Co-founder & COO, Knickey
I’m the co-founder and COO at Knickey, an organic cotton underwear brand making the best everyday basics for women.
I grew up in Canada and studied in Vancouver and Paris for my undergrad. I then moved to New York to do my masters in Fashion Studies at Parsons School of Design, where I met my co-founder Cayla O’Connell Davis.
After grad school, before Knickey, I worked in fashion and travel tech startups in New York and Berlin
Where did the idea of Knickey come from?
First and foremost it came from a place of fabric choice before the product itself, and the desire to build a sustainable apparel brand.
My co-founder, Cayla focused a lot of her academic research and career in sustainability. Cayla wrote her thesis on cradle-to-cradle practices in the fashion industry before it had ever been tested. In her professional career before Knickey she gained quite a bit of experience with organic cotton.
Certified organic cotton has so many benefits; no GMO seeds, no use of pesticides, and the farming practices are incredibly regenerative. It’s also hand-picked, which greatly reduces the carbon footprint whilst adhering to fair trade labor practices. The environmental impact of organic cotton is a quarter when compared to traditional cotton and a third when compared to synthetics, which are over 60% of the fashion industry’s textiles these days.
We knew that we wanted to make a product in organic cotton, and felt strongly that brands have a real role to play in highlighting the fabric, especially in a way that is affordable, accessible and speaks to a millennial consumer.
So from there, underwear emerged as a great product fit. The fabric is great from both a sustainability and women’s health perspective. These days most women’s underwear drawers are made up of cheap synthetics and those don’t breathe, they’re essentially made from plastic. Meanwhile, cotton is already the fabric that’s recommended by gynecologists. There’s a real narrative to be told here around going above and beyond with a certified organic fabric that’s free from toxic chemicals.
There’s also a wellness narrative to be told in addition to the sustainability narrative, and that was what we set out to do in our brand experience as well as our designs, making high-quality, elevated basics. Underwear is just the departure, we are working on bras this year and going from there!
What’s the best thing about working at Knickey?
The best thing about my role at Knickey as a co-founder and COO is that I get to wear many hats and be a part of many aspects of the business as we are still an incredibly small team. On any given day, there’s a lot of rolling up the sleeves, and I could be tackling a number of tasks; from inventory management, customer support and day-to-day e-commerce, to reporting, operations strategy and sustainability initiatives. I enjoy how much learning I get to do.
When you’re building your own business, even with all the experience that you bring to the table, there’s not a roadmap for exactly what you’re trying to do. Especially for when you’re building something unique, like our Recycling Program for example. We accept underwear from any brand and recycle them, which is a “first of its kind” program in the industry. There’s a lot of creative problem solving, scrappiness and being willing to learn, research and ask questions.
What’s your ultimate goal for Knickey?
Beyond our goal of growing Knickey to be a leading brand in the space and expanding our product line, what excites me is our core vision to be a leading brand in sustainability.
It’s so important to keep those strong values for the brand, especially right now as sustainability is a key focus for consumers. The market is rampant with greenwashing, with brands who are doing the smallest thing saying ‘look at how sustainable we are’. At Knickey, we want to set the standard of what being truly sustainable looks like across all aspects of our business. Our supply chain partners, our packaging, our product – all of these different categories.
It’s really exciting to know where we want to go and try and stay ahead of the curve to lead the way in those initiatives!
What’s the biggest industry challenge for Brands like Knickey that are digital first?
While it’s never been easier to start an e-comm brand, it’s more and more competitive for small brands to enter the market, especially those that are privately funded and don’t have VC backing.
The digital space in terms of Instagram and search marketing is also becoming more crowded and expensive to enter. Not having the same marketing dollars that we could spend is a real challenge as a small brand, so we have to be okay with growing a bit more slowly and focus on being really strategic.
The need for regular creative refresh is also a real pressure, both in terms of ads and website content, like videos. It can be hard to stand out if you’re not investing in top-tier content, so you have to be creative and hone in on who your target market is and do the best you can with the available resources.
There are so many great brands out there making great content, the bar is so incredibly high right now.
What do you look for when working with marketing or any kind of partners or suppliers?
Two things. One thing is that the partner must have an extremely clear plan in place for measuring success. We’re in the age of data. Especially in marketing, it’s key to consider what you’re measuring and how it’s attributed. For small brands that are cost-sensitive, it’s key to ensure that the attribution model is very clear in order to understand what is driving return and being able to form a clear strategy around historic campaign learnings.
The second is making sure that the partner understands our brand values, our demographic and our voice and being able to communicate that seamlessly across all different channels.
What’s the best career advice you’ve ever received?
The best career advice I’ve received came at a time of personal transition; turn setbacks into opportunities.
This is something that I’ve carried throughout my career and is one of the values that I live by. At the time, I had been living in New York and I was a year into working at a startup that I loved; everything was going great but I wasn’t able to renew my Visa to stay in the US.
Having to leave was disappointing on both a personal and professional level, and that’s when a good friend said ‘you need to see this as a beautiful opportunity in your life instead of the major setback that it could be’. That was the push that I needed to reimagine what the next step could be, and subsequently I ended up moving to Berlin a few months later!
What’s your most memorable moment at work?
The most memorable moment came right after we launched.
The first week we launched sales were coming in slowly, and then within that same week, we were featured in Vogue. Seeing all the sales come in the day the article went live was no doubt one of the most memorable moments for me thus far. It was just so exciting, especially when thinking about the place of Vogue in the fashion industry and seeing the response from customers.
That coverage changed the trajectory of our brand getting out of the gate and I remember thinking ‘okay now we have to be a real business’. We were able to sustain that level and keep growing from there to the point that we sold six months worth of inventory in two-three months, and we have been working hard to keep up with the demand with our supply chain ever since.
What inspires you?
One of the things that inspires me is hearing from our customers. We are fortunate that we get a lot of customer reviews and hearing how much they love the product is always such an amazing thrill.
We have a number of customers, probably over 50 at this point, who’ve actually written us handwritten notes, that they send back in their recycling packages about how much they love the recycling program, the underwear, etc. We keep these displayed and it’s always a nice reminder when the days are tough. Knowing that there are people out there who love what we’re doing is really gratifying.
The other thing that keeps me inspired is remembering where we’re going as a company and building a strong brand foundation that allows us the space and flexibility to pursue sustainable innovation.
What are some values you live by?
Thinking about opportunities; solutions not problems. When building a brand the list of problems to solve is endless, so it’s key that when things happen, you come at them with solutions-oriented thinking: ‘How do we fix this?’, ‘what’s the next step?’ and not being afraid to pivot and be agile.
Another is ‘tomorrow is a new day’. When something is not going according to plan, you have to set it aside and get a good night’s sleep. Tomorrow is a new day.
I’m also a big believer that in order to be the most effective at work, you have to take care of yourself outside of work. Work-life balance is an overused term that suggests that the amount of time you have outside of work should be equal to what you have at work. If you’re building something from scratch it’s going to take up a lot of time, but it’s important to know when is the time to stop and take proper time off. Happy people work best. Setting boundaries is important.
What advice would you give to your younger self?
It’s okay to not always know where you’re going. As long as you’re checking in with yourself and being honest about where you want to go, you’ll get there. My career path has not been one seamless line.
I always knew I wanted to work in fashion, although I never saw myself in the traditional industry working for any other big brand, or working in media.
I knew that sustainability was something that was important to me, but I didn’t quite know where that fit, as there weren’t that many sustainable brands at the time, and a lot of them were crunchy granola hippie brands which did not blend with who I was or where I wanted to be working either.
I was quite interested in tech and startups, and when I moved to Berlin I ended up working for a travel startup. However, over the course of that year, I realized how much I missed working in fashion. And that was an important realization. Around that time, Cayla came to me and said, you know I have this idea, would you consider coming back and doing this together? It’s the balance of taking some risk, while being okay to not fully know where you’re going.
If you weren’t working at Knickey, what would you be doing?
If I wasn’t at Knickey, I would probably be trying to pursue sustainability roles in non-profit organizations.
What’s your favourite brand?
I’m not very brand loyal in terms of day-to-day clothes, I buy a lot of second hand; The RealReal, Heroine or in vintage stores. In terms of basics, I really like Mate the Label and Kotn.
What’s your favorite book?
Normal People and Conversations with Friends by Sally Rooney
Rules of Civility and A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles
The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
What’s your favorite podcast?
The Daily (the New York Times podcast)
This American Life
More Than One Thing with Athena Calderon
Instagram Post Copy:
Lauren Sagadore is the Co-founder and COO of Knickey, an organic cotton underwear brand for women aspiring to become a leading brand in sustainability.
Lauren reminded us that “It’s okay to not always know where you’re going. As long as you’re checking in with yourself and being honest about where you want to go, you’ll get there. My career path has not been one seamless line.”
Take a look at Knickey and at the first-of-its-kind recycling programme that they offer!