The Who Shirt Company has been awarded five patents for designs that feature built-in bras.
The styles use Supima interlock cotton and imported Scottish cashmere and are offered in T-shirts, turtlenecks and a sweater.
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Founder Libby Haan said that securing the patents has been “a slog,” partially due to how the pandemic has impacted everything, including federal agencies. As with all of The Who Shirt Company’s products, the five designs with built-in soft bras are named for exceptional and admirable women.
A self-described “cancer champion,” Haan, who had undergone a double mastectomy, started the company in September 2018 to design what she couldn’t find. With more than 20 years of experience working with leading and emerging designers in the fashion industry as a public relations executive, Haan appreciates versatile statement pieces.
A crewneck cashmere sweater is called “Ruth,” an homage to the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg. The crewneck design is meant to be a wink at the late U.S. Supreme Court Justice’s collection of collars. She and Sandra Day O’Connor, the first female U.S. Supreme Court Justice, agreed that wearing jabots — traditional lacy ruffles with their robes — would be appropriate.
The Who Shirt Company also has an “Alice” cashmere turtleneck that was inspired by chef Alice Waters and writer Alice Walker. Haan, a true foodie and fan of “The Color Purple,” said she couldn’t decide between Waters and Walker. She also sent one of the sweaters to Waters, who opened Chez Panisse 50 years ago. Haan was delighted to receive an email of thanks from her in return.
There is a cotton turtleneck called “Maya,” named for the late writer Maya Angelou. The long-sleeved V-neck “Simone” hails to the philosopher Simone de Beauvoir and the long-sleeved jewel-neck sweater called “Amelia” is in honor to the late aviator Amelia Earhart.
In creating her direct-to-consumer company, Haan’s initial innovation was to build upon such styles as an exercise top with a built-in bra or a sports bra. The aim was to spare the wearer from fishing for wayward straps when wearing a turtleneck. ”I just felt it was important to patent them because I loved being able to put one thing on and not have to think about a bra,” Haan said.
The Made in the USA collection also has a philanthropic component: Through a partnership with the Estée Lauder Breast Cancer Research Foundation, The Who Shirt Company donates $5 from every item that is sold.
Each garment has the company’s icon, an Athenian owl, on the shoulder. This fall, The Who Shirt Company will launch a white T-shirt, a black turtleneck and a crewneck sweater in blue. All in all, Haan said, “The business has been great. We’re alive and we’ve got some great metrics. We’ve been doing some ad spend on Instagram and Facebook. We have a seven-to-one revenue return on the very little that I’ve spent on advertising.”
The company is just starting to seek fundraising. Highlighting consumers’ response to the products, Haan noted that return rates are as low as 14 percent for cashmere sweaters.