Pepper, a bra company that celebrates small-chested women cup sizes AA – B, is one of many bra companies whose sales have skyrocketed since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. The intimates industry is booming, specifically for wire-free and sports bra styles, as women decide that comfort should be a top priority when it comes to their bras. We spoke to Pepper founder and CEO Jaclyn Fu about how the company met this surge in demand for comfortable, wire-free bra styles; her predictions on the longevity of the wireless comfort trend; her strategy for growing a community online; and more.

Women in Retail Leadership Circle: Tell us about your company Pepper and how it’s different from other bra companies in the market.
Jaclyn Fu: Pepper is a body positive lifestyle brand building products and developing a community for the traditionally overlooked market of small-chested women, on a mission to empower everyone to love their bodies as they are. We design bras specifically for AA – B cups, in band sizes from 30 to 40. We’re bringing back the IBTC to encourage women with small breasts to join together to combat ridiculous body standards once and for all.

WIRLC: Women have been turning to comfort during the COVID-19 pandemic and bra sales have experienced a shift to wire-free or bralette options. Has Pepper experienced this trend, and how has the business had to shift to meet consumer demand during this time?
JF: At the onset of the pandemic, we saw a big increase in demand for our wireless style, the Limitless Wirefree bra. At the same time, we also saw a shift, via feedback and content shared by customers, in women adopting these wireless styles as part of a fashion statement — styling them with sweaters, blazers, or just donning them with a high waisted bottom. To meet the demand, we developed more limited-edition colors of our wireless style, introducing those throughout the last 12 months. We also launched our newest wireless style, the Everyday Lace Bralette, in January of this year (to rave reviews!).

WIRLC: Do you predict that the wireless bra trend and booming bra sales will continue? How is Pepper innovating to provide more products that fit this need?
JF: I think we’re seeing a small but (hopefully) growing shift where women are feeling more comfortable and empowered in their bodies, which means they’re choosing products that make them feel good vs. products that make others feel good. As such, more and more women are giving themselves permission (spoiler: they didn’t need permission in the first place!) to choose what suits them best when it comes to a bra, whether that’s wireless, wired or no bra at all! We’ll continue to focus on meeting the needs of our customers, whatever those needs are, and I think we’ll see women be more vocal about what they need and how companies can support that. Nothing bad ever happens when women’s needs are met, regardless of what facet, and businesses really need to do a better job at listening. We spend a lot of time listening, and it shows in our engagement and sales numbers.

WIRLC: As a niche bra brand, Pepper is hyperfocused on meeting the needs of small-chested women. How did you design your bras to fit every type of body with small cup sizes? Why is it important to the brand to empower all small-chested women?
JF: Growing up, I never felt like I fit in because there are literally no bras on the market designed specifically for smaller cup sizes. As a society we had been fed a single truth, rooted in the accepted “look” that the media has perpetuated: bigger is better. The average bra shape and fit is based on a C cup, and simply sized up or down from there. It completely neglects the fact that the proportions of bodies, even similarly sized bodies, vary drastically, and also that breasts change over a lifetime as women move through different life stages. Personally, my goal is that no young woman ever has to feel the way I felt growing up. I believe that starts with providing options, education and support so they can find their place — everyone deserves to feel good in their own skin.

WIRLC: Pepper was launched in 2017 after raising $10,000 on Kickstarter. What did you do with that first investment to start the company?
JF: After our Kickstarter was funded (we surpassed our $10,000 goal by 370 percent and hit our goal in just 10 hours), we used the funds to focus on fulfilling the first 1,000 pre-orders and to finalize product development. Seeing the outpouring of support at that early launch was an incredible validation of the need for which we were solving.

WIRLC: As a direct-to-consumer company, what’s your strategy around growing a community online? How does social media contribute to your brand growth?
JF: Community is at the center of everything we do. In a strange way, we’re lucky because the historically harmful standards and stereotypes went unaddressed for so long that as soon as we started to promote our mission, so many women immediately raised their hands to say they had felt the exact same way. This has always been a community, but we’ve been able to really tap into it and help it grow.

We started a dedicated Facebook group for those in the IBTC (or supporters of the IBTC) so women can contribute to how we evolve our business, share their challenges and wins, provide advice, and just generally support others. Social media in general has been a key piece of our brand growth because the experience is so relatable and shareable — it aligns so well with what people are already taking to social media to talk about. The ability to utilize platforms in which sharing is native has been a game changer for us.

WIRLC: How does Pepper meet the growing consumer interest in corporate social responsibility and sustainability?
JF: From day one we made a decision to build a business with values that we could stand behind, not just because we believe in making a good impact, but also so our customers would feel good about buying our products. For us, it’s not just about the end product. We are committed to sustainable and ethical manufacturing practices that empower the women who manufacture our products, too. Our factory in Colombia pays fair market wages, employs 85 percent women, and prioritizes single mother heads of households as a way to combat the fact that single mothers are most vulnerable to poverty.

We also use non-toxic, OEKOTEX-certified fabrics that are tested and free from harmful chemicals to help preserve our oceans, and our fabric mill uses less water during the dying process and recycles 80 percent of fabric waste into other goods. We’re also constantly increasing our impact and looking for opportunities to do more. For instance, last summer, to support the BLM movement, we launched our Startup Grant program for Black women, and had over 2,000 applications. It was a huge success, and we’re gearing up to launch it for the second year next month.

WIRLC: As CEO, what are you focused on heading into 2022 to continue growth at Pepper?
JF: I’m focused on the same thing I was focused on when we started: designing products and building a community that allows all women to feel that they’re enough just the way they are. Every day we hear another story about someone who has struggled or is still struggling because of a superficial box into which they felt they had to fit. Now more than ever, building and fostering a supportive community is incredibly important to us, and the voices and feedback from our community are invaluable. It helps to inform iterations on our current styles, identify other gaps in the market that we can solve for (like additional bra styles and new product lines), and gives women who have spent many years (sometimes decades) feeling excluded or frustrated a place where they can be themselves, unapologetically.