Joanna Griffiths is all about the girl #realtalk. The 29-year-old entrepreneur and founder and CEO of Knix Wear, a new Toronto-based underwear company, has spent the past four years talking openly to women about what she says are “the realities” of being female. As in, those few days before you get your period when things are what tampon commercials preciously call “not as fresh” (i.e. accidental stains and odor, i.e. the worst), or that light leaking 1 in 3 women experience when they sneeze, laugh or exercise (New moms reading this are all “FUCKING PREACH”). The result of those conversations is Knix Wear.
Catering to women who suffer from stress incontinence (light leaks) and those of us who would like our underwear to do more than just look cute (though this underwear does that too), Knix Wear is beautifully-made “high-tech” underwear with a moisture-wicking, bacteria-killing gusset, which helps eliminate odor and, well, the uncomfortable feeling of walking around all day with wet underwear, pretty much. It’s underwear, upgraded.
Currently crowdfunding on Indiegogo to fund the first production cycle, Knix Wear has three different lines—Knix, for day, Knixy, for night, and FitKnix, for workouts—so you’re covered, pun intended, no matter what you’re doing throughout the day.
We sat down with Joanna at her Queen and Bathurst office to chat about the idea and technology behind Knix Wear, where she’d like to take the brand from here, and what it’s like to be a young, female entrepreneur starting her first company.
SDTC: What gave you the idea to start Knix Wear?
Joanna: The original inspiration came from this conversation I had with my mom about four years ago. She and I were having a chat about becoming a mom and what that means for women and their bodies. It was the first time that I learned about light leaks, and that they affect 1 in 3 women. And it was this thing that I had never heard of before, that no one really talks about. So that’s where the idea first came from. Then I started my MBA in August 2011 and when I got to school I started talking to people about making underwear that does more and everyone gave me really good feedback. So, I started investigating it further and realized that you could actually make regular, great-looking underwear that has added functionality. Kind of like what Lululemon did with yoga pants. So you can take what’s been seen as a really basic product and make something sophisticated without sacrificing on style or fit. I saw a gap in the market and did a lot of research, spoke to a lot of women, listened to what was important for them from an underwear solution, what they like about underwear, what they don’t like about underwear. I spoke to a lot of retailers about what customers are looking for and this is the end product.
SDTC: What did women say they didn’t like about underwear?
Joanna: One major thing is underwear that digs in or cuts them off at the sides, so it has to be comfortable. Another was to have 100% cotton touch your skin, because a lot of women won’t even look at an underwear brand if it doesn’t have that. Visible panty lines was a major complaint. And then, just underwear mishaps: a lot of women leak when they laugh, sneeze, cough or exercise and some even carry an extra pair of underwear in their bag and change. I have friends in their 20s who were like “Oh, I had no idea that this was a thing, I’ve had this for like ten years and I just always carry a change of underwear in my bag.” So it’s not just new moms. There is a correlation between childbirth and stress incontinence, because of the pressure of carrying a baby and how it can weaken the pelvic floor muscle. But some women experience it before having babies. And then, another two obvious ones were the state of your underwear after you put yourself through a hard workout and underwear just not really living up during that time of the month, which I think we can all relate to. And so those were all of the considerations that we took into play when we made this.
SDTC: What’s your Fresh Fix technology?
Joanna: So, at its core is this polyester wicking fabric, which is like a microfiber that has silver threading built in. And silver threading, by its nature, is bacteria killing, so it eliminates the bacteria that causes things like odor. And then, what’s special about it compared to other products is that we’ve developed these moulds, which are heat-sealed all along the edges. And what that means is that moisture isn’t only prevented from leaking through the bottom, because there’s a laminate treatment, but also along the sides. It helps wick it through and spreads it over a wider surface area, because it hits the sides and starts moving down. So the moisture gets spread out more thoroughly over the whole fabric and, as a result, can dry faster and absorb more. And then we found this one-way moisture transfer cotton, which wicks moisture through one way but not the other, so it prevents it from coming back up. It also helps spread the moisture out and, by transferring it through to the bottom layer quickly, it means that the top layer, what’s touching your skin, dries faster. And then there’s a laminate treatment that’s on the bottom, which also prevents the moisture from coming through.
SDTC: You used to work in media and entertainment; what prompted the switch to starting Knix Wear?
Joanna: It actually almost happened against my will, which sounds kind of funny, but I went back to school last year—and had every intention of going back into media and entertainment, I had a job offer to move to LA with Youtube and all of these huge plans—and then I just fell in love with this concept and spent the whole year working on it. And I had this moment where I actually had a mini-breakdown in the bathroom because it was really scary and I was terrified to admit to myself that this was actually what I really wanted to do. And then it was like, okay, I’m going to do this. So I just kept setting goals for myself and tests to put the product through, like, if it goes through this then we’ll move forward, if it goes through this then we’ll move forward. And the last one was this business venture competition at my school and the feedback we got from the judges was amazing. We won $20,000 to put towards starting a company. And that was really the ultimate test, to go up against hundreds of other business ideas and have this be the one that people really felt had a real chance to succeed. So it was kind of all those things together. I’d reached a certain point, you know, where you just can’t turn back and you know what your heart wants to do.
SDTC: When did you officially launch? Or have you officially launched?
Joanna: We’re doing pre-orders right now on Indiegogo, so [we’ve had a] soft launch, which was about 20 days ago. And what that’s allowed us to do is pre-sell our product and help us make an educated decision on what our first production run should be. So every single style is available now for pre-order, and then, as an incentive for people to purchase right now, we’re throwing in things like Knix Wear lingerie wash bags and mini soap detergent. And then, once the campaign is over, our e-commerce site will go live and then we’ll have physical product in July. And ideally, that will be available both online and through traditional retailers, hopefully by July 15th.
SDTC: And what’s the reception been like so far, since the soft launch?
Joanna: It’s been really positive. I think that it’s a product that speaks to a lot of women and the concept of having underwear that does more than just look good appeals to a lot of women. It’s been a really amazing test for us because there has been so much customer feedback and I don’t know when you ever get the chance to hear directly from your customers and take into account their feedback before you 100% make the product. So that’s been an incredible learning experience and opportunity for us, too. But I think a lot of people are excited about the idea and think that the product looks really good. And we’ve sold $25,000 worth of underwear at this point, so that’s a testament to the fact that people are willing to buy it.
SDTC: Are there plans to add more colours and sizes?
Joanna: Definitely. For our initial launch we wanted to do something that was evergreen, so to speak. Black and nude will never go out of style, so, as a startup, those are the easiest ones to go out with because even if you end up having them in stock, it’s not like you have 300 pairs of hot pink underwear that no one wants to buy. So we’re starting with black and nude and then, for our fall/winter collection, we’re looking to expand into new colours. And today we announced that we’re going to be adding Double XL, to expand the size range further.
SDTC: Do you have a favourite style?
Joanna: Well, I love the Knixy boy short. I think it’s super cute and flattering on pretty much everyone. And from a fashion standpoint, I love the double-scalloped lace. I don’t think you see that that often. And then, just in general, I’m a huge fan of the fabric that we’re using in the Knix line. From an everyday standpoint, I don’t know if you can get more comfortable than that. I’m really happy with how this one has turned out. And the finishings, too. We’re using Bemistape instead of stitching, so it’s a very seamless look. So I would say, when it comes down to it, I probably like the Knixy boy short and the Knix bikini style the best.
SDTC: What are some of the challenges that you’ve faced as a young, particularly female, entrepreneur, with your first startup? If any.
Joanna: I think with anyone’s first startup you learn so much as you go and I think that the main challenge that I’ve had is, you have to really stick up for yourself when you’re an entrepreneur. You’re fighting your own battles, there’s no one else there to fight them for you and you have to stand up for yourself, set expectations really high and really hold people to a high standard. Which, in theory, sounds really easy but in practice…you know, you want people to like you, you want to be nice, but then, at the end of the day, as an entrepreneur you have so much riding on this and you can’t afford to have slip ups or mistakes. So that’s been something that’s been a challenge, for sure, learning to find my own voice and stand up for myself and to hold everyone to a very high standard and to do so in a way where you don’t come across as some…
Joanna: Yes. On the flipside, what’s been really great is the female entrepreneurship network that I’ve found in Toronto, which has been amazing. I’m part of this one group called AWIA, which is Amazing Women Inspiring Action, and I think there’s about 150 of us, all female entrepreneurs, and we meet up once a month and we have a Facebook group and that has been extremely helpful. It’s an amazing group of women, all of whom are entrepreneurs and open to sharing resources, asking one another for help, giving advice. It’s been huge.
SDTC: Do you have any advice for other young women looking to start their own business?
Joanna: Yes, definitely. I would say test your concept as much as possible. I think there are two schools of thought around entrepreneurship and one of them is “keep it a secret and don’t tell anyone otherwise people will steal your idea,” which is very common. But I come from the complete opposite, which is talk to as many people as possible about your idea and get their feedback. And that’s scary, for sure; I’ve been talking about these prototypes since their first inception and I can tell you that they did not look very good to begin with. But it’s been good because you get people’s feedback, they say what they like, they say what they don’t like and you go from there. So that would be my main piece of advice, is to test your idea and talk to as many people as possible. And be open to feedback and suggestions from people. And never be afraid to ask for help, is the other one. I think it’s a very humbling thing, to start your own business, because you need help; you totally need help all the time. And if you think that you don’t then you’re in for a harsh awakening! I’ve probably asked every single person in my network for help, whether it’s advice or input or about something that’s someone else’s expertise and not mine, and it’s remarkable just how much people are willing to help and give advice.
SDTC: Do you have plans to expand the brand?
Joanna: Definitely. We’re starting with this, obviously, and then we’re going to expand the styles and colours into a full range. And then the next thing we want to do is take these gussets and put them into pantyhose and some that don’t get runs in them every time you wear them, which would be a lifesaver. And then we’d like to expand into yoga pants. Eventually we’re going to make a men’s line, but under a completely different brand. Knix Wear is very female-targeted, simple and pretty. The guy’s line will be more in line with what men want. So those are the initial plans we have right now.
This interview has been condensed and edited for space.