Heidi Zak is the Co-Founder and Co-CEO of ThirdLove, the fastest growing and most disruptive brand in the lingerie industry. Prior to launching ThirdLove, Heidi worked as International Director of Aeropostale and as a Senior Marketing Manager for Google. In 2013, she left Google with the mission of building a better bra, one that fit perfectly and instilled confidence in the woman wearing it. Five years later, more than 10 million women of all shapes and sizes have used ThirdLove’s innovative FitFinder™ to find a bra that truly fits their body. ThirdLove’s focus on inclusivity is demonstrated through the 70 sizes it carries, including exclusive half-cups. Featured in Forbes, Fast Company, CNBC, Fortune, Inc., WWD, Business Insider and many others, ThirdLove is consistently hailed for both its innovation and commitment to inclusion and diversity.
How did you get into the industry?
Hours before a holiday party and without a bra that fit, I had a choice: I could cram myself into a dressing room in search of a new bra, or wear an old, ill-fitting one and be uncomfortable all night. Not willing to choose between bad and worse, I decided to create a third option: build a better bra.
ThirdLove was founded to solve a problem that every woman faces - bra shopping! I disliked the whole process - finding time to drive to a store, getting 'fitted', trying on lots and lots of bras to find one that fit, and then the bra would start to fall apart after just a few washes. I thought to myself, there has got to be a better way -- a way to leverage technology to solve the 'fit' issue so I can shop from home, and a way to design beautiful, high quality bras at a great price-point.
Any emerging industry trends?
The retail landscape is quickly evolving. Rather than spend time driving & shopping in brick and mortar stores, more and more customers are shopping online, at home. ThirdLove started with intimates because shopping for bras is not only frustrating, it’s a private process. It’s not a social shopping experience like shopping for a dress, so it’s actually the perfect category to bring online.
ThirdLove developed Fit Finder®, which empowers a woman to find her best size and style from home. The Fit Finder takes customers through questions including their breast shape, any fit issues they have, favorite cup style and more. Through machine learning algorithms and leveraging over 500 million data points, the Fit Finder is able to recommend the best bra style and size for each unique user.
Any industry opportunities or challenges?
As convenient as online shopping is, there’s a major challenge. Our customer can’t touch the product. They can’t feel it. They don’t know that it will look good in the mirror or fit the way they expect it to. Nearly everyone has bought something online, tried it on, looked in the mirror, and just thought, “No.” That’s why we launched our “Try Before You Buy” program. Women can order a bra, take the tags off, and wear it for thirty days. If they don’t like it, they can send it back and we donate it. Letting them try it before they buy it is the best way to take the risk out of trying something new.
Today, it seems like the most natural thing in the world. But at the time, we were gambling everything on a marketing tactic that had no guarantee.
Inspiration for the business idea, and your vision for the Business
ThirdLove's mission is to help every woman feel confident in her everyday life, and we do this through delivering a perfect fit and putting our customers first. The intimate apparel market in the US alone is $15 billion, and is predominantly run by men. ThirdLove is completely turning the industry on its head: our team is over 80% female. We are a company by women, for women.
What's next for the Business in the near future?
We are a rapidly growing team, over 250 today and doubling in size this year, based in San Francisco with offices in Chico, CA and Argentina. We’re one of the fastest growing consumer brands in the country, and known as ‘the brand to catch Victoria’s Secret’. We recently added 24 additional new bra sizes, and will continue to add more styles in these new sizes, as well as new sizes based on the data we collect from our customers.
Your key initiatives for the success of the Business?
“You don’t carry my size.” As the founder of a bra company, there are few things more painful than hearing a customer say those words. I founded ThirdLove 6 years ago, and from day one my goal has been to create bras that that help women feel confident and comfortable. The knowledge that any woman has been left out makes me feel like I’ve failed.
That’s why last month we launched 24 new bra sizes. We’ve been working on this initiative for over a year, and we have more than 1.3 million women on the waitlist for these bras.
The extent of our waitlist shouldn’t come as a surprise: At least 67% of American women wear a size 14 or higher, and the average American woman is a 34E (34DD). Our more inclusive sizes enable more women to find their perfect fit. And when you consider that a woman’s bra size can change six times in her life, having more sizes available helps women enjoy the same bras they know and love as their bodies change throughout their lives.
In launching our new sizes, we’ve also made a decision to not call them plus size. In fact, we aren’t calling them anything except “sizes”—just like any other size. There’s a lot of debate around the term “plus size” with interesting points on both sides. Some feel it’s an unnecessary or stigmatizing label; others think it’s a helpful classification and that the stigma is societal rather than inherent in the words themselves.
Hearing customers say, “You carry my size!” or “I finally found the perfect fitting bra!” brings me and the team joy.
Your most difficult moment at the Business? (and what did you learn?)
Being from outside our industry with a lot of naivete, we started off manufacturing in a highly inefficient manner. And for a tiny team with little resources, we took on way too much with an overly ambitious made-on-demand line. Right before we ran out of money and lost it all, we painfully pivoted our supply chain and manufacturing line based upon what we had learned. Today we produce hundreds of thousands of bras a month - so the lowest moment in my career proved to be the most meaningful.
Ideal experience for a customer/client?
Our customer journey is pretty seamless. Usually a customer will do the FitFinder (takes under a minute) to find her recommended size and style. After choosing products, she’ll checkout and the product will arrive to her doorstep in ~3 days. If anything isn’t perfect, our 100% Fit Guarantee means our highly trained Fit Stylists will work with her to exchange or return items as needed.
How do you motivate others?
Here at ThirdLove we like to keep our team members informed (weekly business updates via email, monthly all-hands) so they can hear about all the exciting new initiatives we’re working on, how we’re impacting customers lives and how the work they are doing is truly helping us grow and scale.
Career advice to those in your industry?
The best advice I have ever received and the advice I would continue to give is: Get comfortable with being uncomfortable. When you start your own company you have to get used to learning how to do things that you don't know how to do. You also need to learn how to take risks and be okay with not knowing what the next stage is going to bring.
What do I do best?
Inspire our team, partners and customers
What makes me the best version of myself?
Determination. That has been a big reason why ThirdLove has been successful - having the fortitude to push through difficult times, to ask for something again, to work harder.
What are my aspirations?
My business goal is to build a multi-billion dollar company. My personal goal is be a champion and mentor for the next generation of female founders.
My Biggest Success?
Donating $5 million worth of bras to women in need
My Most Challenging Moment?
Switching manufacturing partners from Mexico to Asia
Make it Happen
My Favorite People/Role Models?
Jane Buchan, CEO of PAAMCO a $30 billion fund. Numbers don’t lie. She is helping prove female run hedge funds and asset managers perform better than their male counterparts.
My Favorite Places/Destinations?
Aspen, CO and Punta Mita, Mexico
My Favorite Products/Objects?
My Peloton bike
My Current Passions?
Spending time with my 2.5 and 5 year old kids