Ladies Who Launch: True&Co Founder Michelle Lam
At Stella & Dot, our mission is to give every woman the means to style her own life and to be her own entrepreneur. So we're partnering with other female founders to talk about entrepreneurship, work-life balance and the importance of a women-empowered support system in 2018.
Meet True&Co Founder, Michelle Lam, who was so fed up with the agonizing bra experience that she decided to create her own company. So we sat down to find out more about Michelle and the path she's taken to create her own business as well as the challenges she's faced along the way.
We’ve all had a frustrating bra try-on experience, what inspired you to change this?
I decided to start True&Co. and change the industry back in 2012 after a shockingly bad bra fitting experience. I was on the hunt for a strapless bra and like many of our customers, I had never done a proper fitting before. I was stuck in the fitting room for 2 hours and not one bra fit me properly. I realized that 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.
After my experience, I realized the issue was the bra and not me. The customer was not being heard - I wanted to solve this problem by designing and creating a unique kind of shopping experience for women. Listening to the customer is what drives the mission of the brand.
Before you started True&Co, you were a venture capitalist. Tell us about your time- what challenges did you face and what helped you succeed?
I was one of the first female investors at a big firm and was not around a lot of like-minded or like-looking individuals, and I learned about the power of influential communication. Building bridges with people who were completely different from me and who would not necessarily understand my point of view based on where I had come from.
What challenges did you face initially when starting True&Co?
Bras are very hard to make. Dealing with supply chains and the huge spectrum of different kinds of bodies make it difficult for a young company to break into the lingerie market.
What I learned early on is that there is no guessing in this industry. To provide women with the right options we needed to connect with a huge community of women and ask women what they wanted.
Was there a moment early on when you felt confident you had made the right move?
The Fit Quiz was a huge success early on because it was an indicator that someone was listening — it seemed like a common thread that we'd all had negative experiences with traditional, in-store bra fittings. By being the first company to effectively move this process online, we were immediately getting noticed by women as looking for something different.
We were astonished with the response we received when we launched and were so swamped with orders that we went back to Asia to get more product. This was the real indicator that women needed someone out there to listen to them.
Tell us more about your Fit Quiz, what sets it apart and how did you come up with this idea?
We were the first to come out with the Fit Quiz and it all started with a party I threw in my living room. I invited women to come over, answer a collection of questions I had written out by hand and try on a selection of bras I had bought.
The power of the Fit Quiz is that we ask women all different questions that they know about their bodies and it all comes down to not being about band and cup size. It’s about what the shape of your breasts is. Bras have typically been designed for well-rounded cup shape and this only makes up 27% of women.
It was so powerful watching women’s eyes light up as they tried on bras that fit them in great lighting and in the comfort of a home. I could feel confidence flowing into them - a women’s eyes lighting up became my criteria for success.
Do you have any mentors? What’s the best piece of advice that you’ve ever been given?
My first mentor was my dad and he truly inspired the algorithm behind the quiz. Some of my most important mentors come from completely organic relationships that I only see once a year. I’ve also been lucky enough to have a ton of amazing bosses. I’ve learned from incredible mentors that it is so important to support the people who work for you and make heroes out them. Always think about how you can encourage the people coming up behind you.
What does balance look like to you?
Following your heart and don't try anything you don't want to do. I learned this as I manage my work-life balance with my husband who lives in a different city. Balance meant not forcing myself to get on a plane every Friday night to make that work. And focus on what gives you joy every day. Working 24/7 to gain success is a myth. We need breaks to rejuvenate!
What does it mean to partner with other strong women? Why is this important to you?
We are building a community of strong supportive women, it's at the heart of what True&Co. does. We are currently partnering with The Keep A Breast Foundation, a female-founded nonprofit organization whose mission is to empower young people globally with breast health. They help women educate themselves with a great app called #checkyourselfie So far, we’ve raised tens of thousands of dollars for them and we have educated our community on the importance of breast cancer awareness.
What are the essentials for a women shopping True&Co?
- One of our newest products just in time for Valentine's Day and an emotional favorite of mine is the Long Line Bralette. It is super comfortable with no wire and with a gorgeous back, great for styling with your favorite Stella & Dot jewels.
- The True Body Lift is an incredible piece and comes in a variety of silhouettes made with our secret performance fabric without wire or cups and lifts you up to one inch- we are so excited about this piece and would love to hear from the Stella & Dot community about how the bra has been performing for them!
We read every single piece of feedback and we kept hearing from a special cohort of customers who had breast cancer surgery. They loved the fabric of the True Body but we realized that the pull-over bra is not a great experience for them. We developed The Front Closure with a corseted hook and eye front, which is a fun piece designed for every woman, but specifically with this customer in mind because she deserves beautiful lingerie too.