Pepper co-founders Jaclyn Fu and Lia Winograd believe their products for small-breasted women could be a $4 billion industry. The company's bra concept is up for $180,000 dollars at the WeWork Creator Awards in New York City.
After “doing the whole tech-marketing thing in New York,” Jaclyn Fu – co-founder of Pepper
– was tired of promoting other people’s products. So she relocated to Denver to make something all her own.
It’s no secret that Colorado has a vibrant community of makers and hackers. “I thought there was a real opportunity in Denver to create, rather than to consume,” Fu says.
The budding entrepreneur kept a notebook, where she recorded every little idea she had. Sometimes she’d bounce a concept off of Pepper
co-founder Lia Winograd, a friend and former co-worker from New York. Frankly, most of the ideas were duds.
Lia Winograd and Jaclyn Fu, co-founders of Pepper. All images provided by Pepper.
In the spring of 2016, though, Fu finally had a light bulb moment. Fu had always felt a little inadequate because she didn’t meet the “minimum boob requirements,” as she puts it. And as Fu points out, when women are flat-chested, strapless dresses never stay put, swimsuits make you look like a boy, and bras? Bras are the worst of all, because none of them ever fit right.
“I figured it was finally time someone tackled this big problem for small breasts,” Fu says.
“What about making bras for small boobs?” Fu asked Winograd.
Winograd was “on the opposite side of the sizing spectrum,” Fu says. But the idea piqued her partner’s interest anyway.
“When I dug deeper into the market research I realized that – while there was a lot of focus on diversifying and transforming the industry on the plus-size front – there was still a huge gap for women with small cup sizes,” Winograd explains.
“We see the U.S. market for small boob bras being a $4 billion dollar industry,” adds Fu. The domestic lingerie market as a whole is worth $6.5 billion, and 60 percent of women are AA, A, and B cup sizes — hence the hefty figure Fu and Winograd arrived at.
But Pepper, they say, is about much more than money. The company is about celebrating – not shaming – flat chests,
Fu and Winograd raised $47,300 for their business via Kickstarter. All images provided by Pepper.
As it turns out, that’s a message that really resonates with consumers.
Last April, Fu and Winograd launched a Kickstarter campaign to help fund their company.
“Our goal was $10,000 dollars,” Fu says. She and Winograd ended up meeting their goal in ten hours, and have since achieved 470 percent funding, along with an overwhelming response across social media.
“After 13 days, we had $47,300 dollars from the Kickstarter campaign alone, and we were like, ‘Wow! People really want this,’” Fu says. She promptly quit her day job to focus on Pepper full-time.
Adds Winograd, “We didn’t ask family members and friends to make perfunctory contributions. We reached and exceeded our fundraising goal because women cared about what we were doing, and their enthusiasm and passion has, in turn, become ours.”
Down to Brass Tacks
Pepper is headquartered in Denver, and the company’s fulfillment and distribution will be done here, too, at a shared warehouse north of I-70.
Fu briefly toyed with the idea of local production, given Colorado’s current manufacturing renaissance. “But it was really hard to find somebody who did bras domestically,” Fu says, explaining, “With lots of small parts, they’re a tricky product to produce.”
Colombia, on the other hand, is one of the world’s biggest manufacturers of high-quality undergarments, and Winograd – luck would have it – is from Colombia. Winograd’s family is in the manufacturing industry there, and they were essential to “figuring out the manufacturing supply chain,” Fu says.
She and Winograd ultimately linked up with a socially-responsible Colombian lingerie manufacturer — a company that pays fair wages, gives benefits to its employees, and hires women and heads of household.
Pepper’s mission is to empower women by helping them feel beautiful and confident in the bodies they have.
Pepper is headquartered in Denver, and the company's fulfillment and distribution will here done here, too. All images provided by Pepper.
Remember all of that market research that hooked Winograd on the product? Well Fu didn’t need to do any supplemental research: “After searching, buying, and returning countless bras, I knew there wasn’t an affordable, flattering, and comfortable bra out there made just for small cup sizes,” she says.
Pepper’s launch product is the All You Bra. “Just because you are a small-chested woman doesn’t mean you want to look bigger than you are,” Fu says, noting that, “At stores like Victoria’s Secret, you get these heavily push-padded bras that are uncomfortable and look and feel fake.”
Fu’s bra is meant to be different for two main reasons.
The first is flexible, demi-contour cups. “One of the biggest problems we were trying to solve ,” Fu explains, “Is cup-gaps, which is what happens when you don’t completely fill a cup, and there are gaps at the top of the bra.”
It’s a problem many small-chested women experience. In fact, when Fu and Winograd surveyed 1,000 Kickstarter backers, 85 percent reported cup-gaps as their biggest bra complaint.
Featuring a trademarked “Authentic Lift” design, All You Bra cups contain a thin layer of padding that “gives just enough coverage,” Fu says, noting that a mesh overlay at the top of the cup closes any gaps a consumer might have while also lifting the breast from the bottom up.
The result is natural looking cleavage without any push-up padding.
“We also made our own underwire that are shorter in length and less curved,” Fu adds. After all, women with small busts don’t need extra underwire support.
“This is for the modern woman who has it all — including small boobs,” says Fu.
Petite Idea, Big Potential
Pepper competed against thousands of applicants to become a regional semi-finalist at this year’s first-ever WeWork Creator Awards. On Thursday, November 16, at Skylight Clarkson Square in New York City, Fu will take the stage during a Shark Tank-style event, pitching Pepper for a chance to win some pretty substantial prize money (up to $180,000 in her category) —plus the opportunity to go to the global finals in January.
“What drew me to the awards was WeWork’s mission to empower small business owners,” Fu says.
“A new entrepreneurial generation is entering the workforce,” adds Victoria Taylor, WeWork’s director of digital community. “By 2020,” Taylor says, “Forty percent of the workforce – 60 million people – will be independent workers or entrepreneurs” — making co-working hubs all the more necessary.
“Right now, Lia and I are bootstrapping this thing ourselves,” Fu says. “If we win this fund, the money will go toward product development.”
Fu and Winograd have plans to turn their petite idea into a big business. “Once we get the bra industry locked down, then we want to expand to be a destination for all of the flat-chested consumer’s clothes: swimsuits, sports bras, active wear, dresses, and tank tops,” says Fu.
“Pepper will be much more than just a bra company,” agrees Winograd, adding, “We’ve tapped into something big — something emotional.”
For now, domestic consumers can pre-order the All You Bra online
; orders will start shipping in January. The company's website is at www.wearpepper.com