When describing the essence of modern direct-to-consumer (DTC) brands, words like “digitally native,” “quirky,” “edgy” and “creative” are often used. This is especially true if you’re attempting to define MeUndies, the Los Angeles-based underwear and loungewear company that turned the category on its head with its subscription model.
Founded in 2011, MeUndies initially stood out with its bold, colorful and pop culture-infused prints as it acquired a loyal customer base through social media. Zeroing in on Gen Z and millennial customers specifically, the MeUndies brand, products and content emphasize inclusivity, body positivity and transparency, according to Founder and CEO Jonathan Shokrian.
“We were on a strong growth trajectory heading into 2020 and, fortunately, we’ve been able to accelerate our momentum and grow both our sales and our brand community this year despite all the challenges,” Shokrian said in an interview with Retail TouchPoints. “Our team and our customers are our whole reason for being, so connecting authentically with them has been crucial to maintaining our momentum and achieving more success throughout this trying year.”
Since receiving $40 million in funding from growth equity investment firm Provenance in November 2020, Shokrian and the MeUndies team are doubling down on what made the brand special from the very beginning: comfort, creativity and self-expression. Below, Shokrian shared his take on issues including:
- How COVID-19 impacted brand positioning and growth;
- Why MeUndies is integrating social responsibility into its broader community-building efforts;
- Which omnichannel investments are top priorities in 2021; and
- His leadership lessons from 2020.
Why the pandemic gave MeUndies a competitive advantage.
Between its DTC business model and product focus on “ultra-comfortable underwear and loungewear,” MeUndies saw itself in an advantageous position, Shokrian explained. From a growth perspective, the company had “two tailwinds that many others didn’t.
“First, consumers working from home have been prioritizing comfort and casualwear,” Shokrian added. “They’re looking for soft clothing that feels good to wear because it offers a sense of comfort, especially during these stressful times. That demand has driven a 100% increase in our loungewear business and a 75% increase in bralettes this year. Second, more shoppers have turned to ecommerce due to pandemic concerns, which has enabled us to significantly grow our membership program and our online community.”
How MeUndies plans to use its latest funding round.
The capital infusion from Provenance will help the brand expand its core competencies across product design, production and distribution. As Shokrian aims to extend the digitally native brand further into physical channels, his top priorities include:
- Evolving the subscription model: MeUndies’ membership approach is what initially disrupted the category, but now the company is focused on “taking our business to the next level and thinking about what membership 2.0 looks like,” Shokrian said. “We’re confident that we’ll continue to grow our business and customer audience while finding new ways to excite, delight and reward our loyal members.”
- Product and partnerships: Known for bold and colorful patterns and culturally relevant partnerships, MeUndies will continue to focus on marrying product design and brand strategy. “In the apparel space, marketing traditionally focused on the product with the brand often taking a back seat,” Shokrian explained. “But we’ve seen, in the DTC space especially, that they have to go hand in hand.”
With nearly one million followers across social media platforms, MeUndies taps into its community to build dialogue and uncover new ideas for products and prints. “We offer weekly drops of fun new prints, and that constant newness keeps our customers wanting to come back again and again to see what’s new each week,” he said. MeUndies will continue to tap into its social community and consumer listening team to guide product decisions, whether they be new prints, product categories or licensing partnerships. For example, the brand’s most recent limited-edition Marvel collection successfully tapped into a specific — and highly engaged — fandom riding on the excitement of new shows like Wanda Vision, which is now available on Disney+.
- Delivery and fulfillment: Prior to Provenance’s recent investment, “we had moved from our own distribution facility to a third-party facility because our business was expanding quickly and we needed more space, staff, resources and logistics expertise,” Shokrian explained. “The investment will help us continue to lean into this area as we expedite our growth.”
- Expansion into brick-and-mortar: “For the consumer, the brick-and-mortar experience is the most complete manifestation of a brand’s personality,” Shokrian said. “It allows people to see, feel, live and breathe the brand. The pandemic has made it even more important for brands to have an omnichannel presence, and one of the things we’ll focus on this year is creating a distribution strategy that allows us to share our products and brand with even more people, wherever and however they choose to shop.”
Why MeUndies has added social responsibility to its community-building model.
The MeUndies community extends far beyond quirky designs and timely collaborations; the brand has distinct values that align and serve its community of customers. “Our brand stands for inclusivity, body positivity and transparency,” Shokrian explained, “and we invite our customers to join us in supporting great causes through our MeUndies Gives program.” The program was designed to spotlight MeUndies’ commitment to contribute to organizations designed to celebrate self-expression and lift barriers for women and girls; LGBTQ+ individuals and communities; and those struggling with self-worth, mental health and well-being.
In 2020, MeUndies pledged to support three organizations that were developed to serve key communities: The Women’s Center for Creative Work, the It Gets Better Project and This Is My Brave. Moving forward, the company plans to further integrate MeUndies Gives into the core business model so it expands beyond financial support, according to Shokrian.
“We can give people a platform and a reason to express who they are. We can amplify their voices,” he said. “In the third quarter, we tested just creating MeUndies Gives content that had nothing to do with donating money or a specific cause. We worked with our influencer partners who really support our efforts, and found that the content brought down our cost of acquisition and increased our conversion rates because it really resonated with the population that we were already speaking to.”
How 2020 has shaped Shokrian as a business leader.
Last year, a lot of people, especially executive leaders, focused on personal reflection and development. Looking inward allowed them to better serve their workforce and their customer communities. For Shokrian, 2020 brought the ideas of leading with empathy and openness to the forefront.
“Being authentic helps maintain the connection, culture and camaraderie that make MeUndies so special, even when we’re all working remotely,” Shokrian said. That’s why he has helped implement the following initiatives:
- Weekly letters to the team: Every Friday, Shokrian sends a letter to the MeUndies team “where I reflect on our wins, give shout-outs to individual team members, and share my own thoughts, challenges and gratitude.”
- An emphasis on mental health. “I’ve seriously encouraged everyone to take care of their mental health, whether that means taking time off or talking with me or someone else on our team for support.”
- Ongoing, transparent employee communication: To help individuals better navigate new personal and professional realities, MeUndies has rolled out different employee resources groups that “encourage honest and protected discussion and have deployed different feedback tools so people can anonymously share what’s on their mind,” Shokrian said. “We also send out frequent surveys to get feedback on how our team is feeling and how we can improve, and then we make changes based on that feedback.”
- Digital networking events: Shokrian noted that the team set up virtual happy hours and even movie nights to help employees connect beyond business meetings. “We’ve found that the closeness that comes from those activities encourages better communication.”