufacture, to get the right balance of weight and stretchiness.”
The couple developed and tested “countless” prototypes before finding the right blend from a Chinese knitting company that follows international eco-protocols.
The company name White Rabbit reflects the effort — and frustration — in Mariana’s search for a better underwear fabric that would be affordable.
“We thought about the rabbit in Alice in Wonderland, and how you’re always chasing that white rabbit,” said Mariana (right). “I was not satisfied with the quality from a brand like Victoria’s Secret but we found Hanky Panky was too expensive. With our brand you’ll always have great quality at a great price.”
White Rabbit launched quietly in May with two brief styles, the Elizabeth and the Prince. Another style and more color options are coming this fall, and the company hopes to expand into sleepwear and even men’s underwear in the future.
But before White Rabbit can grow, it faces the same hurdle that all fashion startups encounter: getting women to forget their consumer loyalties, at least temporarily, to give a new and untried brand a look-see. Getting women to try bamboo underwear, which will be new to most people, makes that task even harder.
“There are a lot of new startups doing lingerie, and we knew this was an issue,” Mariana said. “People are loyal to what they’re using and it’s hard to make them switch.”
To get over that hurdle — and hopefully create some buzz on social media networks — White Rabbit came up with a unique offer, called the Comfort Trial Program, that should satisfy even the most skeptical and hard-to-please new customer.
Their pitch? Try a pair in your own home for free. If you don’t love them, send them back and get your money back.
Here’s how White Rabbit‘s trial program works: You order (and pay for) two pair, but only open one when the package arrives. Wear them, wash them, sleep in them for up to 30 days and if you still don’t like them, just send the company an email. They’ll send you a prepaid postage label so you can return the unopened pair, and refund your money. You can keep the used pair that you’ve been wearing.
It’s an enticing guarantee, but Mariana is not expecting many returns.
“Most people either don’t know or don’t have enough information on why one material is better than others, why it stretches better or fits more comfortably,” she said. “So we have to create an education around that. We have a high-quality affordable product. You might be spending $5 more than at Victoria’s Secret, but it will last a lot longer.”
White Rabbit‘s lace Elizabeth thong style is priced at $14 a pair, while its bamboo Prince ‘cheekini’ line is $16. Lingerie Talk received a sample of the Prince model. Our tester found it to be exceptionally soft, with superior inner seams and retains its elasticity despite repeated stretching.