Joanna Griffiths launched Knixwear (now Knix) in 2013 with one offering: leak-proof underwear. “It’s not sexy, but it was really needed,” she says, which is why the company was able to break through the market so quickly. Since then, Knix has grown at a phenomenal rate, with both their product offering and revenue. An interview on CBC this past December reported that Knix was on track to double in revenue this year, clocking in at around $35 million. Fast Company published a piece back in the fall that asked the question, can Knix win the $12 billion underwear war? All signs point to yes, and what we really want to know is how this Toronto entrepreneur did it.
Like so many great ideas, the idea to build a company of leak-proof underwear came by way of a simple conversation. “My mom is a doctor and a mother of four. We were chatting, and I learned what happened to women’s bodies during pregnancy and postpartum. I learned that one in three women can leak a little. That was the initial idea for Knix.” Now Knix has become just as well known for their Evolution Bra, the 8-in-1 wireless and reversible bra, and has since developed tanks, bodysuits, sleepwear, and an entire collection of underwear and sports bras that have women’s comfort in mind. And while I’ve always known about their loyal following, and have been a customer myself, I didn’t quite understand just how powerful the brand was until I hit up their first warehouse sale a couple weeks back.
It was the first of its kind, and it was on for three days only. I arrived on the first day, not even sixty minutes after it opened, and on a -20 afternoon in Toronto, about a hundred women were lining the sidewalk, waiting to go in. It was all ages, all types of women, and many brought their babies in tow. I ran into two friends and an ex-colleague. With my afternoon on a tight schedule, I wasn’t able to wait, but I was fed a few messages from those who made it inside: “I’m IN! It’s GREAT.” I returned the next day and ended up chatting with some of the women there about their favourite products. “I only wear the evolution bra. It’s my favourite. I have three of them.” The entire thing kinda blew my mind, and it was nice to see twenty-somethings and sixty-somethings shopping side by side.
“We have two roles at Knix: the first one is to reimagine what products can be, create really great products that improve women’s lives, and I think the second one is to be a brand that represents women for who they are,” says Joanna, who was certainly one of the first to include all shapes and sizes in her ad campaigns before it became trendy to do so. “I spoke at a conference on Saturday and afterwards, five women came up and were sobbing, saying that we’ve changed the way they look at their body and how they see themselves. It’s unbelievable to me that we’re having such an impact.”
While Knix has created waves with their marketing and were really the first company in Canada to proudly, and loudly, push leak-proof undies, there are more reasons why Knix continues to be one of the fastest-growing companies in Canada.
When the company first launched, Joanna made tons of trips across North America to connect with buyers of department stores, hoping to get her products on their shelves. A lot of time, energy and monetary investment went into building those relationships; however, when Knix launched their first bra online, Joanna quickly saw that e-commerce was the way to go. “We sold more in thirty days than we had in the first three years. I never thought we could sell that much, and I didn’t fully appreciate that this was a category that people were really, really happy to buy online. There was a desire to buy online.” And that’s when she made a very bold and risky move: “We decided to stop selling to all these stores and turn off that revenue stream. We decided to sell directly to the buyer, tell our story directly.” Moving the company exclusively online was the game-changing move. “Our product instincts were always right, but we didn’t have the sales channel right.”
Impressed by her business acumen, I ask Joanna if she credits her time at business school to her success. “I don’t think it was the education, but school gave me the mental headspace to think about something else. When you’re working in entertainment, it’s all-consuming,” she says, having spent years at Universal Music, TIFF, and CBC before starting Knix. “It’s your evenings, your weekends, all the time. School allowed me to take a step back and work on something that I otherwise wouldn’t have been able to work on. And the environment was really supportive; there were a ton of people [who were] so encouraging, who’d say, ‘Of course you should do that!’ or ‘You can do this!’ That amazing support system made me believe that I could do it.”
I ask her what her advice is to budding entrepreneurs, especially those in the consumer goods sector. “I’m a huge believer in making something that people need, and for us that was leak-proof underwear. And I’m a huge proponent that whatever you are doing, try to attach it to a mission or cause that is bigger than selling something. Ultimately, it acts as motivation and keeps you going when things get tough.” Knix has had quite a few successful missions since launching in 2013. While not publicized broadly, they have always had a positive returns program, and last year they were able to donate approximately thirty thousand bras to women in need. It’s an initiative that has served many Toronto shelters.
This past year, they partnered with Rethink Breast Cancer to launch a groundbreaking campaign that had photos of local women like Nikki McKean, who is seen topless, showing off scars from a double mastectomy, confidently smiling while wearing Knix underwear. The photos wrapped around TTC streetcars and covered walls on busy subway platforms. And more recently, Knix launched #FacesofFertility, a campaign designed to blow open the conversation about infertility, which was sparked through Joanna’s own challenges, specifically her miscarriage, which happened on Mother’s Day in 2018. “We’ve always been pushing the envelope to have conversations about women’s physical appearance and body positivity. What if we were to take that a step further and have conversations about fertility, look at the inside, and how that affects us?” Joanna explains how her experience had her looking at women everywhere differently: “Fertility, and how it’s tied to the female identity, is a big hairy topic!” A topic that will continue to be discussed openly when Knix launches their podcast “The Lift” next month.
Now nine months pregnant, Joanna has begun exploring nursing bras and how to make them better for women. “I love sitting down with people to understand how we can make something better. I love hearing all the ideas that come forward when you actually listen to people, and how it makes you think differently.” A bold leader and a dedicated innovator, Joanna has taken Knix further than she ever dreamed, and after watching the tizzy of excitement at the warehouse sale, talking with customers, and listening to Joanna’s story, I have no doubt that Knix could very well win the underwear war. And I hope they do. After all, like they’ve said, every woman is an angel.
If hearing Joanna’s story inspires you, you should sign up for the next Women of Influence event. Joanna joined them for an in-depth conversation, in conjunction with International Women’s Day, and their May 21st luncheon will featured Tina Brown, the media mogul who reinvented Vanity Fair, Tatler and The New Yorker.