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Behind ThirdLove’s Data-Driven Strategy to Survive COVID-19

Founded in 2012 by husband-and-wife team Heidi Zak and David Spektor, direct-to-consumer intimates brand ThirdLove sought to make itself the industry authority on the best-fitting bra.

Over the past eight years, the brand has championed size inclusivity through a vastly expanded range of sizes—80 in total—that even includes half-cups.

But like many of the industry’s DTC unicorns and apparel brands in general, ThirdLove has found itself hit hard by the coronavirus outbreak.

Marcus Chung, ThirdLove’s vice president of manufacturing and supply chain, spoke to the issues the brand has faced since the pandemic began—and the strategies it’s employing to move forward—in a webinar hosted by the American Apparel and Footwear Association (AAFA), entitled “Thirdlove Talks Driving Growth and Shaping the Future.

In a conversation with Colleen Grass of product lifecycle management (PLM) platform Centric Software, Chung told attendees that ThirdLove has had to drastically reevaluate its retail strategy and forecasting in recent weeks.

“For every brand out there, it’s been a challenging time with a lot of uncertainty,” he said.

The crisis has acted as an accelerant in pivoting from growth to profitability, he added. In taking a close, hard look at current cash flow, the brand modeled worst-case scenarios to re-forecast this year’s sales.

It also took steps to mitigate other economic damages. The biggest cost has been inventory, Chung said, so ThirdLove acted quickly to reduce its commitments for the year and stopped placing new purchase orders. The company’s single physical storefront in New York’s trendy SoHo neighborhood has permanently closed and there are no plans to open any new brick-and-mortar locations.

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The Bay Area company also instituted a devastating round of layoffs in its corporate offices, resulting in a “much leaner team,” Chung said. Those who remain are working from home.

Despite the dismal circumstances, ThirdLove has still wanted to find a way to help fight the virus that cost it so much of what it has worked to build, Chung said.  Apparel brands and manufacturers across the country—and the world—have mobilized in the creation of personal protective equipment, for both everyday citizens and frontline workers.

While ThirdLove does not operate its own factories, the company banded together with fellow Silicon Valley upstart Rothy’s on its Open Invitation Coalition, an effort to connect parties interested in the production of PPE, Chung said.

“Many manufacturers haven’t been able to source elastic, but with bras and underwear, it’s an integral part,” Chung said. Through the program, relationships were brokered between ThirdLove’s manufacturers and brands looking to create masks.

The pause in commerce has also given the brand time to think about its product strategy. ThirdLove joined Centric’s PLM platform last year, as it was experiencing challenges creating cohesive processes and work flows.

As it grew and onboarded new team members, ThirdLove faced difficulties keeping track of important company info and product specs. “Every season was like starting over, with new processes each time—it was an onerous product development process,” Chung said.

Each of the brand’s 80 size offerings was crafted independently, and ThirdLove wanted to make sure the consumer’s fit experience was consistent from season to season, and product to product. “We needed standardized processes and a single source of truth to be more efficient,” Chung said.

The PLM software was user friendly enough for newbies and allowed ThirdLove to create standards it didn’t have in place before.

The company also bought into the vendor portal with the intention of having retail partners join the platform too, to reduce email communication and allow stakeholders independent access to information.

Consumer data, especially regarding returns, has proven especially valuable to the brand as it works to develop new product. If certain sizes of bras come back more than others, ThirdLove’s product team knows that those sizes deserve a closer look.

“From a fit standpoint, there’s no forgiveness,” Chung said. “You have to nail the fit because that’s why the consumer is purchasing the item.”

Comfort and functionality are equally important factors that drive the consumer’s purchasing decisions. ThirdLove has developed its own Fit Finder, or “dictionary for breast shape,” that allows consumers to provide even more clues to help the brand solve for their best fit.

“Data informs how we think about product development,” Chung said. “It’s the foundation of scalability for us.”