DNVB Startup Harper Wilde Taking B.S. Out of Bra Shopping
Harper Wilde is a direct to consumer bra startup.
As Harper Wilde sees it, today’s largest bra brand — Victoria’s Secret — no longer resonates with the modern woman. It believes that Victoria’s Secret is oversexualized and markets an everyday women’s product to men. Harper Wilde’s goal is to offer a simple alternative: a high-quality, basic every day bra sold online at a fair price.
I caught up with co-founders Jenna Kerner and Jane Fisher during a busy holiday sales season.
Story behind the Story
When Jenna Kerner and Jane Fisher started their MBAs at Wharton, they had no plans of becoming entrepreneurs. But that all changed in their first year when Jane took a marketing class with Wharton professor David Bell.
The Professor talked about the story of the school’s entrepreneurial darling — Warby Parker. In 2010, 4 Wharton MBA students — Neil Bluementhal, Jeffrey Raider, David Gilboa, and Andrew Hunt — had teamed together to take down Luxxotica’s monopology on eyewear and make glasses that are trendy, affordable, and high-quality.
Upon hearing the story, Jane immediately thought about her experience with bras. Why was she spending $70 on a Victoria’s Secret bra that she didn’t even like?
When she went to her friend and classmate, Jenna Kerner, to describe the problem, they decided to launch what would become Harper Wilde.
Bra Design 101 (Not a Real Wharton Class… Yet)
Upon arriving at their belief that Victoria’s Secret, which controls 60% of the $16 billion bra market, was unfit for the modern woman, Jane and Jenna set forth to validate this thesis. They held a pop-up event at Jane’s apartment, where they had 50 female Wharton classmates come over to try on bras.
The feedback was consistent. Bras were being marketed as a fashion product but — really — women wanted a bra that was more of an everyday staple. “For a woman who would be sitting at a desk and in business meetings for 12 hour a day, there is no need for rhinestones and roses,” says Kerner.
“For a woman who would be sitting at a desk and in business meetings for 12 hour a day, there is no need for rhinestones and roses.” Jenna Kerner, Co-Founder of Harper Wilde
The Harper Wilde team took this insight and ran with it. They were passionate about designing the best bra — and the best bra shopping experience — for the modern, empowered woman. They continued to collect feedback from classmates on simpler, more functional bra designs.
As Fisher describes it, “we did a ton of research with the help of many Wharton professors, everything from more quantitative conjoint analyses and surveys, to having fellow MBA students try on bras in between classes and text us feedback on how they felt about various aspects of the products.”
This research and feedback helped Harper Wilde select 3 basic styles and 3 basic colors for a full launch in June 2017.
More than Just a Product
Price was another sticking point. When the duo began sending bra designs to manufacturers, they were shocked at how cheap it was to produce. They know they could offer a fair price while still achieving healthy margins. That’s how Harper Wilde came to price their bras at $35 — well below the $46–80 prices that Victoria’s Secret bras sell for.
In their testing, the team also found that free try-ons were important to the everyday bra shapper. Specifically, over 80% of Harper Wilde’s test customers opted for free home try on. “This helped support our initial hypothesis and was the basis for the eventual 7-day free home try-on experience we launched with in June,” says Kerner.
As Harper Wilde sees it, the brand is not just about the product — rather, it is about the customer journey. This distinction is important. In fact, it is what motivated the company to offer free home try ons and to focus on its goal of making bra shopping a simple, easy experience for the modern woman.
Victoria’s Secret: The Goliath
L Brands, which owns Victoria’s Secret, has seen a stock price decline of 27% in the last year due to disappointing sales numbers. Some Wall Street analysts attribute this decline to disappointing product launches in bralettes and sports bras, but Harper Wilde and some experts point instead to a more significant cultural shift.
By and large, Victoria’s Secret offers an image of a powerful, yet sexualized woman.
Designed for a desk job?
Bridget Brennan, who serves as chief executive of female consumer consulting firm Female Factor, believes this image is no longer relevant to today’s woman. Bridget Brennan, the Chief Executive Officer at Female Factor, has asserted that “it’s as if Victoria’s Secret has stood still while women have raced ahead changing the culture and expanding the definition of beauty to be more inclusive, body positive and multi-dimensional.”
“It’s as if Victoria’s Secret has stood still while women have raced ahead changing the culture and expanding the definition of beauty to be more inclusive, body positive and multi-dimensional.” Bridget Brennan, Chief Executive at Female Factor
By contrast, Harper Wilde believes that it is at the forefrunt of a revolution in how bras are marketed and sold to women.
Harper Wilde’s 3 Bra Designs
It believes that its products— with their monochramatic color schemes and simple designs — appeal directly to the modern woman. “Harper Wilde is about the modern definition of sexy— confident, strong, empowered. The imagery in the lingerie market today doesn’t embody the strong women who we know to be the leaders of today and tomorrow,” says Kerner.
“Harper Wilde is about the modern definition of sexy — confident, strong, empowered. The imagery in the lingerie market today doesn’t embody the strong women who we know to be the leaders of today and tomorrow.” Jenna Kerner, Co-Founder of Harper Wilde
Digitally Native Vertical Brands (DNVB): The Bra Version
From Warby Parker to Bonobo’s, digitally native vertical brands have 2 key advantages over traditional retail that position them well.
First — DNVBs manufacture, market, distribute, and sell the product as one brand. They eliminate middlemen and — as a result — can reduce the cost of the product to the consumer. Additionally, DNVBs are masters of collecting and using data. Nicole Quinn, a Partner at Lightspeed Venture Partners, puts it best.
“The in-store experience provides limited data on customers, gaining no insight into who their customer was, whether they were coming back and what their purchase behavior was. Digitally Native Vertical Brands (DNVBs) and innovative eCommerce businesses, on the other hand, hold the relationship with their customer core to what they do and know everything about them.” Nicole Quinn, Partner at Lightspeed Venture Partners
As a DNVB, Harper Wilde is leveraging the power of vertical integration to reduce the cost to the consumer — offering bras at only $35. To be successful long-term, it must also effectively leverage the valuable data it has access to as a DNVB to continue to iterate on and improve the customer experience.
Santa Loves Pop-Up Shops
With the holiday season in full gear, Harper Wilde is hoping to see a significant spike in sales. To help spur this, they held a pop-up shop on December 16–17 on Abbott Kinney Boulevard in Los Angeles.
Harper Wilde’s Pop Up Event Space
In explaining their rationale for the pop-up shop as a DNVB, the company cites the opportunity to partner with like-minded brands and give customers a way to interact with the brand in a more meaningful way. In a sense, the brick and mortar retail experience still creates a sense of brand loyalty that can’t be fully replicated in an ecommerce experience.
Harper Wilde hopes to cultivate brand loyalty as it aims to #LiftUpTheLadies and take the B.S. out of bra shopping.