Pepper’s bra wants to solve the woes of small-chested women

Ask any woman and she will tell you that most of her bras do not fit her optimally. In fact, a majority of women end up wearing the wrong size. A large part of the problem is that sizing is standardized, unlike women’s bodies. With every passing year, more people are shopping online, meaning fewer opportunities to actually try on bras — a trend that’s only accelerating given the shutdown the world is experiencing right now.

One particular problem, and a widespread one, according to entrepreneurs Jaclyn Fu and Lia Winograd, is that bras are generally too big for small-chested women. It’s the reason the former co-workers came together to found Pepper, a three-year-old, Denver-based startup that’s expressly focused on creating bras that fit smaller cup sizes.

As Fu explains it, most bra companies use a size, say 36C, then apply that same design to other bra sizes, like a 32A. While the step is logistically sound — applying a standard base design to other sizes — it doesn’t translate well into actual fit.

“It means a person who is a 32A is wearing a design that was intended for a 36C, causing fit issues like cup gaps,” says Fu.

Usually, women try to resolve the problem by tightening their bra straps or changing sizes, but Pepper’s solution is to create its own, smaller cup molds from a factory in Medellin, Colombia, where Winograd grew up.

Fu made the first prototype for Pepper based on her own chest size. Since then, she’s gone to customers’ houses to conduct fittings and research. Beyond cup size, Pepper also addresses underwire woes, making its products less curved and shorter to follow the natural size of a smaller-chested woman.

To increase customer engagement, Pepper started virtual one-to-one fit sessions for customers who are buying a bra online for the first time, and like other companies has a “fit quiz” for people to take online, too.

Pepper now sells a wide variety of sizes, all the way from from 30A to 38B, and prices range from $48 to $54.

Pepper certainly isn’t the only startup trying to fit into the bra industry. Companies like Kala, SlickChicks and ThirdLove all tout comfort and inclusivity in sizing and fitting.

The biggest of the three is ThirdLove, a San Francisco DTC bra and underwear company that has raised $68.6 million in known venture capital to date, per Crunchbase. ThirdLove brands itself as a brand that sells a “bra for every body” with inclusive sizes, and is now expanding into retail, international markets and swim and athletic wear. The company was last valued at more than $750 million.

It’s unclear how many new brands the market can support, or that can survive this pandemic. Even companies with meaningful market share and fresh capital are struggling to stay afloat as shoppers reduce their spend right now. Earlier this month, ThirdLove laid off 30% of its staff, citing COVID-19’s impact on business.

Even still, Pepper’s founders remain optimistic. Pepper’s Kickstarter $10,000 launch campaign — staged in 2017 — was separately funded in less than 10 hours, Fu notes.

The success of that campaign just helped the company secure $2 million in seed funding from investors, including Precursor Ventures, New York University Innovation Fund and Denver Angels. Others participating include the co-founder of MyFitnessPal, Albert Lee.

She adds that the company, which employs three people, is “close to profitability” on a $3 million revenue run rate. In 2019, most of its sales came directly from consumers on their site — a good sign that its growth ties to user loyalty versus relying on partnerships with retailers.

The nuance of buying a bra has long been an in-person ordeal. But now, because of COVID-19’s spread and the resulting shut down of many brick-and-mortar stores, those who need a new bra might have to turn online for the very first time. It’s an opportunity for companies like Pepper to prove that they can master fit without measuring tape and a changing room.

Four rounds for women-led startups, and a huge Series A for Motif

Hello and welcome back to Equity, TechCrunch’s venture capital-focused podcast, where we unpack the numbers behind the headlines.

February is now behind us, but we gathered the troops to send it off in style: Connie Loizos was here, Kate Clark was in, I was around, and NEA’s Jonathan Golden joined us, as well.

It was good to have a full contingent on hand, as there was a lot to get through:

  • ThirdLove raises $55 million: Direct-to-consumer undergarment company ThirdLove raised a huge round this week, picking up $55 million on top of the roughly $13 million it had raised before. The company is well-known for having a plethora of sizes for bodies of all types. The company’s round was one of four from women-led businesses that we wanted to highlight this week.
  • Dipsea raises $5.5 million: Dipsea just , but it’s launching out the gate with $5.5 million in capital. The company’s subscription app ($8.99 per month, or yearly at a discount) provides short-form audio erotica aimed at the women in the market. The company is female-founded and fits into a recent trend we’ve seen of audio content picking up new money as the genre’s listening base expands during this, the second golden era of podcasting.
  • Rockets of Awesome raises $19.5 million: Our third woman-led startup that picked up capital this week is Rockets of Awesome, which sells subscription-based clothing for kids to parents. The new round contains a strong infusion of money from Foot Locker, a brand that we’re all aware of. Notably, Rockets of Awesome intends to dip its toe into the physical realm with its new money.
  • Coterie raises $2.75 million: Wrapping up our list of women-led companies that have raised this week, Coterie raised a smaller round to help fuel its Instagram-ready-party-in-a-box business. Sadly I didn’t get to mock Instagram during the show, but we did get to learn all about what a “friendaversary” is.
  • Wrapping the topic on women in venture, and women founding and running startups, we looked at a few data points here, and here. Summary: There’s more work to do.
  • Motif raises $90 million: Returning to our running look at companies that have raised outsized rounds, Motif, a spinout, raised a $90 million Series A. I wanted to know if we can all such a thing a Series A, and Jonathan told me to stop being such a square.
  • Uber versus Lyft: Closing out, we wanted to call ourselves out for being wrong about Uber and Lyft not taking shots at one another this close to their IPOs via discounts. They are, indeed, back on their bullshit.

All that and February is behind us. Here’s to March and what’s next.

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