Protect your equity. I received an early offer of investment for 40% of my business for 250K before I launched any product. At the time, I was so wrapped up with the idea of legitimizing myself as an entrepreneur that I was actually considering it. I called my advisor and she persuaded me otherwise. Always protect your equity. If I was going to give up 40% of my company, it would be at a later stage, not now and for a whole lot more, but I would have to prove my concept had legs. I decided boot strap, start small and grow with integrity. If there is a first offer, there will be a second.
As a part of our series about women who are shaking things up in their industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Helena Kaylin.
Helena Kaylin, Founder and CEO of MINDD, is all-hands-on-deck with her company and passionate about providing a bra that you’ll want to wear 24/7. She spends her days meeting with customers, working with product innovators, and innovating partnerships with the global leading manufacturers in intimate and athletic apparel.
Helena began her career in bras and intimates in 2005 at Victoria’s Secret, where she was part of the innovation team and led the best at bras initiative that laid the foundation for contemporary athleisure.
Following her time at Victoria’s Secret, Helena went on to hold senior-level executive roles in merchandising and design at Calvin Klein Underwear, Under Armour, Uniqlo and Carbon38. In 2015, she led women’s product as the Global VP of Merchandising at Lululemon, where she oversaw the market launch of two new product innovations, the Enlite Bra and Nulux franchise.
In 2018 she left her position as Chief Merchandising and Design Officer at Carbon38 to start the MINDD Bra Company when she had an “aha” moment that over the last 2 years she was no longer wearing her everyday bras and was opting for the comfort of her (still ill-fitting) sports bras and noted that no company was investing into real innovation and solving for fit and feel for the D+ customer.
As a 36 DDD bra size, Helena had yet to find a bra that combined both comfort and beauty and MINDD came to life. She hopes to offer women with D+ breasts, a bra that not only feels amazing and is beautiful but also provides the best wire-free comfort
Helena holds a BA in International Development from the University of Calgary and in 2009 completed an Executive Leadership program at Harvard Business School with a focus on Customer-Centric Innovation. You will find her most mornings hiking Runyon Canyon in Los Angeles with her husband Scott and dog Hunter.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?
Luck, hard work, curiosity, and the willingness to learn. The luck came from a chance meeting with a recruiter who was hiring for a role with Victoria’s Secret in NY running a newly formed R&D Team.
I had zero experience in fashion, let alone intimate apparel. I was responsible for managing the strategic product pipeline of innovation for bras. My team included a machinist, a textile engineer, a pattern maker, and a fit technologist, and our partners were factories, mills, and leading universities and researchers from all over the world. This first job in fashion opened my eyes, and I learned everything about bras and intimate apparel by growing up in factories.
A simple fitting is what led me to start my own company. My fit tech at Victoria’s Secret was an industry veteran. She asked me when I started if I knew my bra size. I was like, “of course! I am a 34B.” She said, no you’re not. I was like, yes, I am. She said you are either a DD or an E cup. She fit me, and I was a 34E. I was shocked. I realized that I was wearing ill-fitting bras and over the years, I realized that I could actually never comfortably wear any of the bras I was a part of developing because it never fit into a brand strategy. I had one of those “The straw that breaks the camels’ back moments” where I came home and said to my husband, “it’s time. I need to do this myself.”
Can you tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?
What Lululemon is for yoga pants, MINDD is for bras. My mission from the very start was to reimagine bras for the D+ customer, like me, built on the pillars of beauty, comfort, innovation and performance.
I took my favorite sports bra and my favorite lacey bra and created a bra baby, the bra that you can literally wear for life. I took the best of the performance apparel industry, the quick-wicking yarns, recovery of the elastane, the comfort of your favorite leggings, and the support of a piece of shapewear and re-engineered and reimagined how to make a bra and be a company that stands for wire-free innovation always.
This bra is a bra that you can wear to a yoga class, Pilates, spin class. You just can’t run in it.
We have disrupted the fit system. Our bras start at a 28C and go up to a 44G. For most companies, this represents 48 sizes. For MINDD, it’s only 5 sizes. We have also innovated a proprietary fit technology called MINDD Tech.
Most bras are the most un-environmentally friendly piece of clothing women own. There are anywhere from 40–55 components in a bra and many traditional bras use toxic materials like glues and foams. Our bra has 3 components and use sustainable yarns and water-based dyes.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
The funniest thing I did was starting to create the underwear line. I was up late at night finishing a tech pack for the factory, and I got the measurements wrong. The underwear came back and looked like the sexiest jock strap ever made. I still have it, of course. It was a lesson that sometimes things can wait one more day and you will get a better result. I was tired and felt rushed and it cost me time and money. As an early-stage entrepreneur, you have to manage your time. I am not great at it. I need to do lists and most importantly time-off to recharge.
We all need a little help along the journey. Who have been some of your mentors? Can you share a story about how they made an impact?
I have been very lucky over the course of my long, 20+-year career to have a network of colleagues and former bosses I can call on. The best advice I received was to stay focused and the growth will come. An important mentor of mine reminded me not to worry about creating 10 different bras coming out of the gate, but rather to start with the one you believe in most and to make sure you do it better than anybody else.
In today’s parlance, being disruptive is usually a positive adjective. But is disrupting always good? When do we say the converse, that a system or structure has ‘withstood the test of time’? Can you articulate to our readers when disrupting an industry is positive, and when disrupting an industry is ‘not so positive’? Can you share some examples of what you mean?
I think disruption for the most part is a really good thing. I am more inclined to the stealthy type of disruption, when companies you don’t expect to make an impact suddenly take over an industry. For example, Netflix and Amazon. Both of these companies launched in the mid 90’s and they innovated an experience. Investors probably didn’t think it was the most innovative idea, to put a DVD the mail when there was a Blockbuster on every street corner or a Barnes and Noble in every mall.
Fast fashion disrupted the entire fashion industry 15 years ago, and it is still disrupting how people shop for trends. Being able to have access to trends at a really deep discount created a somewhat of disposable fashion — wearing something once or twice and not feel guilty about it because you didn’t spend too much on it.
The environmental and societal impact of fast fashion in other countries, however, are terrible. The amount of manufacturing waste, waste that exists in landfills, and the level of water pollution have affected the way people live. Change is happening, but as consumers, we should be more aware of where our garments are made and how.
Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.
I launched MINDD on February 19, 2020. COVID closures happened a few weeks later. I was terrified. Having cash to invest in marketing was key. I held back on hiring and did everything myself at the start. The cash I saved allowed me to pivot quickly.
Protect your equity. I received an early offer of investment for 40% of my business for 250K before I launched any product. At the time, I was so wrapped up with the idea of legitimizing myself as an entrepreneur that I was actually considering it. I called my advisor and she persuaded me otherwise. Always protect your equity. If I was going to give up 40% of my company, it would be at a later stage, not now and for a whole lot more, but I would have to prove my concept had legs. I decided bootstrap, start small and grow with integrity. If there is a first offer, there will be a second.
We are sure you aren’t done. How are you going to shake things up next?
I have some really interesting new ideas I’m working on, and I’m really excited to bring them to market. I am really focusing on the brand and creating a new experience for the customer.
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by ‘women disruptors’ that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?
From a funding perspective, I believe women have an uphill battle versus our male counterparts. You can be the global expert in the field and investors will still look for a second opinion.
Do you have a book/podcast/talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us?
I love Oprah’s SuperSoul Conversations podcast! When she interviewed Bob Iger, I just fell in love! I would love to have Mr. Iger on my board! I went on to read his book, “The Ride of a Lifetime” and the following quote is something I’m actually getting framed to have as a reminder every day.
“Optimism. One of the most important qualities of a good leader is optimism, a pragmatic enthusiasm for what can be achieved. Even in the face of difficult choices and less than ideal outcomes, an optimistic leader does not yield to pessimism. Simply put, people are not motivated or energized by pessimists. Courage. The foundation of risk-taking is courage, and in ever-changing, disrupted businesses, risk-taking is essential, innovation is vital, and true innovation occurs only when people have courage. This is true of acquisitions, investments, and capital allocations, and it particularly applies to creative decisions. Fear of failure destroys creativity. Focus. Allocating time, energy, and resources to the strategies, problems, and projects that are of highest importance and value is extremely important, and it’s imperative to communicate your priorities clearly and often. Decisiveness. All decisions, no matter how difficult, can and should be made in a timely way. Leaders must encourage a diversity of opinion balanced with the need to make and implement decisions. Chronic indecision is not only inefficient and counterproductive, but it is deeply corrosive to morale. Curiosity. A deep and abiding curiosity enables the discovery of new people, places, and ideas, as well as an awareness and an understanding of the marketplace and its changing dynamics. The path to innovation begins with curiosity. Fairness. Strong leadership embodies the fair and decent treatment of people. Empathy is essential, as is accessibility.”
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
An eternal optimist movement.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I have two quotes I live by. And, when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.” — Paulo Coelho, “The Alchemist”
“If you are always trying to be normal, you will never know how amazing you can be.”- Maya Angelou
How can our readers follow you online?
Check us out on Instagram at @helenakaylin & @minddbra