Adam: Thanks again for taking the time to share your story and your advice. First things first, though, I am sure readers would love to learn more about you. What is something about you that would surprise people?
Joanna: People are often surprised to learn that I am not a morning person. I’m not one of those CEO’s that is up at 5 am and has done more before breakfast than an average person does in their entire day. I cherish my sleep and it’s one of the most important parts of my selfcare routine.
Adam: How did you get here?
Joanna: I started my career as an entertainment publicist, and at the time, I had thought that one day I would own my own media company. Getting my MBA completely changed my mindset. I came out of the program with an idea that I had completely fallen in love with: I wanted to start a company that created great-looking, leakproof underwear for women. Prior to starting Knix, I had no experience in fashion or even selling physical goods. In a strange way, I think that’s part of the reason why I’ve been successful. I’ve always known that I don’t have all of the answers, so I’ve turned to our customers to really try to understand what it is they want and need. I officially launched Knix in 2013 with our first product, leakproof underwear, and have spent the past several years listening to women and using their feedback to develop wireless bras, sports bras, swim, lounge and a myriad of products. Fast forward to 2020 and a Knix product is purchased every 7 seconds, making it one of the fastest-growing intimate apparel companies in the world.
Adam: What experiences, failures, setbacks or challenges have been most instrumental to your growth?
Joanna: I had initially started Knix by wholesaling our products to brick-and-mortar stores, and that was my life for the first three years. I built Knix to be carried in over 700 retail locations, but something wasn’t clicking. We were a mission-led company with a big focus on body positivity and inclusivity. Unfortunately, at that point in time, the majority of retailers just weren’t at the same place. We’d have customers drive from store to store only to be told that they didn’t carry their size. There was a definite disconnect between the message we were putting out as a brand and the experience that our customers were having.
In 2016, I made the difficult decision to switch gears. Slowly we pulled out of every retail location and switched our focus to selling entirely online. It was a big risk, because I cut the majority of our revenue, but in the long run it was the smartest decision we ever made. We grew just under 3000% in 3 years and strengthened our relationship with our end customer.
Selling intimates online also comes with its own set of challenges – especially when it comes to fit and sizing. An estimated 85% of women are wearing the wrong bra size, so providing a solid level of education and customer support is key. We’ve placed a big emphasis on building a best-in-class Customer Empowerment team – both online and in our Knix-owned retail stores. Just this past March, we introduced Virtual Fittings, which allows customers to virtually meet with one of our retail associates to help them get properly sized for our products.
Adam: How did you come up with the idea for Knix?
Joanna: My mom is a doctor and a mother of four. We were chatting, and I learned what happened to women’s bodies during pregnancy and postpartum. I learned that one in three women can leak a little when they laugh, sneeze, cough or exercise and 80% of women experience leaks during their period. While the statistics blew my mind, so did the fact that there were no suitable products out there for women. That was the initial idea for Knix.
Throughout my research I spoke with hundreds of women about the concept, and the two things I consistently heard were that intimates weren’t designed for real women in real life. When it came to products, many were designed to be worn for 5 minutes and then taken off….ideally by someone else….and others didn’t take into account how women’s bodies actually work. Secondly, it became apparent that the industry as a whole was making women feel bad about themselves. It was the peak of the Victoria’s Secret era, and a lot of women just couldn’t relate. This inspired me to focus on using our customers of all shapes, ages, sizes and ethnicities in our marketing, way back in 2013.
A lot of things about Knix have changed over the years, but those two insights have been our north star. We exist to empower women to feel more comfortable in their skin. We do that by reinventing what intimates products should be and showcasing the beauty and strength of customers through every stage of life.
Adam: What were the key steps to building and scaling the business?
Joanna: The first key step is to make something that people need….and ideally a large group people. A lot of businesses fail because they don’t have product-market fit. When we started the brand with leakproof underwear, it was a totally new product and in what some would call an unsexy market. But people needed it.
The second step is surrounding yourself with smart people who can help take your business to places you never imagined. While you may have a great idea, finding the people to turn that idea into action is everything.
Finally you have to always stay curious and connected to your customer. What worked yesterday doesn’t mean it will work tomorrow. Your customer changes, your competitors change and as we have all experienced recently – the world can change too. It’s so crucial to never lose sight of your end consumer and to be in constant contact with her so that you are always evolving and getting better.
Adam: What are the best lessons you learned on how to pivot a business from pivoting Knix in the wake of coronavirus? What should leaders and entrepreneurs understand?
Joanna: The biggest lesson I have learned from owning a business during Coronavirus is that agility is everything. We have always been a pretty nimble company, so as soon as lockdowns across the globe started, we were quick to act. When our stores closed, we launched Virtual Fittings, building on our customer’s online shopping experience, while also providing employment opportunities for our store associates. In April, we had initially planned on having our annual physical warehouse sale; instead of cancelling it, we decided to launch it virtually to consumers globally. Lastly, during times of crisis, we have found it especially important to stay close to our consumers and community. This is why we launched our Knix PPE Fundraiser to provide PPE to those who need it the most, our frontline healthcare workers. We have spent the past few weeks working with our suppliers to provide over 280,000 units of masks and gloves and have raised over $400,000 for the initiative.
Adam: In your experience, what are the defining qualities of an effective leader? How can leaders and aspiring leaders take their leadership skills to the next level?
Joanna: When I started Knix I really underestimated how much of a mental game it would be. I am not the person I was seven years ago, or even seven months ago. Effective leaders are always working on themselves. You have to be hyper-aware of your strengths, your weaknesses and your mindset, with mindset being the most important. If you can change your mindset, you can change your life. Failure is inevitable and it is part of the process. You are never going to have all of the answers and if you are doing things right you will feel stretched constantly. Surround yourself with people that are also on the path to self-improvement (whether that is through friends, podcasts, conferences or books). Talk honestly and openly about the challenges that you are facing and create a safe space for growth.
Adam: What are your three best tips applicable to entrepreneurs, executives and civic leaders?
Joanna: 1. Trust your gut and go with what feels right. Be confident in the decisions you make.
2. Listen to your consumers and your community.
3. Learn how to let go, and empower your team.
Adam: What is your best advice on building, leading and managing teams?
Joanna: Attach yourself to a mission or cause that is bigger than you. The decision to build Knix as a mission-driven brand has enabled me to attract talent that I never would have thought was possible, and navigate our team through challenges. When you are leading with a purpose it makes it so much easier for others to join you.
Adam: What is the single best piece of advice you have ever received?
Joanna: It’s the same – attach yourself to a mission or cause that’s bigger than you, greater than you. Because anytime you have to fight for something or ask for something, you realize you’re not doing it for yourself; you’re doing it for the bigger mission.
Adam: What is one thing everyone should be doing to pay it forward?
Joanna: During this time of crisis, the easiest thing that people can do to pay it forward is to simply stay home and to take a couple of minutes each day to check in on someone else and make sure they are doing OK. If you are looking for a way to help healthcare frontline workers further, we encourage you to support our PPE campaign.