Magazine article The New Yorker

Niche Product

Magazine article The New Yorker

Niche Product

Article excerpt

NICHE PRODUCT

As a kid in Jackson, Kentucky, Julie Sygiel took sewing classes, and in high school she designed her prom dress. It was lavender and poufy. "Truth be told, it didn't come out the way I envisioned it," she said. "But I think that can be said of most things in life." At Brown, she studied chemical engineering. She found her calling while working on a team project for a class in entrepreneurship. "We told our professor, 'We want to make period underwear,' " she recalled, meaning underpants designed to guard against tampon failure. "He was, like, 'What?' " The assignment became her business. "I've been in underwear since I graduated," she said.

Sygiel is twenty-seven and has long brown hair. "I'm very much a feminist, so I wanted to call it Sexy Period. But then these women kept coming up to me and saying they had recently given birth and they were leaking. That's even more of a taboo. So we rebranded as Dear Kate." She wanted the name to sound like an advice column.

The design of Sygiel's underwear takes into account aspects of femininity that aren't discussed much outside of middle-school bathroom stalls, and wicks them away. Early prototypes involved a plastic layer, but that didn't feel right. "We didn't want a rain slicker," she said. Then she designed a three-layer leak- and stain-resistant fabric made from nylon, lycra, and micro-polyester which she called Underlux (patent pending). She stitched the samples herself. "I had a whole group of friends who would text me when they got their period," she said. "That was one of the most frustrating things about testing: I could only use them twenty-five per cent of the month." Now Dear Kate, which is headquartered on Varick Street, in SoHo, and manufactures in Queens, has a small, all-female staff that tests prototypes in group try-on sessions in the company ladies' room. Investors have supplied more than a million dollars, and a recent Kickstarter campaign raised another hundred and sixty thousand, enabling Sygiel to expand into yoga pants. "We know better than anyone what you need in your pants if you're not wearing underwear," she said. (At first, the yoga pants were promoted with the tagline "Go Commando," but it turned out there was a competitor called Commando, so it was changed to "Nothing Under.")

On a recent morning, Sygiel headed to Central Park, to a photo shoot for the new line. …

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