#HOWSHEDIDIT: Meet Amelie Salas & Oria Mackenzie, Co-founders of Underdays
Firstly, tell us a bit about you?
Hi! We’re Amelie and Oria, we both live in London and met while working at another company (where we subsequently quit our jobs to start Underdays!). Amelie is half French, half Italian and speaks four languages fluently. Oria is originally from South Africa and has an 18-month daughter.
We are both passionate about building digital brands for the next generation of customers.
Tell us about your business, how did you come up with the idea?
We actually went to an underwear sample sale after work and left feeling so uninspired. Why are women still having to choose between uncomfortable, overly sexualised lingerie or beige basics? Our ideals, tastes and preferences have changed dramatically but yet we are still buying underwear from the same places as 20 years ago.
We wanted to create a next-generation underwear brand that women can connect with and spoke to their values, specifically around inclusivity, sustainability, and unique style. At the same time Victoria Secret’s market share was declining, making it the opportune time to launch. It was really a now or never moment.
What is your main inspiration and driver for your business and how do you create positive change in the world?
Our mission is to help women find expression with their most essential pieces. Ultimately, we are looking to provide women with the most comfortable basics while enabling them to feel unique (and stylish too).
The way we see it is that life is not that comfortable – in fact it can be pretty uncomfortable. At the bare minimum your underwear should be the one thing that you can count on for comfort as you’re constantly pushed outside your comfort zone with everyday stress. Above that it should enable you to express your individuality and feel great. It’s our goal to provide customers with this type of infrastructure to empower their everyday life.
What were the initial challenges you came up against and how did you overcome them?
For us it was about having the confidence to go out there and sell your business idea when we were new to the start-up/ investment world. We learnt quickly that there are a lot of stereotypes out there about two young women trying to start a lingerie brand. We managed to overcome these challenges by speaking to people who just really got the vision from the onset and saw the gap in the market and it was a lesson that you need to work with people who believe in you from the get-go, otherwise you will constantly doubt yourself.
What was the first win that made you feel you were onto something?
It was hearing reviews from the community of women we used to user-test our product before launch. We heard from so many of them that these were the most comfortable pants that they had ever worn. Since all of our designs were made to target women’s biggest pain points with underwear (digging, gussets that were too short, fabric that doesn’t breathe) this really gave us the confidence to move forward.
What has been your best investment?
Our best investment has certainly been our team. Investing in the right people early on who believe in the vision of the company has made a significant impact on our growth and culture. We believe strongly that founders can’t be experts at everything so leveraging other talent and opinions only makes for a stronger community-driven brand.
Have you made any mistakes or faux pas? If so, can you share with us?
In a start-up environment, you make so many mistakes along the way – it is part of the process! One of the mistakes we made is that we branded and chose our business name too early before we had done any product development. Brand strategy and development is a journey, and you have a much stronger idea of the brand once you have developed your core proposition first. Once we had gone further down the product development cycle and identified our core customer, we realized that our name and logo wasn’t quite right, so we decided to rebrand. Despite the stress of doing this close to launch – it was hands down the best decision we ever made.
What’s your experience of being a woman in the start-up ecosystem and what in your mind needs to change?
Our experience has been that it is really hard to pitch to a room full of male investors about a product that is linked to female health or sexuality (even if it’s underwear). We had to really convince investors why we were not just another Instagram lingerie brand and often felt stereotyped being two young women launching an underwear business. We got a lot of unsolicited opinions, many of which we may not have received if we had been two men.
We wish we had access to more female angel investors while we were raising pre-seed investment who would have understood our core proposition more naturally. In general, there is still a long way to go to create more opportunities and mechanisms for female founders and investors to connect.
What’s been the greatest lesson you’ve learnt since starting your own business?
To be an entrepreneur you have to really believe in what you are doing and be resilient to all the challenges you may face. The belief in your product and the purpose of your brand is what will keep you going during the many challenges you will face. We are both very adaptable as people and this is really helpful as an entrepreneur as things change constantly and you have to be flexible to move in a direction that you didn’t expect or foresee.
Have you had any role models or mentors along the way?
Angela Ahrendts, previously the Senior Vice President of Retail and Online Stores of Apple Inc. She’s an omni-channel expert in the retail industry, who made her mark as CEO of Burberry from 2006 to 2014, where she doubled revenues of the British heritage clothing brand.
What has been your biggest learning of 2022 so far?
Focus on the baby steps. Start by identifying what the overall company mission is, and build smaller, achievable tasks that serve as steppingstones to reaching that bigger mission.
With the future in mind, where would you like to be/where do you see yourself in the next five years?
As the founders of Underdays, our goal in five years is to turn the company into a full lifestyle brand that will continue to inspire and positively impact a large community of people across the world, both our customers and our team.
What books, podcasts or resources would you recommend?
- Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance by Angela Duckworth
- The Ride of A Lifetime by Robert Iger
- The Diary of a CEO with Ben Francis (Gymshark founder)
What advice would you give anyone about to start a business?
Don’t take no for an answer and just start. Figure out the bare minimum you need to get started and go with it!
Finally, where can we find you/how can we support you?
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