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The End Of Lingerie? Stanford MBAs Launch Braless Clothing Line

Frankly co-founders Heather Eaton, left, and Jane Dong are Stanford GSB MBA Class of 2020 graduates. Their company officially launches next month. Courtesy photo

With more people than ever working from home during the global lockdown, professional women are welcoming the opportunity to ditch their bras and opt for freer, more comfortable attire.

Tweets, memes, and publications are predicting the end of lingerie in the world of remote work created by the Covid-19 pandemic. That makes it perhaps the perfect time for Stanford Graduate School of Business MBAs Jane Dong and Heather Eaton, members of the just-graduated Class of 2020, to launch Frankly Apparel, a braless clothing line set to officially open for business in October.

The timing may be right, but the business didn’t come to fruition overnight, nor did it have its first sparks during the Covid quarantine and subsequent rise of Zoom. The Stanford MBAs’ journey began earlier in their second year, when they brought a different idea — for a customer relationship management tech product — to Stanford’s Startup Garage. But as they worked together, they discussed their mutual struggle to find clothing that fit well.

Soon after starting the course, their original idea transitioned into the concept of braless clothing.

“It started as a thought experiment,” Jane says. “Since we’re really passionate about women’s relationships with their bodies and their clothing, we thought that, at the very least, the Startup Garage was going to be an interesting class.”

FRANKLY’S TAGLINE: ‘YOU SHOULD GO BRALESS WITH US’

Jane Dong. Courtesy photo

Frankly’s premise is that women shouldn’t have to sacrifice style for comfort — nor should they have to think about which bra will work with the outfit they want to wear. Informed by interviews with dozens of women about their clothes, bras, and relationship with their bodies, the founders began designing ways to build the benefits of bras into clothing so that women could leave their lingerie behind while still benefiting from the security it provides.

“We were really beating around the bush when we first started interviews with women, saying things like, ‘Do you mind telling us your bra size? Do you have any trouble? Do your nipples show?’” Eaton says. “Finally, we said, ‘This is stupid. We all have boobs, we all face the same problems.’ We found then that women were really forthright in talking to us about it.”

The transition into a more frank approach in conversations about chest size — coupled with the inspiration from the famous Gone With the Wind line, “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn” — led to the company name. Frankly’s tagline: You should go braless with us.

Dong says she’d always hated wearing a bra. 

“There was a lot of shame in it, and it was usually a large source of embarrassment,” she says. “Plus, I only wore it for nipple coverage, since societally I am supposed to feel uncomfortable when my nipples are showing. It also felt very taboo to talk about it; I never wanted to say the word nipples or boobs, so I was very clueless about the whole thing growing up.”

Eaton echoes those thoughts. “I have a large chest,” she says. “For women like me, bras are more painful. When I worked in consulting, there was no option whether or not I could get away without a bra. Taking my bra off at the end of the day was such a relief.”

COVID STRENGTHENS THE FRANKLY BUSINESS PLAN

Heather Eaton. Courtesy photo

After announcing their pivot from a customer relationship management tech product to braless clothing, Dong and Eaton realized they weren’t going to convince customers with a low-resolution prototype. In February they flew to Los Angeles to source a fashion designer, materials, and a production partner so that they could bring their sketches to life.

Shortly after their trip, lockdown began.

“By the time we got back from L.A., everything was shut down,” Eaton says. “I flew home to Chicago for a couple of weeks and ended up being there for three months — basically, the entirety of our startup. Product development stopped, so we used that opportunity to pivot and work on different areas of the business.”

From the point the co-founders decided to go full-time, they have done so virtually. As Dong and Eaton ironed out the kinks in their product development, the pair used every class project to work on their company. Then, as their schooling came to an end, businesses slowly started reopening in L.A. They were able to restart with more momentum, and with a slightly different vision from what they had at the outset.

Eaton says Covid has only strengthened their business plan.

“Before we started there were no big players in this market,” she says. “Now, with the buzz around lockdown leading to the potential death of lingerie, people believe a market exists. We’re ahead of that curve because we had been doing this before the pandemic hit.”

Inevitably, though, there have been unique challenges to starting a business during a pandemic. However, this time has also provided the women some opportunities that they may not have otherwise had.

“A lot of the e-commerce changes that people said would occur over the next 10 years have now been shrunk to the next year or so,” Dong says. ”There have been a lot of clothing trend changes since the pandemic’s start, too. When things open up again a lot of women may not want to go back to wearing a bra.”