Jaclyn Fu of Pepper on empowering women to love their bodies as they are
Describe your business in a few words?
Pepper is an unapologetic bra brand for small-chested women, on a mission to empower everyone to love their bodies as they are. We design bras specifically for AA, A, B cups, in band sizes from 30 to 40. We’re bringing back the IBTC to encourage women with small boobs to join together to combat ridiculous body standards once and for all.
What made you take the leap to start your own business?
Growing up, I always felt like my body wasn’t enough because no bras on the market were designed specifically for smaller cup sizes, and my gut was telling me I wasn’t alone. As I got older I finally started to realize that I wasn’t the problem—societal norms were. I wanted to see other women overcome the same issues that I wanted to overcome. As I started talking to other women about their own experiences, it became clear that there was an opportunity to drive real change here. Validating my ideas early on within my peer groups pushed me to take the leap.
What was your background prior to starting your own business?
My background was in marketing for software technology products. I graduated UC Berkeley with a degree in history, and started my career in the Silicon Valley doing product marketing for Firefox at Mozilla. Then I moved to NYC and joined Etsy when they were pre-IPO working on their mobile app. Eventually I made my way to Conversocial, an enterprise software company that enables companies to use social media as a customer service channel where I met my co-founder Lia Winograd.
Did you always know you wanted to be an entrepreneur?
I did not grow up thinking I would be an entrepreneur and I knew nothing about this industry, but I was really passionate about wanting to help other women overcome the same issues that I wanted to overcome. I didn’t want other women to feel alone in their struggles, thinking that they are the only ones who feel that way about their body. Seeing that there was a complete gap in the market for this that no one else was willing to solve for myself and others like me, I really fell into becoming an entrepreneur by necessity.
Take us back to when you first launched your business, what was your marketing strategy to get the word out and did it go as planned?
Community is at the center of everything we do. In a strange way, we’re lucky because the historically harmful standards and stereotypes went unaddressed for so long that as soon as we started to promote our mission, so many women immediately raised their hands to say they had felt the exact same way. This has always been a community, but we’ve been able to really tap into it and help it grow. Early on, we started a dedicated Facebook group for those in the IBTC (or supporters of the IBTC) so women can contribute to how we evolve our business, share their challenges and wins, provide advice, and just generally support others. Social media in general as well as engaging influencers and ambassadors has been a key piece of our brand growth because the experience is so relatable and shareable. The ability to utilize platforms in which sharing is native has been a game changer for us.
We always learn the most from our mistakes, share a time with us that you made a mistake or had a challenging time in business and what you learned from it?
There’s so many! We’ve experienced everything from big shipping mistakes, to hiring missteps, to wasting money on big campaigns. The biggest learning for all of these are that it’s part of the process and to learn from it but then move on (because there will be many more in the future).
What is the accomplishment you are the most proud of to date?
Building a team and workplace that I can be proud of, and hopefully our employees are proud of as well!
When hiring for your team, what is your go-to interview question? Please share any hiring tips you can share from your experience?
I like to do all our own hiring in house rather than outsourcing to a recruiter. Especially at an early stage, you know your culture and values the best. My tip is to have a really clear job description and idea of who the perfect candidate is, and then going after them on Linkedin so you get your dream hire.
How has your business or industry been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic?
I think for women in particular, the isolation of the pandemic drove a lot of deep self reflection that led to questioning the norms that the outside world places on us. We’ve seen more people shift to feeling like they can be who they are, as they are, and that’s been reflected in our growth. We encourage women to be unapologetically themselves, and they are showing up for it now more than ever. I know we were very lucky to see strong growth throughout the pandemic, and it speaks volumes for the manner in which we grow our business—we listen to our customers wants and needs and evolve and iterate based on that.
What’s next for your business? What can we expect to see over the next few years?
We’re staying focused on the same things we have been since we started: designing products and building a community that allows all women to feel that they are enough, just the way they are. Every day we hear another story about someone who has struggled or is still struggling because of a superficial box into which they felt they had to fit. Now more than ever, building and fostering a supportive community is incredibly important to us, and the voices and feedback from our community are invaluable. It helps to inform iterations on our current styles, identify other gaps in the market that we can solve for (like additional bra styles and new product lines), and gives women who have spent many years (sometimes decades) feeling excluded or frustrated finally find a place where they can be themselves, unapologetically. As we look ahead, we’ll continue to introduce products that meet women where they are, within the bra vertical and expanding into other areas of intimates.
What is the biggest lesson you have learned in 2020?
That things don’t always go as planned, but that’s ok! We were working on being a 7 figure business in 2020, and bought all our inventory and hired our team based on that level of scale. We ended up exploding into an 8 figure business in 2020 and were flying by the seat of our pants trying to keep up!
What do you know now that you wish you knew when you were first starting your business?
I wish someone had told me that you will absolutely make mistakes, and that’s ok. Everyone is learning along the way, even if it seems like others know exactly what they’re doing. Challenges and setbacks are the best way to learn, and it’s important to give yourself the space to learn and grow, mistakes included. Also, be honest with yourself about when you need to ask for help—there are lots of people who care about your success and will be willing to lend a hand.
How have you managed to stay grounded this year?
I got a puppy! He requires me to keep a schedule which I appreciate. I can’t sit all day at my work station anymore because now I have a reason to go out and stop to smell the roses.
Do you believe in work/life balance? What are some of your best tips?
I have a very fluid relationship with work. We’ve built a remote-first team since day 1 that enables a flexible lifestyle (even before COVID). I encourage our team to take full advantage of this. What “balance” means to me is that I get to work the way I want to work, whatever that means to me in that moment. Freedom and flexibility is very important to me. My best tip is to have a clear understanding of the environment you thrive in and giving yourself what you need.
What’s something our audience would be surprised to learn about you?
When I first moved to Denver, I taught yoga for a few years. I also don’t know how to swim, which a lot of people are surprised by because I grew up in LA and love the water.
What are your top 3 tips to stay productive each day?
- Get the amount of sleep that you need to be productive each day
- Know what time of day you’re most productive and plan your schedule around that
- I like being in quiet settings but for some people white noise helps with productivity!
What does being an Entreprenista mean to you?
It means caring deeply about surfacing the stories of other women, connecting women and lifting women up both emotionally and within society at large. We all win when women are elevated, and that starts with fostering communities where women can thrive. I want to pass along what I’ve learned and support others on their own journeys.