“It’s in a lot of ways a classic entrepreneurial story,” says Francie Wasser of the origins of her new underwear brand, FranciePants. “I wanted something and I couldn’t find it.”
Wasser had recently learned of the health benefits of wearing 100 percent-cotton underwear, but the market was crowded with unattractive options (they call them ‘granny panties’ for a reason). She complained to her mother, who gamely suggested they try making the garments themselves.
“I was like, ‘No one does that,'” Wasser recalls with a laugh. “‘No one makes their own underwear. She said ‘Let’s just try.'”
The pair started making samples, designed by Wasser and fabricated by her mother.
“Soon they were all I was using,” she says. “All of my underwear was made by my mother, which is something I didn’t tell anyone at the time, but now tell everyone.”
Three years later, when Wasser wanted to re-up her collection, her mother suggested she learn how to sew the skivvies herself, inspiring a bit of an aha moment.
“I realized that not only would other people appreciate the product, but the ability to make the product,” she says. “A lot of women are looking for part-time work, and I could train them to make the underwear.”
With that, her ‘crowd manufacturing’ model was born. Each pair of FranciePants is made by a ‘sewing artist,’ trained and certified by a member of Francie’s team. The seamstress can work as few or as many hours she wants, with flexibility for vacation or other personal days, and is paid by garment–and paid well, which Wasser says is important to her.
The in-person process will be conducted at one of the local ‘pods’ FranciePants is creating, the first of which they hope to open at OpenWorks in Baltimore. There, Wasser says, the sewing artists will find a consistent touchpoint, mentorship, and an opportunity to learn business practices firsthand. All they need is access to a sewing machine.
FranciePants aims to empower through more than just its business model, however. Wasser’s product line also focuses on body positivity, forgoing the traditional XS-XL sizing system in favor of friendlier labels and including a wide range of sizes: Angel (00-4), Beauty (4-10), Cutie (10-16), Diva (16-22), Edgy (22-26), and Foxy (26-32). The low-rise options are also well-suited for pregnant women who want something to fit below their baby bumps.
“All brands should make clothing in all sizes,” she says. “It’s personally very important to me, but it’s also a tremendous marketing opportunity. There are a lot of women looking to feel good about their bodies, no matter what size they are, in something that’s reflective of [their] style and interest.”
That diversity was a key component of her marketing materials, as well.
“Fashion photography and lingerie photography are usually either oversexualized or objectifying (like she is an object the garment is on). A lot of photography cuts off the heads,” she says. “I don’t want to decapitate my models! It’s not about the underwear, it’s about them looking like themselves in the underwear and feeling good. I want people to look at the pictures and see themselves.”
FranciePants launches its KickStarter campaign June 12, and Wasser says that if all goes as planned, the company should be able to create 30 Charm City jobs in 60 days.
“There’s so much wonderful sewing talent in Baltimore,” she says. “It’s really the center of the movement.”