How These Two Women Are Changing the Braless Clothes Movement
Founders Heather Eaton and Jane Dong are out to change things for women with bigger cup sizes.
Bras and boobs — many people worldwide who are reading this can be like “I understand!” when I complain about how uncomfortable bras can be at times. Either the bras are cute but are meant for women with smaller bust sizes, or are ugly and expensive if you have a bigger bust. That’s where Frankly Apparel comes into play: they are a braless clothing company – the first of its kind – and they’re here to change things for those of us with bigger cup sizes.
Founders Heather Eaton and Jane Dong met at Stanford’s MBA program and successfully launched their braless clothing company via a Kickstarter campaign during the worst time of society’s existence. Heather is a former management consultant from Chicago’s Deloitte office, where she worked on everything from innovation-focused non-profits to movie studios. Jane worked at Goldman Sachs in New York as an Investment Banker where she was recruited after attending Columbia as a recruited golfer. When she realized paper storage company mergers weren't her jam, she joined Uber and eventually ran UberEats US & Canada Driver Acquisition.
Mid last year, Heather and Jane launched a Kickstarter campaign with an initial goal of raising $25,000. Their objective in choosing Kickstarter was to be able to fund the inventory for their very first collection, which meant reaching a certain minimum with their manufacturer. They surpassed this goal in under five hours, and doubled it, ultimately raising over $50,000.
The “light bulb” moment that inspired Frankly was a very personal one for Heather: finding bras that actually fit had always been a struggle, even from the early stages of puberty. She expressed to me that as a young teenager, she was excited to go bra shopping and join the ranks of being a “woman” in the sense that she’d get to wear an actual bra and not a training bra (since those are a thing), but nothing seemed to fit; and now as an adult, she still feels the same way. “Women with bigger boobs have been excluded from the braless movement because we have so many more things to consider – support and security is much more of a concern with larger cup sizes because too much movement can be painful. I know the struggle firsthand, and I think it can be especially frustrating for those who have big boobs, especially as compared to the rest of their body”, she says.
One of the differentiating points about Frankly is its innovative and proprietary split-size system. Frankly allows you to select a bust size that is different from your waist size for a dress or bodysuit, without having to worry about fit. “We find that nearly half of our customers are taking advantage of the split-sizes, which just goes to show how many women are out there looking for clothes that are better suited to them”, says Jane.
Sustainability also plays a key role for the brand. Through their ‘Studio’ pre-order program, Frankly aims to collaborate with their customer to produce more of what she wants, to avoid unsold inventory. The company utilizes the Higg Index to source sustainable, high-quality materials and fabrics, and the clothing is manufactured in Los Angeles by ethical companies.
As of August 30th, Frankly had already shipped to 42 out of 50 states and gone viral on TikTok more than once – topping over 5 million views with one of their cheeky videos. Their customer is already praising their unique size chart and the company as a whole has people very excited. While they currently only ship to the United States, they’re already seeing noticeable international demand in a short few months since launch. Heather and Jane view their customers as co-creators in the sense that they aim to integrate their feedback. As a direct result, Frankly will be expanding its size range to 4X with its next collection, debuting this fall.
When I spoke with Heather and Jane about their journey, here’s what they had to say for themselves:
On fundraising via a Kickstarter campaign to launch the brand…
Jane: Frankly actually began as a class project that Heather and I worked on while getting our MBA’s at Stanford. We were taking a class called Startup Garage, during which we had to conduct almost 100 user interviews. We were getting so much positive feedback and enthusiasm for our idea, but to truly validate that women wanted something more than the status quo, we needed to see them back that up with actions and their spending. We pooled our savings together (post-paying tuition) to launch a Kickstarter campaign to fund the inventory for our first collection. We reached our goal in under 5 hours, and we ended up more than doubling our initial goal of $25k over the course of our campaign. We spent almost no money on ads or marketing, which showed us that women have just been waiting for a way to ditch their bras.
How their different backgrounds paved the way to a successful entrepreneurial venture…
Jane: On the surface, it might seem like Heather and I are pretty similar. We’re both from industries like Investment Banking and Consulting, and we did meet in business school. However, when we dig deeper into what we actually spent our time doing, it becomes very apparent that we are different. Heather is a great design thinker, has graphic design skills, and has an eye for product that I personally (unfortunately) just don’t have. Heather also is the one with more adjacent fashion experience, having done product strategy with a well-known shoe company. I love hanging out in spreadsheets; she will tolerate it. We sometimes come from really different points of view, but because we understand the logic of the other person’s thinking, it helps us make better and more thorough decisions than if it was just one of us.
Heather: I can’t emphasize enough how helpful it is to have a co-founder who is good at (and enjoys!) all the parts of the business you do not. Our strengths are complementary: Jane handles operations and finance because her background is investment banking and running driver operations at Uber, while I run product and brand using my experiences in graphic design/marketing, consulting, and in product at Rothy’s. We implicitly trust the other’s decision-making for areas in their domain. It has worked out well for us so far and made the job more enjoyable.
Investment banking and consulting are both such great first-time jobs. You learn how to work hard, be resourceful, make analytical decisions, and communicate effectively. As entrepreneurs, I really don’t think you could ask for a better background. We are both so used to navigating ambiguity and just diving in and learning what we don’t know. That has allowed us to make so much progress in an industry where we are basically outsiders.
How to select the right co-founder...
Jane: You often end up spending more time with your co-founder than with your spouse or partner, so when you’re “co-founder dating,” keep that in mind. Selecting a business partner requires you to 100% trust them - you’re sharing everything with them, from your social security numbers to your corporate bank account. You really need to believe that even in tough situations, they’ll do the right thing for the company. While having different strengths and interests definitely helps Frankly, the most important thing is that you can make hard decisions together and keep moving forward. Founder disagreements can really blow up a company, and we’re thoughtful about continuously giving feedback, talking about how we feel, and ensuring that we’re aligned on our values and the future of Frankly.
On their innovative sizing metric and proprietary split-size system….
Heather: We started Frankly with the intention of making the braless fashion trend more inclusive for a wider range of cup sizes. In the past, clothing has never been designed to fit people with “disproportionately big boobs.” In fact, fashion explicitly designs for a B-cup. This is especially crazy considering the average woman in the US wears a DD! When we sat down and started talking about how we could give more people the chance to go braless, we came up with split-sizing. With our split sizes, our customers can choose their size based on both their bust size and their waist/hips size separately. We hear from customers all the time that this is the first time they have ever seen all their measurements in the same size on a size chart. That is so gratifying to me to finally give customers an option that I wanted myself for so long. Our goal is to continue expanding our sizing to fit even more bodies and chest sizes.
On their mission and why the Frankly movement is about so much more than going bra-less
Heather: Back when we ran our Kickstarter, we had this tote with art from NYC-artist Julie Cleveland that said “bras are a social construct.” It’s so true! We wear bras to make our bodies more “presentable” to society. Often, that is intrinsically tied to making our bodies more presentable for men, at the expense of our own comfort and needs. Women nearly universally claim to hate wearing bras, but if you ask a woman to go out in public without one, she will often tell you she could never. That just doesn’t sit right with us. But we’re also realists. Just because you know it’s unreasonable to constrict a totally natural body part that over 50% of the human population has, doesn’t mean you necessarily want to be the one person leading the charge to free the nips at work. We want to be a baby step to a more braless future. We help our customers reclaim their comfort, without adding to the anxiety that sometimes comes with going braless in public.
It’s also just about challenging the status quo in fashion. Why haven’t bras really changed in the last 50 years? Why don’t we design clothing for real women’s bodies, instead of expecting women to change their bodies to fit their clothes? Our mission is to empower women to ask for more, starting with what they wear. We’ve put up with an industry that doesn’t design for the average person for far too long. If we can raise our expectations with something as basic and universal as clothing, imagine the other ways in which we can demand change. Frankly is named after that line from Gone With The Wind: “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn,” and that’s us. We don’t give a damn about how things have been done before or what society thinks. Fashion hasn’t worked for women for a long time. It’s still not working, so we’re here to shake things up.
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