Co-founders Sophia Berman, CEO, and Laura West, chief procurement officer, were in the news a lot after they launched Trusst Lingerie. Women designing lingerie with a background in engineering and industrial design were eye-catching.
More than two years later, the entrepreneurs’ first collection is out and being sold online, through their storefront in Pittsburgh and a third-party wholesaler, Bare Necessities.
Their outsider’s perspective allowed them to have a different mindset when designing lingerie for fuller-busted women. However, Berman says they also learned not to bite off too much.
At first, they wanted to be a domestic manufacturer, she says. However, most of the industry’s products are made overseas — that’s where the expertise is.
“So, there’s some parts of the industry you can change, but sticking to some of the similar processes just to make sure things get made is pretty important,” Berman says. “You can’t reinvent the wheel and reinvent how the wheel is made and distributed. You have to do one thing at a time.
“So, learning how to balance that — finding a new product, but also figuring out how to become integral into the system was something that we learned a lot about,” she says.
The right support
Trusst Lingerie was incubated in AlphaLab Gear for nine months, as Berman and West utilized the accelerator’s mentorship and feedback. They created a business plan, learned how to pitch to investors, raised capital and most importantly, developed and refined their product.
Pittsburgh has a great startup ecosystem where legal and accounting firms provide services either pro bono or at a very low cost, Berman says.
“Just starting out, you may make some mistakes, you may not know what you’re doing and they’ve helped guide us through the process,” she says.
By having support, they could focus on creating a disruptive product in a stagnant industry, Berman says.
“It has a standard way of manufacturing. It has a standard set of materials that it uses,” she says. “Trying to introduce something new was a big challenge.”
Give and take
Trusst Lingerie worked with a lot of different people, whether consultants or directly on its team.
“We’ve almost wholly been women, though, which has been really interesting,” Berman says. “Not by selection, but just by happenstance we’ve all been women, which has been really fun.”
With the help of those partners, they persevered through the challenges. West even went to China for about two months to sit with the factories and work through the product development process.
“Going overseas is very important, if you’re going to be working with overseas factories. It makes a huge difference with how the product comes out — your relationship with the factory,” Berman says.
Scale is also a concern, when choosing materials.
“It’s a balance, and that’s one of the things that we found a little bit challenging at the beginning was how to balance using the exact right materials and processes we wanted to, while still creating small batches so we could scale slowly,” she says.
With three products out and plans to bring out more by this fall, Berman says now they are focused on growth. They want to keep innovating on new products and technologies in their market.