Lauren Schwab and Marissa Vosper of Negative Underwear | Meet the Dynamic Duo Who Built a Lingerie Empire

Author: Udit

Lauren Schwab and Marissa Vosper are changing the game, one thread at a time.  Here, the women behind Negative Underwear gave us an insight on how the quality lingerie brand came about, what it takes to successfully set yourself apart from competitors, and their journeys into becoming full-time designers.

Tell us about the moment you both decided to start the lingerie line. What was going through your mind when the idea came to be?
We certainly never expected to be underwear entrepreneurs, that’s for sure. We had this moment – maybe 4-5 years out of college – where we looked at our otherwise successful careers and felt something intangible was missing. Both of us had always loved fashion but never pursued it professionally. Instead of waiting another 4-5 years and wondering ‘what if,’ we decided to do something about it. We started with night classes at FIT and found our way to lingerie out of a desire to solve a real problem – in our minds, a lack of cool, comfortable, affordable underwear options. We thought our business backgrounds would better lend themselves to this kind of a market challenge, so we took it head on and taught ourselves everything about building an underwear business from the ground up.

In terms of the opportunity we saw in lingerie specifically, we think about it from a few angles – first, we saw a market full of frilly, overly pushed-up, impractical, uncomfortable options on the one end, and then on the other, a world of boring t-shirt bra basics that had zero sex appeal or cool factor. We also saw a spectrum of high-quality, well-made luxuries that were totally unaffordable for every day, and on the other, mass-produced cheap polyester pieces that fell apart after a few washes. Last, we saw a shopping landscape that was dire – overwhelmingly over assorted department stores, specialty stores and generic chains that didn’t fit into a contemporary definition of service or convenience.

We wanted to change all that – offering something that was both comfortable and cool, both well made and well priced, with amazing customer service and an irresistibly simple shopping experience. We decided to build our company as an online-first, primarily direct-to-consumer business model to make this equation a reality.

What inspired the design of Negative Underwear? What separates your lingerie brand from others?
Beyond the business model and the fashion meets function/comfort meets cool aspects, Negative (aesthetically) is a balance of minimalism, attention to detail and a dash of NYC edge. Our materials are special, and every component is considered – when you take away all the bells and whistles, the essentials that remain have to be the best. We hand-selected each and every part over years of sourcing and experimentation from the best mills and suppliers around the world. From our beautiful micromesh fabrics to our silky plush elastics, down to our seamless microfiber hook & eyes and heat transferred care labels - our difference is in our hyper-attention to detail.

"Persevere. Don’t take no for an answer and work harder than the next guy. Even when it seems like an insurmountable hurdle ahead, focus on the finite, immediate next steps and keep going – that will separate you from the rest."

Regarding design – we like to think that our cool factor comes from our independence and confidence. We’re intentionally not like the rest – dressed down in a world of pushed up. Genuine, comfortable and easy in a market that’s often airbrushed, glamorized and augmented.

Before launching Negative Underwear, both of you ladies worked in the finance and branding fields. What can you say are the best skills you've taken from working a traditional 9-5 to building your own business?
Do your research. Take the time to understand the market - your competitors, your customers, your white space. Leverage your network.  So much of business is about relationships – we’re always amazed at how far ours has taken us.

Being open and curious is key. You never know where a new connection might lead you. Generosity is equally crucial. Relationships are a 2-way street, be thoughtful about what you can offer, not just what someone else can offer you.

Persevere. Don’t take no for an answer and work harder than the next guy. Even when it seems like an insurmountable hurdle ahead, focus on the finite, immediate next steps and keep going – that will separate you from the rest.

What do you think keeps women from investing in quality undergarments? How is Negative Underwear breaking that barrier?
It’s interesting to consider because neither of us was by any means lingerie connoisseurs before starting Negative. A big reason we decided to pursue lingerie and launch our brand is because we both felt quite dissatisfied with the current category.

As two women who loved fashion - we didn’t have a go-to brand of underwear that felt in-line with our outerwear aesthetics. It always felt like this compromise - either beautiful and non-functional or comfortable and boring. And from a price perspective – it felt like you’d end up with a drawer full of luxury pieces that you’d only wear once, or everyday pieces that never felt special. If we're honest, there simply weren’t many brands in the space that merited the investment!

We wanted to prove you didn’t have to compromise - that you could make pieces that were beautiful and totally wearable for every day; that you could make a luxury garment at a better (more achievable) price. We wanted to build a brand for girls like us - not necessarily for the lingerie aficionado.

Regarding breaking the barrier - from our experience, it wasn’t until we got a bit older that we started thinking about what was underneath. When you’re younger, a lot of attention goes into all things external - how you look and appear to other people - how you think you’re perceived or want to be perceived. With regards to lingerie, that often translates into hyper-sexy, hyper girly pieces that feel almost costume-like. As you get older, you stop caring so much about other people and start paying attention to how you feel - in your skin, in your clothes, in your body. You realize that feeling good and looking good go hand in hand. That confidence and comfort in your skin matter more than anything you put over top.

That and of course, trying our line – once you wear a bra that fits, feels great and looks great – it’s hard to argue with the investment!

“Find a partner you trust and respect who complements your skills and personality well. Establish clarity on what you’re doing together and what you’re doing independently. Always assume positive intent, but be honest and direct – don’t avoid the hard conversations.”

What is the key to keeping a bra in good shape?
Hand washing – in a sink, in cold water, with delicates detergent. It’s not a wives tale – machines warp wires, and normal detergents break down delicate fabric fibers. And yes it’s annoying, but so is cardio and this takes way less time/effort.

And a lesser known tip – rotate your bras. Most of us own a handful of bras but only wear a few – it’s ideal if you can have at least 4-7 in rotation so you can give them a day or two between wears for the elastics to readjust. If you love a style, we always recommend buying duplicates – especially if you’ve got more to support. A good rule of thumb – the larger the cup size, the more bras you need to keep in rotation.

Give us a few tips on how to make a business partnership successful.
Find a partner you trust and respect who complements your skills and personality well. Establish clarity on what you’re doing together and what you’re doing independently. Always assume positive intent, but be honest and direct – don’t avoid the hard conversations. Remember to have fun together outside of work.

What inspires you both to continue to push the envelope in the lingerie industry?
Our customers! We have so many incredible women who proactively email us to say what a difference our brand has made in their lives. The lingerie industry is truly so archaic – and dominated by one pervasive point of view. It’s inspiring to champion another perspective – one that celebrates women and their bodies as they are versus pushing them up or sucking them into something they’re not. We want women to feel beautiful, comfortable and confident in their own skin every day. That goal keeps us working hard.

Can you give aspiring entrepreneurs some advice on how to successfully transition from working their day jobs to running a business on their own?
The real answer is smart time management and dedication – there’s no secret tip to making it work. Nights and weekends alongside a demanding job are hard, and you have to make sacrifices to do it all. The best advice we can give is to make sure your future business is something you truly love because you’ll spend more time on it than anything else. A good test of whether or not you want to do something full-time is to force yourself to commit weekend time to making it happen. Skipping Sunday brunch with your friends to work for your business is a great gauge of whether your idea should be a hobby or a company.

When Lauren and Marissa are not designing, what are you both doing?
Sleeping! Ha – starting a business is exhilarating but also exhausting. Kidding aside, we’re both big believers in finding that balance between working hard and treating yourself well – whether that’s dinner with friends and family, yoga/gym classes, small bits of meditation, cooking at home, or simply spending a night in with popcorn, bad TV and face masks. Being an entrepreneur takes a lot out of you, so it’s important to refuel in the ways that make the biggest difference in that

What is next for Negative Underwear?
Building an underwear empire, of course! But aside from that, growing our team, expanding our size range and core collection, a few exciting retail partnerships in the works, new product categories in the pipeline… And hopefully continuing to build a brand that supports women – figuratively and literally – and that women love right back.

What does MISSBISH mean to you?
Independent, confident, self-sufficient, active women!

Photos by: Carmen Chan