Change Agent

How Joanna Griffiths is redefining the intimate apparel market

The CEO and founder of Knixwear created a high-tech bra and underwear brand to solve the unsexy problems facing real women, without sacrificing design

Joanna Griffiths started her career as a publicist for Universal Music, then held communications and publicity roles at Toronto International Film Festival and CBC Television. She left the entertainment industry in 2011 to pursue an MBA at INSEAD in France, where her idea for a new underwear brand—Knixwear—came to life. The quickly growing company is winning over women by putting their needs at the core of their business.

Joanna Griffiths: “My mom is a doctor and a mother of four. About eight years ago, we were chatting about the realities of being a woman and what happens to your body during different life stages. I learned that after having kids, one-in-three women experience leaks if they laugh or sneeze or do a jumping jack. I was floored that this affected so many women and yet there were really no [underwear] options that had been designed for them. The only option at the time was [adult incontinence products], and it just didn’t make sense to me.

When I did my MBA, I interviewed hundreds of women and spent a lot of time doing digital anthropology…going to chat rooms and getting people to talk to me about things they wouldn’t necessarily feel comfortable talking about in person.

There was a lot of dissatisfaction with the intimate apparel industry and people feeling like products weren’t being created for real life. And the messages being sent out by the intimate apparel industry weren’t particularly empowering. There was a real place in the market to create a brand that not only represented women and their needs from a physical product standpoint, but also from a marketing and communications standpoint.

We had a successful crowd-funding campaign and launched the brand in 2013. We started with our leak-proof underwear and quickly expanded into workout underwear. In 2015, we moved into bras. We had a really successful crowd-funding campaign for our first bra and ended up doing $2 million in pre-sales. This year, we launched Knixteen, a line of underwear designed for teenage girls.

For all of our products, we try to use innovative fabrics and introduce functional properties that women are more accustomed to seeing in their workout wear or outerwear. Our bras, for example, are moisture-wicking, quick dry and anti-odour. Our major breakthrough on bras is we developed a way of using bonding to create the effect of an underwire without an uncomfortable wire.

The most important thing we’re doing is taking a customer-centric approach to design and marketing. We view our customers as our competitive advantage: they’re who we look to for ideas, they’re our ambassadors, they’re our spokespeople, they’re our models.

In 2013, Hudson’s Bay became our first retail partner. It was amazing at the time, but I completely underestimated the time and resources that were needed to service the wholesale market.

I’ve spent the last 18 months going back to the initial insight: selling direct, creating a meaningful one-on-one relationship with the customer and removing the middleman. We’ve completely transitioned our business model to the point now where 97% of our sales are direct online, and we’ve been seeing tremendous growth of the company since we made that change.

I view entrepreneurship like putting together a puzzle because when you look at something in its totality, it can seem daunting and overwhelming. And so, I’m a huge fan of setting goals and breaking it down to a more micro level where it becomes possible to cross things off your list and really start shaping the business.

My other advice is pretty obvious, but a lot of people overlook it: make something that people need and want. A lot of times when people start a business, they do it in a bit of a silo. They can have a thesis or what they think the opportunity is, but I can’t stress how important it is to identify who your end customer is, and meet with them and understand their pain points. Then, reverse-engineer a product or service that fundamentally meets their needs. Without that, you’re just trying to sell something that no one wants.”—As told to Rebecca Harris

Videography and photography by Scott Simpson. Makeup and hair by Sophie Hsin for Charlotte Tilbury/Davines/Plutino Group.