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Sarah Palmer of BRANWYN Performance Innerwear: “Do whatever floats your boat and when it stops floating your boat, stop doing it”

“Do whatever floats your boat and when it stops floating your boat, stop doing it.” This is something my mom has always told me. It’s in the same vein as “life is short, so do what makes you happy.” I think a lot of us grew up with the notion that everything has to be […]

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“Do whatever floats your boat and when it stops floating your boat, stop doing it.” This is something my mom has always told me. It’s in the same vein as “life is short, so do what makes you happy.” I think a lot of us grew up with the notion that everything has to be a struggle, that success does not come without painful sacrifice, and that work isn’t meant to be fun. If I ever find myself feeling like I’m stuck and miserable, I remind myself of this and ask myself, “What am I getting out of being stuck and miserable?” Oftentimes the answer to that questions tells me exactly what I need to know.


As a part of our series about women who are shaking things up in their industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Sarah Palmer.

Sarah Palmer is the Co-Founder and Creative Director of BRANWYN, whose groundbreaking Performance Innerwear is shaking up the active underwear industry. Sarah leveraged her extensive background in fashion and wellness to introduce something that had yet to be seen in the performance space: underwear made by active women for active women, using biodegradable merino wool. Today, Sarah uses her business and her platform to empower all woman to unleash their inner power and go after what they want in life.


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?

Oh, where do I begin! I have a bit of a “hummingbird” backstory. In college I majored in architecture, but during my senior year I realized I wanted to work in fashion. When I graduated in 2010, I moved to NYC and worked as a Design Assistant for a dress line. Around the same time, my interests in plant-based foods and alternative medicine were also starting to blossom as I addressed my own health and wellness issues. Being a young 20-something, with a “if I hate it, I can do something else” mentality, I decided to leave my job in fashion and try something new. I went to culinary school and eventually moved to the West Coast to pursue a degree in Naturopathic Medicine at Bastyr — all while working in luxury retail to pay the bills…and to stay close to fashion.

To make a very long story short, when I got into grad school after completing my pre-med work, I realized that I wasn’t 110% sold on a career as a Naturopathic Doctor. I deferred and got a job as an assistant buyer at Zulilly to better understand the merchandising side of fashion, another area of the business that I had been drawn to along with design. Over the next 8 months, it became clear to me that medicine wasn’t for me and that there had to be some way to explore all my interests in one career. So I closed the door on grad school and focused on a career in merchandising.

Eventually I made my way to adidas, which, as a brand, had the perfect balance of fashion, fitness, health, and wellness, and spoke to me on a more personal level. I played sports my entire life, including field hockey in college, so working for one of the top sports brands in the US felt like the perfect fit. During my four years at the company, I worked as an Assistant Buyer and Buyer, before eventually building the Merchandising Team for adidas’ Digital Partner Programs and launching DTC adidas marketplaces on eBay and Amazon. It was a really formative time in my career during which I learned a ton and grew both personally and professionally.

Digressing a bit…I’ve always had an entrepreneurial spirit. I have always dreamed of working for myself one day and having my own business. Around 2018/19, the itch to go out on my own was stronger than ever. After meeting my partner in late 2018 and incubating what is now BRANWYN for the better part of nine months, I decided to leave adidas and give it a go. BRANWYN is the culmination of my hummingbird career path; while we provide game-changing, sustainable Performance Innerwear to active women, we also seek to empower those women to unleash their inner power and go after what they want in life.

What ultimately led me down this particular career path was following my instincts and what I believed I wanted to do and was meant to do, instead of what I thought I should be doing.

Can you tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?

BRANWYN is revolutionizing the active underwear industry for women. Our underwear, which we call Innerwear, is designed specifically for the female body and its needs during physical activity, without sacrificing comfort or performance. Unlike our competitors, our products are made using merino wool, a regenerative and biodegradable fiber that naturally moves moisture away from the body, eliminates odor, and regulates temperature. We are the triple threat of women’s performance underwear.

With our products, and our brand, we are changing the way that women think about the underwear that they wear when they work out. When I was in college playing field hockey, I played in whatever I could find that wouldn’t bunch under my spandex when I was sprinting from end-line to end-line, which was often a polyester thong. I had no idea that underwear existed that was meant for getting sweaty, let alone believe that it could be made using something organic and renewable. Now, with our merino Innerwear, there’s a no-compromises solution that performs much better and is more sustainable than polyester underwear.

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?

Not prioritizing emails from customers! We were so focused on marketing that we had completely forgotten that we set up a separate inbox for customer emails and neglected it for several weeks. Needless to say, we fixed that one pretty quickly. Today, our customer service is something we really pride ourselves in.

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?

My Mom has been my biggest cheerleader since I was little. She fully supported me in going after what I wanted and always encouraged me to realize my potential and own my gifts. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve seen just how powerful that can be for women. To know and feel like I can do and achieve anything I set my mind to is like having a million dollars in my pocket at all times.

I’ve also found tremendous mentorship in communities like Create & Cultivate and indirectly via podcasts like Girlboss Radio, How I Built This, and Lady Startup. Sometimes the best mentorship is hearing someone else’s story.

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 whether or not disruption is a positive comes down to the intention behind the disruption and its impact on the greater community, inclusive of our planet.

I think disrupting an industry is positive when it’s challenging the status quo to improve a product, service, or quality of life for a community. In my mind, doing something simply because it’s “how it’s always been done” is not a good enough reason not to change. When disruption has a massive halo effect such that it improves the circumstance of individuals and systems outside of the immediate customer, that to me feels positive.

I think disrupting an industry is negative when it has the opposite effect. If it negatively impacts individuals, certain communities, our planet, etc. either directly or indirectly then is it really that great? Is it disruptive or just opportunistic?

Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.

“Do whatever floats your boat and when it stops floating your boat, stop doing it.” This is something my mom has always told me. It’s in the same vein as “life is short, so do what makes you happy.” I think a lot of us grew up with the notion that everything has to be a struggle, that success does not come without painful sacrifice, and that work isn’t meant to be fun. If I ever find myself feeling like I’m stuck and miserable, I remind myself of this and ask myself, “What am I getting out of being stuck and miserable?” Oftentimes the answer to that questions tells me exactly what I need to know.

“You can’t go 0–100 running on empty.” I adopted this in 2019 after I spent the better part of 2018 running a million miles a minute. Eventually I burned out and it took almost a year to get back to feeling like myself. The human body is like a car: if you don’t put gas in it, do the regular oil change, and rotate the tires, it’s not going to run properly.

“The customer is always right.” Even if they are wrong, they are always right. I picked this up while working in luxury retail, though it was later reinforced when I was at adidas working with Amazon. Excellent customer service is a top priority for us at BRANWYN and an area of business that I feel like is so undervalued. With BRANWYN, I use every customer interaction as an opportunity to connect with the customer and to make them feel seen and heard. If I could give a few pieces of advice for new businesses, it would be pump up your CS game; your customers are literally the key to your success as a business.

We are sure you aren’t done. How are you going to shake things up next?

World domination. Kidding. In all seriousness though, I’m the kind of person that is constantly evaluating and pivoting. There’s no doubt that I have something else up my sleeve; we’ll just have to see what it is.

In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by ‘women disruptors’ that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?

Societal expectations, opportunity, and access to capital. I feel like now more than ever women are expected to not only be able to do everything, but also be everything to everyone: work 40+ hours a week, excel in our careers, birth and raise children, cook, clean, etc., all with a smile on our face. We’re expected to be Superwoman, which there’s no doubt in my mind that we can all do, but long-term, it’s just not sustainable. After a while it begins to take a toll on our health and well-being, negatively impact our adrenal system and hormones, and increase our risk of heart disease.

The flip side of this coin is that if we don’t do it all, something has to give, and oftentimes, especially for working moms it’s the career or the dream of disrupting an industry. With the majority of job loss over the past year impacting women, it’s imperative that we as a community look at the systems, beliefs, and unconscious biases that we have about women today, remove the barriers that exist, and proactively close the gender gap that exists in so many industries. Some might argue that prioritizing female voices, employees, and investment is not equitable but rather gives women an unfair advantage. I would argue that it is leveling the playing field.

Additionally, we have to create more opportunities for women to access capital. Female-founded companies received 2.8% of all venture capital funding between 2018 and 2019 — two-point-eight percent — let that sink in.What’s even more dismal is that women of color received only 0.67% of total VC funding — less than 1%. I see this as one of the biggest, if not the biggest, challenges that ‘women disruptors’ face. On average, women already make less than men. In 2020, women made anywhere from 10–20% less than their male counterparts. Money isn’t everything, but when you are building and scaling a business, capital is Queen.

Do you have a book/podcast/talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us?

Two of my favorite podcasts are Second Life Podcast with Hilary Kerr and More Than One Thing with Athena Calderone. Both highlight women and individuals who have pivoted, started second careers, and zigged and zagged through life, something I can definitely relate to. I’m also fascinated by other people’s journeys — I love listening to how they got to where they are and what they were thinking along the way!

I know it is very hot right now, but I cannot recommend Untamed by Glennon Doyle enough. So much of what she touches on I have either personally experienced or observed in the world and felt that no one was talking about, so in a way, I felt very seen and heard after reading it. She nailed it.

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. 🙂

One of my favorite phrases is, “When you empower women, you empower the world.” I genuinely believe that if we continue to empower women with access to education, capital, and opportunity — with no strings attached — then we will experience tremendous benefits across the board, with a massive trickle-down effect.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Never let fear have a seat at the table unless it deserves to be there.” ~ Yours Truly

I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve been terrified to do something in my life — leave a job, start my own business, admit a business failed, move across the country, defer from grad schools, leave another job. Most of the times I experienced fear for one reason or another, it was because I didn’t know what was going to happen. Yes, fear has a way of protecting us, but it also has a way of keeping us small. I wrote a blog post about this last year actually, but what I’ve come to realize is that not all fear is created equal. The key is using fear as a point to pause and better understand the root of the fear being felt.

How can our readers follow you online?

On the ‘gram @sarahrosesrp and @branwynofficial and online at westonrose.com and branwyn.com

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

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