ThirdLove's founders on its re-entrance into physical retail
After the pandemic halted its brick-and-mortar plans, ThirdLove is once again plotting its expansion offline.
Coming off a busy year launching into new categories like activewear and loungewear, introducing a new online fit quiz and debuting new branding, a key focus for the DTC intimates brand in 2022 is opening physical stores.
"Last year was a big year of a lot of new things for us. Launching new categories — wireless, sleep and active," Heidi Zak, co-founder and CEO of ThirdLove, said. "This year is really more about amplifying some of those hero products that have come to the forefront," which Zak said includes ThirdLove's kinetic sports bra. "And then, of course, we have more of a focus this year on launching physical retail stores."
ThirdLove opened its first store back in July of 2019 in New York City, and it was set to stay open through the end of that year. Given the initial success from that pop-up, the founders were planning to renew the lease for another six months, but as the coronavirus continued its spread throughout the world, they decided to close the store.
Now, two years later, the brand is ready to re-enter physical retail, applying learnings from its New York store to the design, merchandising strategy and experience of its new locations, Zak said.
"What's become evident to us through survey work both qualitative and quantitative of our customer base and our potential customers is that there are some women out there that need that physical interaction and try-on with a bra, to make that first purchase in particular," Zak said. "As we think about growing and scaling the brand, having those try-on experiences available is really, really important. A store is a billboard and it is an advertisement for your brand. It showcases your brand and product in real life."
In its New York store, the brand leaned heavily into tech, with iPads present and about 60% of the store dedicated to its fitting rooms, which brought its Fit Finder tech to life.
"It was less about showcasing the product and more about helping them get into their size," Zak said. "What we quickly learned was that's not how women wanted to interact in a physical environment. And in fact, it was kind of the opposite. A woman coming into our store many times has actually done the fitting room, and she might know her recommended size and she wants to try it on."
The new stores, Zak said, put the product in focus and offer a "clean, modern, uncluttered" shopping experience. A bra hanging wall showcasing every style the brand has, for example, is a fixture in the store.
ThirdLove opened its first West Coast store at Orange County's Fashion Island Mall and another on Abbot Kinney Boulevard in downtown Venice, California. The company plans to open between six and 10 stores by the end of 2022, with two San Francisco stores slated to open in the coming weeks.
And while the brand is eager to further expand its presence offline, it views its slower entrance into physical retail as an advantage.
"We are just now getting into retail. We don't have hundreds of stores and lower performing stores," Zak said. "We can be really precise about the markets that we go into, the products that we put into those markets, how much inventory we carry in the store. And we have that really great e-commerce experience to support the retail experience."
For growth, ThirdLove revisits its past
As a company selling a product many of its customers will wear every day, ensuring proper fit is critical and making consumers feel confident in making that purchase online has been a priority for ThirdLove.
"We have to create a really exceptional online service for customers," Ra'el Cohen, co-founder and chief creative officer, said. "Making sure that we have super highly trained fit stylists who can help customers on the phone or over chat, get into the right size [and] help them with returns and exchanges."
And to help match customers with the right size and style the first time, the company introduced its online 3D fit quiz early last year. Dubbed "The Fitting Room," the tool used data from more than 17 million consumers who used the brand's original Fit Finder quiz. The tool uses 3D rendering and animation to help consumers identify "trouble areas" with their current bra to match them with the right size and style of a ThirdLove bra.
While the brand is making a big push into physical retail now to allow customers to touch and feel the product before making a purchase, Cohen said that part of its customer base has actually preferred shopping online.
"You don't have to go into a store and get measured and go through that uncomfortable experience," Cohen said. "We have a lot of busy moms in our demographic and we have to provide a level of service and convenience that fits her life. So when you think about wanting to do a bra fitting at 11 o'clock at night after you've had a glass of wine — yeah, you can do that, which is great."
And if a product a consumer receives ends up not fitting quite right, that consumer is able to access support from the brand's styling team to work on getting a product that works for them.
"That just really provides that extra layer and level of comfort to the consumer," Cohen said. "And while it doesn't replace brick and mortar — brick and mortar is an important facet of it for some women — it certainly has helped us kind of set ourselves apart from the pack."
As ThirdLove looks to future growth, the brand is revisiting its past to find areas where it can innovate and improve.
Among those "hero products" the brand is focusing on this year is the kinetic sports bra, which it introduced in September 2021.
"We don't just launch products and then launch another product, and just keep going and never go back and revisit," Cohen said, adding that the brand aims to "continue to build and rebuild [products] in a thoughtful way. These next six months, we're analyzing the Kinetic Bra, the sizes that we carry, how we can make this fit better, how it might have to be slightly different for smaller sizes versus bigger sizes. We're always learning from our customers and we listen to her."
ThirdLove in 2021 also took a look at its brand identity and thought about how it could evolve with its customer base.
"When we came on the scene, it really was dominated by a couple of key players and obviously very much under the male gaze," Zak said. "It was important for us to create a space that women could see themselves in, that they could feel supported and comfortable shopping … and where they can see themselves reflected in the brand."
When the brand launched about a decade ago, it leaned into blush and neutral tones. "I'm proud to say in some ways the industry really followed and now that major player, Victoria's Secret, is doing the same thing," Zak said, adding that many in the industry have shifted, now catering to the female gaze versus the male gaze. "We're proud to have been part of that movement."
The new branding, which was introduced last August, takes a turn from the soft hues it initially launched with, now highlighting sexiness and empowerment in the lingerie space through brighter colors and a "powerful tone."
"We really wanted to, again, differentiate and raise the bar of what a woman should expect from brands that she supports," Zak said. "We wanted to be bold, we wanted to be us, we wanted that real talk — it was really important for us. Buying bras and underwear should be a fun experience."