When CUUP Co-Founder and CMO Abby Morgan thinks about the future of fashion in 2021, she predicts two trends: First, a paring down of the wardrobe, with consumers choosing to invest in just a few simple, well-constructed basics rather than frills or flair. And second, comfort.
“I think fashion is becoming more minimal,” Morgan, a former marketing executive at Free People says. “People are investing more in their core wardrobe. The smart retailers are seeing that trend instead of offering these more dressy, impulse purchases.”
CUUP’s bras are designed in that trend. Offered in only five minimal styles, CUUP’s bras are available in a range of 40 sizes — from 30A to 38H — emphasizing fit, support, and the individuality of every woman’s body. With a vertically integrated supply chain, CUUP is uniquely able to invest in variations between cup size and band width.
“Bras are the most complicated garments to make,” Morgan says. “30 pieces of material and 15 machines go into the average bra. And if it’s not molded with machines it has to be hand-sewn by trained seamstresses. The sizing is more complex than the sizing for shoes.”
But for Morgan, the selection of just a few hero styles with a wide size range isn’t just a smart strategy to manage inventory costs, but a mission to support women’s inclusivity: “How can we find these empathetic points of connection?” she asks. “How can we celebrate differences?”
CUUP raised an $11 million Series A in February, backed by Forerunner Ventures and Lerer Hippeau, bringing its total funding to $15 million. Since launching in November 2018, CUUP has sold over 200,000 bras, with sales doubling every quarter.
Here, Morgan shares her playbook for managing supply chains, developing brand voice, and rethinking retail in 2021.
What is your biggest learning from working with manufacturers on a complex item like CUUP’s bras?
“My biggest piece of advice on the manufacturing side is to create a partnership. Whether that’s an investment in your business or a stake in your business — do something where the partnership breaks out of the typical ordering parameters you’re given. You need more R&D for samples. You need to be able to fit on more sizes. You need to be able to manipulate what minimums look like. That’s the biggest barrier to entry for manufacturing: Order minimums and the actual R&D to make your product stand out and be superior.
At CUUP, we went to our manufacturer and we created a relationship. They essentially became a partner in our business. With that, we were able to do over 80 fittings for our bra styles. Most companies do about 11 to launch a product.”
How do you think about approaching retail versus direct-to-consumer in 2021?
“Clearly what we’ve learned from 2020 is the future for retail is digital. Everybody has to do that. But, I am intrigued by what the physical retail landscape could look like when we are able to reconnect next year.
What does that feel like? The sense of community, the time and space that we’ll have for others, whether they’re people we’ll have relationships with or even strangers? What does that look like? I think there will be a thirst for that kind of connection. High-street retail as a concept could actually be more interesting than ever. Typically, one of the biggest issues with retail is that it’s difficult to get in: Costs are high, leases are non-negotiable, they’re long term leases. I think that’s changing. Leases might be shorter term, or more negotiable, and brands can look at pop up strategies.
Also, because people have invested in the e-commerce infrastructure, the drop shipment model where the consumer comes into the store not to walk out with a product but for an experience, could be the model too. At CUUP, that might look like a consumer coming in for a fitting rather than to buy a bra. That looks different for square footage, relationships with the experience, the environment, all of it.”
How do you think about building community at Cuup?
When focusing on community — and Bodytalk is our platform for community — I really make sure the platform is free of the constraints of mainstream publishing, but also free of the constraints of being about the bottom line.
In order to actually build community, you’ve got to be really honest and real. And you’ve got to have a serious point of differentiation with the voice you’re putting out there. It’s almost like creating a person’s personality. For CUUP, I think about it like that. CUUP is a living breathing thing, it’s a personality, it’s a human, and how can we be constantly evolving and moving at the pace of culture but also be having this holistic conversation? I think if you do that, you actually start to inspire versus manipulate the consumer.
It feels real because it is real. You’re not sitting there thinking, ‘How can I come up with a content strategy that attaches to a brand to sell something?’ It’s like no, this is actually not trying to sell something, this is to serve an audience and increase loyalty.”
Do apparel brands need to have a strong voice to stand out in 2021?
“Absolutely. In traditional retail or high-street brands, you were limited by attention. Attention was your scarcity. You had to compete to have the attention of people walking by, or in a wholesale environment, you had to have the attention of where you would be placed, so people could see you in the store.
Now, online, you have to attract that attention. You are constantly competing. So in order to be top of mind, other than by manipulating people by sending them tons of ads — which you can’t build a company of scale with just that, especially if you’re trying to get repeat purchasers — you really need to stand for more.
As we’ve gone through a really reflective year, people are questioning more about their lives, their relationships, and also the brands that they build their identity around. Especially in fashion and apparel. They want those brands to stand for something bigger than the product they make and the bottom line. I’ve always been a massive advocate that you have to reflect the values of the people you’re trying to reach, not just project your product. You’ve got to be more than your product. A brand has a responsibility to be a catalyst for change.”