The process of getting fit for a bra is a unique and very personal experience, and one you can learn a lot from. But what if you just don't have the time for a proper bra fitting? That's the very real predicament Heidi Zak wanted to solve when she launched startup ThirdLove with her husband, David Spector, in 2013. You may know ThirdLove for its bra fitting iOs app, which takes the human element totally out of a process that's quite personal by nature. This is how it works: You use the app to take two pictures of your chest — either wearing a formfitting tank top or just your bra — one from the front, and one from the side. (The company guarantees that the photos are for fitting purposes only, and that they won't be stored anywhere.) Then, your bra size is generated via an algorithm, and you can start shopping for new bras that actually fit, thanks to ThirdLove's private-label offerings. The site also serves as a useful lingerie-decoding resource: Its clever "breast shape dictionary" helps you decipher what sorts of bras will best fit your unique assets. The concept has gotten some serious investor attention recently: ThirdLove announced $8 million in a Series A round of financing earlier this month, according to Fortune. Among the investors were some major lingerie retail industry alums: Laurie Ann Goldman, former CEO of Spanx, and Lori Greeley, former CEO of Victoria’s Secret."It says a lot about what we’re building and the fact that we’re really changing [something]," Zak told Refinery29 of ThirdLove's new investors. "We’re breaking through traditional norms, and focusing on what really matters to a woman: fit and comfort, as well as style. Having that trio really is allowing us to create a brand that really stands for something that women can relate to."
The company is really committed to fit: for example, there are minor design differences between sizes, depending on the fit needs of a particular band number and cup letter. One of the most unique (and distinguishing) features in ThirdLove's inventory is its half-cup sizing for A, B, C, and D, which it stocks in addition to bands ranging from size 28 to 42 and cups AA to F. Zak estimates that approximately 35% of customers wear half-sizes, although most don't even know until they test out the app. ThirdLove introduced half-sizes after early data batches collected from the app revealed that many women fell between traditional cup sizes. "Measurements are significant when you’re talking about an inch [on a bra]," Zak says. ThirdLove's lingerie innovations piggy-backed off of each other in the company's first year of business, with the technology and the merchandise "developed in tandem," according to Zak. First, the app (and the bra-fitting technology) came about, providing qualitative and quantitative sizing data. Those figures revealed that many women fell between traditional cup sizes (thus sparking the idea for the half-cup). The startup first raised $5.6 million in seed funding in 2013, and began with a focus on growing the "beta, beta version" of the 2013 app, as well as the first line of product, Zak says. Since then, ThirdLove has expanded from an initial team of five to six employees to now "18 and growing."
The latest round of financing will go into three specific areas: expanding the team, product offerings, and retail partnerships. The latter is something ThirdLove started toying with relatively recently via an exclusive partnership with Bloomingdale's. "When you partner with a brick-and-mortar store, you don’t have that ability to communicate the story behind the half-size or a half-cup or what it is, or why somebody should care," Zak says. Interestingly, IRL sales patterns of ThirdLove items at Bloomingdale's, especially for half-cups, only differed by 1% from the site's sales. More brick-and-mortar partnerships may be on the horizon, Zak says. "To me, it’s a perfect complement to our business," she explains, because it appeals to the customer that already shops ThirdLove online (or has used the app), but also introduces the line to women "who feel more comfortable touching and feeling a product," or perhaps trying it on before purchasing. ThirdLove's core demographic is women age 25 to 50, according to Zak. The elder segment of this age range is comprised of "women who have children and who are coming up in an age where everything is done electronically," Zak says. She was surprised to hear about moms and daughters using the app to size themselves at home together (instead of the common department store experience). "The idea of being fit for your first bra using an app isn’t a strange thing," Zak says. There's also the convenience factor, and appeal of getting intimate with your bra measurements in the privacy of your own home. "Core" is a word that comes up a lot when talking to Zak. First, there's the core idea of the business, that has remained the same since day one. (In Zak's words, it's "to create an app that would let women get fit for a bra from the comfort of her home really easily, and have a really great, seamless shopping experience from her phone.") Then, of course, there's ThirdLove's core product: the 24/7 Collection, which is meant for everyday wear. It's also a strong sense of what's core to the business — the values and the offerings — that Zak believes has made ThirdLove successful. "I think the hardest part of being a founder and being in a startup, even when you raise money, is you have to stay really focused, and you can’t do everything," she says. ThirdLove has already developed quite a following — and thanks to its recent cash infusion, that fan base is bound to expand sizably in the near future.