This week Series W spoke to the founders of Buff You Intimates, a modern lingerie line that provides nude tones for women of all colors.
Tell us about Buff You Intimates.
At Buff You Intimates, we strive to provide the best selection of nude bras and underwear to match your own beautiful shade. Our business was founded in response to a very real need amongst our circle of educated, diverse, and ambitious friends. With careers in areas from finance to fine arts, we know that our appearance matters, and we want our personalities to show through—not our underwear.
To be Buff is to be empowered. To be Buff is to shine. To be Buff is to be strong. And to be Buff is to bare it all. So we ask: Are you Buff enough?
How did you develop the idea for Buff You Intimates?
Three years ago, we were headed out with friends to an event and Rae needed a nude bra to go under the sheer top she was planning to wear. With a whole afternoon to shop, Alex decided to accompany her to the mall to find something in her shade of golden brown. Although Rae had an idea that this was going to be a difficult task, Alex was shocked when hours later, they had found an abundance of beige bras that matched her fair complexion, but nothing that came close to Rae’s skintone. Realizing that having underwear that matches seamlessly and is invisible under clothes is necessary for women of all skin colors, the idea for Buff You Intimates was born.
How did you make the decision to take the plunge and start your own company?
Immediately following our shopping trip, Alex said “we should just start our own company!” Without a background in business, it was a terrifying idea, but we managed to convince ourselves that even though we didn’t know the first thing about entrepreneurship, we are smart and eager to take on the challenge.
How did you fund the business? What do you spend most of your funds on? Knowing what you know now about how to raise and spend funds, what would you have done differently?
Buff You is largely funded by ourselves, friends and family, and most recently by our first successful crowdfunding campaign. We use our funds for marketing, inventory, and preparing to launch our online store. We worked hard to have a successful crowdfunding campaign and probably wouldn’t do anything differently. We’re currently pursuing a number of other avenues for funding that are available to women- and minority-owned businesses.
What has been your greatest WFIO (we’re f*****, it’s over) moment so far?
The biggest hurdle we’ve had to overcome in this process was breaking into the manufacturing industry. We don’t have backgrounds in fashion or apparel manufacturing, and trust us when we say that you can’t just google “bra manufacturers.” We seriously struggled to find a partnership until we met a brilliant team in NYC through makersrow.com that we have worked with ever since.
After we established a relationship with our factory and were waiting for our first samples to be produced, we found out that a brand with a similar concept launched in Europe. They were only about 6 months ahead of us, but the initial feeling was very scary. We quickly realized that a little bit of competition was good for us, and since we’re based out of different countries and targeting slightly different groups, our brands can likely coexist in the market. But there were definitely a few conversations where we asked, “Should we throw in the towel?”
What has been the most exciting moment so far?
There have been many exciting moments since we started working together, but one of the best ones was when we got our first delivery of samples from our factory. They sent us the entire line of bras and panties in each color, and all of a sudden our dream was a reality. During the photoshoot, it finally hit us that we were a legitimate lingerie brand and could become a major player in the fashion industry.
What resources have been most helpful to you in starting up?
In the beginning, we did a ton of reading – we would find as much information about fashion, lingerie, how to make bras, how to start a business, what does it mean to be an entrepreneur, etc. As we became more educated, we started reaching out to our network. Our most helpful resources have been the individuals who have generously donated their time advising us and pointing us in the right direction. We’ve been fortunate to have developed relationships with people who have been in the lingerie industry for decades, and they have truly opened doors for us that would otherwise have been impossible.
Tell us about the relationships you have formed with vendors? Tell us about how you’ve learned about your customer base?
We are in the early processes of working with retailers to stock our products. We’ve attended trade shows where we’ve interacted with many different vendors and learned a lot about the different directions that the lingerie industry is going. There are so many niches – ultra sexy, eco-friendly, maternity, plus-size, etc. – so it’s been really exciting to get some conversations going about how Buff You Intimates can fit in.
We feel a strong connection to our customer base, because we’re targeting women who share the same struggles as us. We’re fortunate to have a very diverse group of friends, and Buff You Intimates specifically makes lingerie to reflect the diversity of women in the US and globally. What we’ve learned most recently from our customers is that there is a strong and urgent need for nude lingerie that fits curvy and plus-sized body types. We’re currently working on expanding our size range to fit as many women as possible!
What is your favorite Buff You shade? Most popular shade for others to order?
We love all of our styles and colors offered. So far, we’ve found that our Amber color (a golden brown) is extremely popular, and it happens to be the shade that Rae wears. We are actually interested in adding one or two additional shades to our options to further capture the nuances of skin tones in women.
If you could give an aspiring entrepreneur one piece of advice, what would it be?
Ask for help from those with experience in your field. We entered the lingerie world without a background in entrepreneurship/fashion/retail/manufacturing, and feel that much of our success thus far has stemmed from the advice and guidance we’ve received from industry veterans. Lots of people are very happy to lend their expertise and are flattered to be approached with questions! The trickiest part could be changing course when you’re advised to go in a different direction – sometimes people tell you things you don’t want to hear, but it’s usually for the best.
The last piece of advice we’d say is be persistent. Every blocker, hurdle, or challenge we’ve faced was a problem to solve – not a show stopper. If you have an idea you believe it, go for it!