Transforming lingerie design with 130 million pieces of data

Women in retail

In celebration of Women’s History Month, we are highlighting female leaders in the retail industry. From small business owners to CEOs, women are leading the way. 

The awkwardness that can accompany a traditional bra fitting sparked a business idea that would land Michelle Lam on The List of People Shaping Retail’s Future 2017 as a Dreamer. Lam is the co-founder and CEO of lingerie e-commerce startup True&Co. Since starting five years ago, she and her team have collected and utilized over 130 million pieces of data to transform the way designers approach bra sizing and fit. 

Lam spoke to us about the importance of consumer data, who inspires her and what’s on the horizon for True&Co.

Michelle Lam 

Michelle Lam 

Can you walk us through the True&Co. consumer experience?
At True&Co., we were the first to introduce a Fit Quiz to help determine the styles that best flatter your shape and size. We offer free returns, so our customers can try on their lingerie in the comfort of their own homes. They can try on different clothes and make sure they are completely happy with the fit. We know how hard it is to find great lingerie that makes you feel and look good, so our amazing team of Fit Therapists are available to answer any fit questions or provide more style suggestions based off your specific needs. 

What inspired you to create True&Co.?
I started True&Co. in my living room after a shockingly bad bra fitting experience. I was on the hunt for the ultimate strapless bra and like many of our customers I had never done a proper fitting before. I was stuck in the fitting room for two hours and not one bra fit me properly … I felt the ugliest I ever had in my lifetime.

This is when I realized that the problem wasn’t me. It was the bra and the bra shopping experience. The measuring tape didn’t work because the shape of the breast is as important — if not more important — than your band and cup size.

How did your experience in venture capital and working for companies such as PwC and Microsoft prepare you for starting your own retail business?
I was so curious — I tried all kinds of different careers, seeing firsthand how the different companies work and how diverse teams can work together. The more diverse the team is, the more innovative and crazy the solution. At True&Co., software engineers sit side-by-side with bra designers. The eclectic workforce we have is one of the major reasons why we can dream up innovative ideas.

“The more diverse the team is, the more innovative and crazy the solution. ... The eclectic workforce we have is one of the major reasons why we can dream up innovative ideas.”

Michelle Lam
Co-founder and CEO, True&Co.

Do you think data will continue to transform the retail industry?
YES! We believe that the customer is an individual and that her likes and dislikes should be designed into the products we build for her. We as retailers and brands have the capacity to serve the customer’s need more than ever, thanks to comprehensive feedback that allows us to design the next generation of apparel. 

Second Skin, part of our newly developed True Body collection, is a patent-pending style, featuring no-sew technology with bonded seams and stretch recovery, taking performance elements from athleisure and combining the fabric and hand-feel of intimate apparel. With no seams, thread, elastics or bulky binding, the fabrication becomes light, breathable and anti-itch. Adding to that, the bra’s longer length hugs the wearer’s curves while creating a smoothing effect for the upper body without the restricting compression of shapewear.

What exciting things can we expect to see from True&Co. in the near future?
It is my goal to fit all women regardless of their size. One step, one body at a time. Working with our customers, designers, fit experts, data whizzes and a flurry of other bright sparks, we are now looking to expand into bigger size ranges.

We are a young company and it takes time and a lot of engineering to make sure the bra we make works for a specific size. One of the limitations, believe it or not, is the availability of fit models who can give us great feedback. The other is a whole new set of wires, elastic, fabrics that we push the manufacturers for. We have been working on DDD for a very long time, for example. If you’re in the New York or San Francisco area and want to help, reach out to True&Co.

Which female leaders inspire you, and what advice would you give to young women interested in careers in retail?
Sheryl Sandberg and Mindy Grossman. Have confidence that you will always be employable. But your relationships with good people are irreplaceable.