A product we use every single day should be inspired by real life…right? We caught up with Michelle Cordeiro Grant, founder of Lively, on establishing a new POV within the $13 billion dollar lingerie industry, creating a community-focused brand, and balancing mama life as a sole founder.
Let’s start at the very beginning. Growing up as the daughter of immigrants, what did you imagine you’d be when you grew up? Does the vision you held for future self as a child and young adult look at all like what your career evolved into?
Michelle: The vision I had for my future self when I was younger was not the path that I ended up taking as I have gotten older. Growing up as the daughter of two Indian immigrant parents, I always believed that to be successful you had to be a doctor, lawyer, banker, etc. so I studied business and finance in college. As I began internships in finance, I realized that I wasn’t enjoying the work that I was doing. I quickly knew that I needed to work on something more tangible and creative. Luckily, I found an amazing role in fashion at Federated Merchandising Group, where I was able to create brands and products for one of the biggest retailers in the world. I instantly fell in love with the entire process—from concept to customer. However, I still wasn’t fully convinced that a career in fashion could be my life’s profession so I applied to law school. After about 2 weeks, I realized that this profession was not meant for me. What I felt most passionate about was supporting, creating and developing these amazing brands. I finally came to terms that my passion could BE my career.
Before founding Lively, you spent most of your career at major retail industry leaders including Federated, VF Corporation, and Limited Brands/Victoria’s Secret. How does that experience inform the decisions you make in running Lively?
Michelle: By working for top retailers, I had the opportunity to travel around the globe and meet world-class manufacturers and even spend a couple years with an incredible startup where I learned the importance of creating a strong brand affinity, crafting a quality product and building a dynamic team. All of these experiences helped shape LIVELY into what it is today. I was able to learn from my experiences and create a brand that’s inspired by what we believe makes women sexy today—smart, healthy, active and confident.
When did you begin to get the entrepreneurial bug?
Michelle: I knew that at some point I would have enough experience and courage to get out there and create a company and brand of my own. It was while I was at Victoria’s Secret that I realized this $13 billion lingerie category in the U.S. alone was dominated by this one brand with one POV. I was inspired to create a completely new experience for the bras and undies category, one that was inspired by real life.
What were the first steps you took towards getting your idea off the ground?
Michelle: I saw a void in the market for bras and undies that delivered on an aesthetic inspired by authenticity and real life—products that delivered on high style and ultimate comfort in one place. I wanted to create something that women can live in for 14 hours of the day and not have to compromise on style or comfort. I also knew that I needed my first investor to be my supplier because if the supplier is invested in my idea, they would help me fund a factory and be a foundation that I needed to help launch the company. Bras have 25-40 components and are one of the most complicated products to create; therefore, to make a quality bra, I knew I needed a manufacturing partner with experience and expertise. By taking this approach, we were able to focus on building the brand and community with quality products behind it all. Then LIVELY was born—a brand that delivers bras and undies that blur the aesthetic lines of lingerie, active, and swim, taking the best elements of high-style and comfort from each category. We are establishing an entirely new category and POV of lingerie, a movement we call leisurée.
How did you build buzz ahead of launch?
Michelle: Our strategy to launch LIVELY was to take an organic approach toward sharing the brand so that we had an authentic read on how women across the country received our brand. We wanted to build a community first, not sell product out of the gate. With this goal in mind, we felt the best channel to start was Instagram. We rolled out our feed by focusing on just imagery and taglines, not product or price. Immediately, we were flooded with comments and DMs from women asking us how they could support our movement and be a part of what we were building. We built a crew of 100 brand ambassadors across the country, purposefully ensuring that the belly of the country was covered. From there, we planned a 3-week refer-a-friend campaign to run prior to launch. Our goal was to acquire 5,000 emails a week based on what other brands had experienced. However, the response we saw had surpassed all of our expectations. In 48 hours, our servers crashed and we closed the program with over 133,000 emails and 300,000+ sessions globally. The response to our movement was incredible and we immediately turned on our customer service, as our brand was officially born.
We hear Lively and your second child were born around the same time. Tell us about what that was like.
Michelle: I actually found out that I was pregnant with my son, Jack, 2 months after I started LIVELY. To run a company while pregnant was crazy but looking back, I’d say that it was the best thing to ever happen to me. There were definitely several challenging moments, but overall it was an incredible experience to be able to give birth to my son and then launch a company weeks later. So to anyone that thinks it’s impossible, it’s definitely possible!
What did you learn about your customer after launch? Anything surprising?
Michelle: We are seeing that we are actually not acquiring customers but acquiring households. For example, we see a lot of mother-daughter duos both buying and shopping together. We also learned that our customers typically buy our products 4-5 times a year while on average in our category, a woman will buy 1-2 times a year thus we are creating market share versus taking market share. It’s also important to us to be as accessible as possible and therefore ship to every state within the country, every week.
How do your values around inclusivity and community inform your business decisions?
Michelle: Since LIVELY’s inception, the development of the brand has been rooted in an open dialogue with our community. The process of listening to what our girls need and want from us, and incorporating them into our process is in the DNA of everything we do. An example of our values around inclusivity and community is the launch of our Busty Bralette, which demonstrates our brand in its truest form. Our DD and DDD girls asked us to create a bralette just for them and not only did we deliver, but we incorporated them in every facet of the marketing and sharing of this new launch. It continues to be a top seller and has been heralded as a groundbreaking style—creating a bralette specifically for women who fall in the wider range of sizes. It’s also important for us to be inclusive and accessible in every aspect of our brand, which includes our messaging, product and price. Inclusivity is something we focus on increasing every single year.
How do you support other women in their own leadership journeys?
Michelle: I have been so fortunate to have had amazing female leaders support me throughout my career in such major ways that they have been truly instrumental in my journey as a woman entrepreneur. My goal when starting the brand has always been to give back to the female community both through LIVELY’s mission and personal efforts. LIVELY is all about inclusivity and with our ambassador program, we have been able to create a community of over 65,000 smart, amazing, strong women who are able to share stories and do the things they love with one another. I’m proud to share that over a dozen women from our community have started their own businesses. I plan to continue to focus on helping to empower, mentor and build confidence in women of the next generation in whatever ways that I can. We also recently launched The LIVELY Podcast: No Makeup Needed, where I interview women entrepreneurs in today’s world like Rebecca Minkoff, Leandra Medine and so forth to inspire and encourage other women to get out there and do the things they love. This podcast is meant to keep it real about what it means to build a business today, lean into a community, juggle it all while making a solid impact along the way.
In raising your kids, how do you empower them to develop leadership skills?
Michelle: My kids are ages 5 and 2 so right now we’re encouraging them to try new things, ask questions, be curious and participate in an array of activities to figure out what they are loving and enjoy doing.
Over here at HEYMAMA, we talk a lot about balance. What does it look like for you?
Michelle: I learned to set boundaries in my day! I give myself an hour in the morning, and then ensure I leave the office most evenings in time to have dinner with my family and have time with my kids before they go to bed. I then hop back online to drive LIVELY. I think it is so important to start and close each day with your loved ones. At the end of the day, that is what life is all about!
3 pearls of wisdom
Make your own rules—you don’t need to go by the books. Do things the way that’s right for you and your family and kids!
Don’t compare yourself to others. Just focus what’s good for you and focus on the things you can accomplish.
Enjoy the journey because it goes so fast!