Not only are we genuinely obsessed with Marissa Vosper – how friendly she is, her drive and commitment to body confidence – we're also obsessed with her brand, Negative Underwear. Founded a few years ago by Marissa and her girlfriend Lauren, Negative has made a name for itself in a short space of time, in part due to its inclusive approach to lingerie silhouettes.
After Negative featured a selection of our sunglasses in a recent editorial, we chatted to the 30 Under 30 girl about co-founding her business, fashion industry challenges and her advice to female entrepreneurs.
Can you tell us what you were doing before and how Negative Underwear came about?
Before Negative, I was in brand strategy at Wolf Owens working on repositioning brands and how to communicate them across different channels. My girlfriend Lauren and I met in college, and the two of us always loved fashion but hadn’t pursued it yet as a career, so while we were working other jobs (Lauren was in finance) we took night classes at FIT. We started talking about what we could do together, and we landed on lingerie because we felt like the world of fashion had a ton of great designers in other categories, but with lingerie, we felt that most women defaulted to shopping at places like Victoria Secret because it was accessible but it wasn’t the aesthetic that fit with our outward styles.
And on the flip side, there were these high-end brands, but they didn’t feel accessible, functional or comfortable for every day and for a lot of women – not affordable. We wanted to make a comfortable functional product that you could wear every day of your life, but also something that you’d be comfortable wearing without clothing on, and so that’s how Negative was born.
Like sunglasses, underwear has the ability to make a woman feel empowered and confident. How would you say your underwear makes you feel?
Confident in your own skin.
Our mission statement is: we take care of the little details so that you can focus on the bigger picture. What does the bigger picture mean to you?
We definitely have big ambitions with Negative. We’re self-funded and still a small business, but we’ve been able to grow our team and grow our marketing organically so that’s been really amazing to see.
We’re also growing our manufacturing abilities because we’ve improved our supply chain. This means we’re more scalable so we can now introduce more newness to the collection and cater to a larger range of sizes which is really important to us. And then we’ve added the vertical of sleep and loungewear.
When it comes to my personal bigger picture, I’m a mom of a one-and-a-half-year-old so I’ve had to rearrange my life and figure out how to grow my family and give my family the time they deserve while also running a business.
Is it difficult to find this balance?
There’s no balance. Every time you make a choice to focus on one thing, you feel guilty about neglecting the other, but I think you just do the best you can for you and your family. I don’t know that you ever feel balanced!
Highest and lowest moment with Negative Underwear and what they taught you?
So many highs and certainly a lot of lows. One of the highs was definitely on the day we launched. We had worked so hard on nights and weekends to make Negative a reality, and so many friends and family members were asking us when this was going to happen. We had the confidence that we were going to make it happen but it just took a long time.
When it finally came to the launch date, we were very fortunate to have a feature in The Wall Street Journal and we had no idea what would happen when we launched, but because of that press and the work that we’d put in prior to launch, we just had an insane reaction on day one.
We had hundreds of orders overnight. It was incredible. It immediately validated the work we put in, and we got feedback that people loved it. It was one of the most adrenalin rush highs that we’ve ever had. This taught me to practice what a friend called ‘irrational optimism’. When you start your own business, you have to be incredibly optimistic that it’s going to work out because the odds are against you. I think having faith in yourself and your idea and knowing why you exist is important because if you don’t believe in yourself, no one else will.
In terms of lows, we’ve really hit it hard with various fashion challenges. Lingerie is very specific and a complex category where there aren’t a lot of suppliers that know the space very well or will want to work with smaller brands. We had periods where we couldn’t get our bestsellers in stock and we had long waitlists. It’s very challenging for your business from a revenue perspective. A lesson that we learned is that you always have to have a plan B and C and be really creative and nimble. You have to be able to pivot if you aren’t able to produce the goods you’ve relied on.
Tell me a bit about being on the 30 Under 30 list?
It was a really proud moment of course. In my marketing career prior to Negative, I had worked on various brands and this as well as the fact that I'm building my own brand really resonated with Forbes. It’s one of those things that makes your mom the proudest. It was also a proud moment because it shows that women can work hard and be on that list, almost in a way that women are taking over the list! Especially starting a company that’s just about women was and the ability to really champion and support women with our business and have that be honoured was a proud moment. And to be alongside so many other great women too!
Your favourite pieces?
I like mixing and matching in my collection because all of the pieces go together. The Essaouira Demi is the most comfortable pair of underwear and stands out a little bit which I really love. I love the fabric and that it feels different from a lot of other fabrics I’ve seen on the market.
Tell us about your sleepwear and loungewear?
We have a really exciting collaboration launching in August with a high profile media platform. We also have a handful of new styles coming out, so a bralette boy shorts and a new colourway. And some very holiday-appropriate items coming later this year.
Whatwould you do if you weren't at Negative?
I would probably be a consultant. I didn’t quit my job because I didn’t like it. Creating a brand voice, DNA and aesthetic – that's what I was doing before Negative and it’s been incredibly fulfilling doing it for my own brand. But I would still love to do that with other founders and see their vision come to life.
One piece of advice for other women?
I've got two pieces. You have to be irrationally optimistic and have faith in yourself and have conviction in your ideas because you’ll be asked to work longer and harder and more painfully than you would for anyone else. You need to want to do anything to make it possible!
Really make sure that what you’re focusing on is a topic you care greatly about. That you have a vision or purpose. You’re going to dedicate hours of your life to that one topic so if you don’t feel that there’s a purpose in it, you’ll quickly lose interest and not want to finish what you started.