We may not use the term ‘knickers’ here in the U.S., but we definitely all own a pair or two and they might even be one of your favorites. But Stripe & Stare founders, Nicola Piercy and Katie Lopes are on a mission to change that by making the most comfortable and sustainable knickers, sleepwear, and loungewear ever.
When I ask the duo, who launched their Britain-based brand in 2017, if they could define what ‘knickers’ are to those unfamiliar, they refer to the dictionary definition: a woman’s or girl’s undergarment covering the lower part of the torso to the top of the thighs and having two holes for the legs.
Lopes tells me, “I know it is not a common word in the USA as it is here. Over 50% of our revenue now comes out of the USA and we have such funny conversations. The women we speak to in the States have often not heard the term, but love it and it makes them laugh.” Piercy adds, “We are on a mission to make it a generic term in America! Being English, we have an aversion to the word ‘panty’. We love the word ‘knicker’ as it is fun, playful, and makes people smile. What better way to start your day?”
Lopes, who comes with 15 years of retail experience, developed the knickers during her time as a buyer. “We sold top labels like Zimmerman and Rag and Bone. But we sold these amazingly comfortable thongs. Women would come in and buy 10 at a time—it got me interested in underwear. I tried to source a cool, contemporary, yet ultra-comfortable knicker to sell since our customers preferred this shape to a thong, but could not find one,” Lopes tells me when I ask her how the idea came about.
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Stripe & Stare formalized when the pair, who are old friends and colleagues, met up for coffee to catch up. “As we chatted we both realized we were unhappy in our current work places and wanted to make a change,” Piercy tells me. “Katie had just come out of a trademark dispute and had had to sell her old company to pay the legal bills. I was the managing director at a chain of cooking schools. We realized that this was the moment to start something new and set up a company using all our combined experience—in the way we wanted. The knickers are the perfect way to empower and really represent that. They are so comfortable they leave you free to take on the day and worry about more important things.”
When I ask about the brand’s name Lopes shares, “We ‘ummed’ and ‘arghed’ about the name, but had to make the final decision in 24 hours! Our cup of coffee meet up was in June, by August we had raised the seed investment and product was ordered ahead of launch in October 2017. We move quickly! I wanted two words that were unrelated yet easily memorable together. Stripes are a symbol historically of power and otherness plus such a fashion staple dating back to Coco Chanel. We love them so this part was decided quickly.” Piercy adds, “So we had to find a second unrelated word. ‘Stare’ came from our love of alliteration and we felt like it was attitudinal—women not afraid to take on the world and confront the challenges that come their way.”
The pair launched Stripe & Stare with a small amount of capital from an angel investor. “He came to me and said that if I was ever interested in starting something new to let him know. He had been watching what I was doing with the retail and the trademark dispute so offered an investment in something new should I ever want it,” explains Lopes. “I am SUCH a believer in the universe and things happening when they are meant to. The angel investor and Nicola both came along at exactly the right time for us to start Stripe & Stare.”
The ladies currently have over 30 angel investors. “We have had quite a few VCs wanting to invest but we never take more than we need and run things tightly so have not needed to go this route to date. 2021 we might think again depending on how quickly we want to expand,” states Piercy. “We have raised less than £500k to date and are already operating profitably. It is interesting that only 4% of UK venture capital goes to female run businesses. Part of this is because a lot of investment goes into tech, which is traditionally a male dominated industry. But a big part of it is women are not as good at putting themselves out there and are more risk averse.”
When it comes to sustainability, the women acknowledge that the brand is far from perfect, but better than most and constantly looking to improve. “Most underwear ends up in a landfill, which means it can take up to 200 years to decompose. Our knickers can literally be put in the soil to decompose in 3 months. They are made from wood so come from nature, back to nature,” explains Lopes. “Only 2.4 % of the underwear market is sustainably sourced which is pretty awful for something we all use everyday and cannot buy second hand. Currently, 2% of our knicker will not break down (the elastane). But, we think we have found a solution. So next year, we hope that we can be the first (that we know of!) to launch a 100% biodegradable knicker.”
The fabric that Stripe & Stare now utilizes for their knickers and the rest of their product offerings is Lenzing and it’s beyond comfortable. It’s scientifically proven to be 2-3 times softer than cotton and is made in a closed-loop process that uses 95% less water than manufacturing cotton. “Making the most comfortable knicker in the world was a key mission and this fiber was the softest we felt,” Lopes tells me. “It is also a resilient fiber so as long as not washed on a very high heat it keeps its integrity in terms of color and shape as well as softness.”
“At launch, we were using other fabrics but after 6 months, we made the decision to only use Lenzing TENCEL Micro Modal,” adds Piercy. “Everything we learnt about this company amazed us, truly the most cutting edge in terms of sustainability that we have come across. And the feedback from customers is amazing. We have heard it described as like wearing a hug or a cloud. It is brilliant for sleepwear because of the breathability and I only wear this for yoga so I am cozy and don’t overheat!”
Now that Stripe & Stare has become established with a loyal following, they have set their sights on becoming a full sustainable lifestyle brand over time. “We are launching a collaboration in January with one of our favorite fashion line, LoveShackFancy, so we’re super excited about that. Our subscription Knicker Club launch went really well this year and we would love to launch that in America too,” states Lopes.
As far as what else consumers can expect from the brand in the upcoming year is diversity. Lopes tells me, “Women’s underwear and the fact we show so much of the body in our images has meant body diversity in all its forms has to be something we address. And whilst we are very much still learning and educating ourselves, we are rapidly working to incorporate more size ranges and diversity in our representation. We have always seen ourselves as the anti-Victoria’s Secret. We are a company run by women, for women and we hope we can make our customers more confident and make choices for themselves rather than anyone else. Who knew a pair of knickers could be so important!”