For most of my life, I haven't loved my small breasts. Can you blame me? I came of age when Victoria's Secret reigned supreme and when teenage pop stars were asked whether their boobs were real or fake. Puberty left my chest virtually untouched, and I was insecure about its flatness well into my early twenties.
Rock bottom was when a guy I was dating asked if I'd be willing to get implants. "I'll pay for them," I remember him saying, as if that would ease the blow of his unwelcome commentary. Needless to say, things didn't work out between us.
It wasn't just that society was inundating me with messages like "itty bitty titty committee" and "mosquito bites," it was also that my options for bras were so limited. I oscillated between different sizes — sometimes a well-meaning store associate would measure me at 34B. Other times, I was a 36A. But no matter what I tried, the bras never fit. A common issue I ran into was way too much empty space in the actual cups, which always served as a reminder of what I was lacking.
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What I would've given to have had an option like Pepper back then. Founded by Jaclyn Fu and Lia Winograd in 2017, this bra brand is designed specifically for people who wear cup sizes AA to B and band sizes 30 to 40.
"Pepper was inspired first by my own personal struggles of not finding a bra that fit my small cup size, and more significantly, the inadequacy I felt when I couldn't fill in a bra that I learned from years of absorbing society's harmful body standards," Fu tells InStyle. "I started Pepper because I realized there was a huge fit issue for small-chested women that was overlooked by traditional bra brands."
But she didn't exactly plan on building a bra company. Fu began her career in Silicon Valley working on the Mozilla web browser, then moved to New York City to join Etsy's product marketing team. Eventually, she made her way to a different company, where she met Winograd. The two hit it off and the idea for Pepper was born.
While her path to the intimates space was a little unconventional, the diversity of experiences on her resume paid off in the end.
"My entire career was product marketing for tech products," Fu explains. "I used what I knew about building software products that solved pain points and applied it to bras. My work experience taught me how to get really good at listening to customers and understanding what it is they truly want."
They launched Pepper as a Kickstarter campaign to test the initial idea. The day that they launched, the project was 100% funded within the first 10 hours of the campaign. By the end of the campaign, they were 470% funded with 1,000 backers.
"What was more compelling were all the stories and heartfelt emails that my co-founder and I received during that time around how they wished a brand like Pepper existed when they were younger and developing their body image," Fu recalls. "We knew we were onto something and quit our day jobs shortly after to focus on Pepper full time."
However, actually bringing the bras to life was going to be a whole other story. Fu was worried about not having the traditional experience of a bra designer.
"Who was I to design undergarments? Where do you even make bras?" she remembers thinking to herself. "But I was determined to make a bra that finally fit small-chested women."
That determination led to countless hours interviewing potential customers, finding a manufacturer that took a chance on their startup, and creating a prototype with the intention of solving the dreaded cup gap issue for those with small breasts.
"My mom is an immigrant from China, a hustler, and an entrepreneur by survival," Fu shares. "Both my parents were incredibly supportive of my decision to quit a stable full-time job and have always been my number-one fans. I attribute having the audacity and confidence to start a business to my parents instilling in me from a very young age this belief that I can truly do anything — and I believe this to my core."
Today, Pepper has seven styles in production, more than 61,000 Instagram followers, and a growing reputation as the place to go for bras that actually fit small boobs. Earlier this month, the brand launched a new color in their best-selling wirefree bra: The Ultraviolet Wirefree Scoop Bra ($48) is a striking periwinkle-violent shade that's perfect for summer.
With so much growth happening so quickly, it's easy to get lost in the blur that is building a business. Fu admits there have been plenty of challenges along the way.
"Every day can sometimes feel uncertain as an entrepreneur," she says. "Am I making the right hire? Will we have enough cash? There was a moment we thought we broke the business in 2019 by being overstocked in inventory, which ended up being a blessing in disguise because it gave us the inventory we needed to grow really quickly in 2020."
For other aspiring entrepreneurs in the fashion space, Fu's best advice comes down to the product itself. The only way to have a game-changing product? Have solid relationships with the people making it.
"Develop a really strong partnership with your manufacturers," she says. "Find vendors that believe in you and your brand, and grow with them. We're so lucky to have found a socially responsible factory in Colombia, where my co-founder is from, that has been with us since the beginning."
As for what's next, Fu is focused on continuing to flip the script for small-chested folks everywhere.
"I want Pepper's impact to be changing how 'small' and 'flat' are often something you're embarrassed about to something you celebrate and accept," she says. "Our vision is for Pepper to be the destination for small-chested women to find anything and everything that finally fits their size."