Today’s active woman isn’t wearing “granny panties” or sexy lacy underwear according to Joanna Griffiths, whose fresh take on intimate apparel brings updated designs to modern change rooms everywhere. The CEO of Toronto-based Knix Wear first began to develop her leak-proof knicker idea when she learned that one in three women leaked a little post-baby. Underwear that isn’t absorbent was also a relatable issue for women who were throwing away panties marked by period stains. The average woman also disposes of 250 to 300 pounds of pads, tampons and applicators in her lifetime – yikes! As she considered the statistics, Joanna developed an obsession for performance-based fabric, stitched together a passion for innovation, and worked with other women to design a product to benefit themselves. Moving seamlessly from a career in media and entertainment to one in product design, the self-taught CEO is passionate about her quickly growing company, founded for women who want more out of their underwear. Her drive to satisfy her customers has kept this sweet-natured talent producing hit after hit. Body image, self-worth and empowerment may seem like heavy topics for such light apparel, but Joanna has even reconsidered her own attitudes since creating a line that relies on market research to consider women’s comfort, confidence and peace of mind on a daily basis.
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I've struggled with self confidence and body positivity
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Can you tell me about Knix Wear?
We’re an active intimates brand based in Toronto trying to reinvent one product at a time by choosing the latest in performance-based fabrics and technology to give women everywhere an underwear upgrade. We started with a line of leak-proof and absorbant underwear in 2013, which was specifically designed by women, either for great back up protection during your period or for moms who, after having kids, can leak a little under exertion. After launching that first product, we then developed sport underwear in 2014, and next started expanding into bras in 2015. Our bras are designed to evolve with active woman throughout the day; they handle going to the office, working out at the gym, running errands – anything.
What’s your role in the company?
I’m the founder and CEO. In the beginning I developed and invented the product technology for a bunch of our products, and I also did a lot of the design work. In October we brought on a full-time designer who’s now taking the reins going forward.
Tell me about that first product. What inspired you to design leak-proof functional underwear for women?
About eight years ago, when I first learned that after having children one in three women sometimes pee a little when they laugh, or sneeze, or do a jumping jack, it really floored me. I think it’s one of those medical or health-related taboos that no one really talks about. It affects such a high percentage of women, so that really stood out to me as something important to the female population; however, at the time a lot of the products on the market weren’t really suitable for or catered towards younger women. Basically your options were to go to a drug store and buy products that were really designed for the older demographic, like Depends, or just figure out a way to deal on your own. I ended up going back to school in 2011 to do my MBA and had a lot of space and time to think about how to address this issue. I actually ended up doing a ton of market research and used every class project that I could to work on the concept. I was positive that there was this huge gap in the market, and I wanted to redesign women’s underwear and make products that were designed with women, their bodies, and all of their different needs in mind.
Before you began designing that first product and launched Knix Wear did you study or work in something tech or development related?
Not at all. I worked in media and entertainment before going back to school; I was in public relations as a music publicist at Universal Music. I oversaw the red carpet and press conferences for International Film Festivals, and then went into doing PR and promotions for all the entertainment shows on CBC, so nothing at all related to product. I just became interested and eventually passionate about performance-based fabrics and fibres, and I saw it as a really great lens to develop a company through.
So how did you go from a background in media, entertainment and public relations to research, technical aptitude and detailed product design and development?
It was all self-taught. There hasn’t been a ton of innovation in the intimate apparel space and so what I did was look to complementary markets that are seeing a ton of ingenuity and inventiveness in terms of product innovation, like the outdoors industry. There are a lot of interesting things happening in the activewear market; the cycling industry is a cutting edge market for example. I’m a very research orientated person, and the more I learned the more I wanted to try to build products that are held to a really high standard, in terms of both technical performance and visual appearance for consumer comfort. We have no interest in making more of the same; we really place emphasis on listening to our customers, doing market research, and understanding what it is they want to see in our brand – and then sort of going out and tackling opportunity one product at a time.
How would you describe the female undergarments market in general? Do you think it speaks to today's woman?
I think historically there have been two groups: there’s been a lot of a frill, a really sort of sexy option that doesn’t really have any functional properties and are designed to be worn for a few minutes, not multiple hours; and then you have a more frumpy kind of ‘granny-panty’ style option that are again only somewhat delivering on one aspect alone. I think today’s consumer is more focused on quality, as well as products that are multi-purpose, comfortable and adaptable to an active or wide-ranging lifestyle. I think that we’re seeing really great trends in terms of consumers wanting to be more active and I think we’re leading in this space by curating and creating products for more modern women.
Do you think the conventional options you outlined - frilly & sexy or grandmotherly - are based on where women have traditionally been placed on a social or societal level?
I think there is a huge taboo around self acceptance and loving your shape and who you are; the social pressure put on women to strive to be this sort of ideal representation of what sexy is can be immense. In terms of product design, lingerie has historically been marketed through a lens of what someone else would find enticing and attractive; the way that we create and market our products is more geared towards what is going to make the consumer feel the most comfortable and the most carefree. I felt there was a great opportunity to make great looking products that anyone would feel empowered wearing. The inherent sexiness that comes from self confidence just ends up shining through.
Tell me more about how your absorbant underwear - and the “fresh fix technology” works.
We developed the equivalent of a built-in pantyliner by using performance-based fabrics, so it’s actually part of the underwear; you wash and wear them again like you would with regular underwear. They’re all seamless, so you can wear them under anything, and in the crotch panel – for lack of a more eloquent way to describe it – we’ve developed this absorbent, quick dry, leak-proof panel that absorbs up to 15 ml of moisture. That’s the equivalent two regular tampons, so it really just gives you peace of mind in case you have one of those moments; you unexpectedly get your period or whatever might happen and it prevents you from having embarrassing leaks.
Did the concept of ditching the pads or tampons in lieu of a pair of underwear take off right away?
I think with our first product line it was definitely challenging because you’re asking consumers to change their behaviour. Moving away from disposable panty liners and that kind of thing is a more sustainable option, but it was an unfamiliar change at first. What’s been really exciting is that we’ve recently noticed that the initial product is picking up steam in conjunction with all the other great products we’re making. I think the first one took us a little longer to gain that momentum but now we’re on a really positive wave.
Are all the other Knix Wear products as researched and technically designed for such high-functioning use?
Yes, everything we do comes from a technical kind of angle. At the bare minimum, every product we bring to the market is moisture wicking, quick dry and anti-odour.
What is your best selling product?
Our 8-In-1 Evolution Bra. It gives lift, support and separation without uncomfortable wires; it’s a hybrid product where you can go to bed in it or wear it hiking, as it’s designed to adapt with you throughout your day.
Can you tell me how the company has grown since you started?
We just entered our fourth year of being operational and we’re doing really well. We held the record for the most female-oriented campaign of all time when we did over $2 million in pre-sales of our Evolution Bra. We’ve shipped products to over 50 countries, and we’re growing at 20% month-over-month; we’ll be a team of 15 people by next month and we’re really just getting started. I’m super proud of everything we’ve accomplished to date, but I’m even more excited to continue to grow.
Did you see this coming?
I mean, you’re optimistic, right? I always hoped that we’d be successful, and I think when you’re listening to what people want and making things that they both want and need, the hope is that they’ll respond positively and buy the product. So yes, I definitely had high expectations coming out of the gate.
What do you like about building a lingerie brand?
I like that it allows you to have really intimate relationships with consumers; you’re the first thing they’re putting on and the last thing they’re taking off daily. There’s a way to make people feel really confident and comfortable in their skin, and so from a CEO perspective or brand building perspective, I feel there is such a huge opportunity to add value in our customers’ lives in a way that maybe other categories couldn’t. The other thing that I really like is how much room for transformation I feel there is; we have a couple great products under our belt but I’m so excited about our future as we continue to innovate. There really is no shortage of ideas for ways that we can improve women’s lives.
Let’s go back to how your products focus on sustainability for a moment - was that something in the forefront when you initially started Knix? And what else motivates you?
I think anyone who is starting a company now has an onus to think about sustainability and to think about the larger impact you have on the community and your customer. Honestly, I think it’s a responsibility, and I also think that’s it’s so much easier to be motivated when I feel like I’m working towards goals and ambitions that aren’t purely monetary and are bigger than just myself. When I wake up in the morning and feel like I’m actually having a positive impact on how someone feels about themselves, it’s powerful. The positive reinforcement that we get from our customers on how our products are improving their confidence or quality of life makes it just so much easier to stay motivated; for example, enabling someone to start working out again because they don’t have to worry that they’re going to leak through while doing a Zumba class is worth it. Running a business is hard; I worry every day about so many challenges, so when I feel like I’m actually working towards something bigger it puts it all into perspective.
Tell me about some of the challenges you’ve faced in running your business.
There are so many! I just did a talk last night about imposter syndrome and what happens when you start to experience success and start questioning your own self-worth, whether you’re deserving and if you’re cut out for it. That’s been an ongoing struggle for me. Putting together all the pieces to effectively to run a business while learning how to navigate the process in general is a learning experience – a difficult one; right now I’m really focussed on managing people and building a team and a culture that I’m grateful to be a part of.
What are you most proud of from a personal perspective?
It’s been so cool to experience my personal growth firsthand; the things that used to make me really upset or that I’d get really worked up about it just don’t do it anymore – it takes a lot to phase me now. I would say that just by being associated and affiliated with our brand I’ve grown. I have a far better appreciation for my own body, and am proud how far I’ve come in terms of my own self-acceptance; I’ve been fortunate to work with amazing women that helped me along the way.
What’s next for you?
We’re launching a teen line in about eight weeks time. Girls are getting their periods younger and younger; the average age is now between 11 and 12. It’s a really a monumental time in a girl’s life and it can be stressful. It can absolutely have an impact on their self esteem et cetera, which is why we’re launching a line specifically for teenage girls. I’m really, really excited about it because I firmly believe that self-confidence, body positivity and self empowerment should start at as young an age as possible.