Most large-breasted women are about as keen on bra shopping as a visit to the dentist. The lack of choice and ill-fitting and unflattering designs have reduced many a busty young shopper to tears or at the very least invoked feelings of humiliation and low self-esteem. But fear not ladies with curves in Kenya! Double Dee’s is on a mission to change all that.
Like most teens, Charity Migwi wanted nothing more than something pretty with a little bit of lace, but shopping with her friends Constance Tipis and Millicent Wanjiru Njorge, the trio were always disappointed by the poor selection. Much of Kenya’s intimates market is either over-priced or supplied by a secondhand market where tags are cut out and sizes are unknown, so shopping was a lot of hit or miss, but mostly miss.
“We struggled for years. In the end, the only solution I found was to bring back bras from Victoria Secret while studying abroad in Canada. I dreaded customs opening my suitcase and pulling out one of the many DD items, waving it around for the world to see,” Charity says with a laugh, adding more seriously, “That was trigger really. I knew there was a demand in Kenya waiting to be filled.”
Back for the summer from her two-year post-high-school program at United World College, the then 19-year-old Charity met Stella Lang’at, a fellow Kenyan alum studying in Italy. The two became fast friends, bonding over boob size among other issues. Millicent and Constance quickly adopted the new friend as if they’d known her for years.
Charity and Stella moved to the US to study and work and Millicent and Constance remained in Kenya doing much of the same. But their ties remained strong and the idea to launch a business producing beautiful, affordable underwear for busty women was alive and well despite the distance.
“While branding is crucial, consistent branding makes or breaks a company. Understand your target market and customize branding and messaging to that specific audience – from your logo, to your colours, to the language you use in social media posts, clients need to see a consistent message.”
Then in 2014, an opportunity to turn words into action presented itself. On behalf of the foursome, Stella pitched the idea for Double Dee’s Lingerie to the Harvard Women in Business innovation competition with a focus on local production and sales to middle-class curvaceous customers.
“We didn’t win but got good feedback and revised the business plan accordingly. Our biggest takeaway was that we really needed to do more market research of our target customers and the lingerie market more specifically in Kenya. So, despite being admittedly a bit soul-crushing, the pitch was a great learning experience.”
Emboldened, all four started attending networking events and everyone chipped in to their ability in developing a new business plan. Undeterred, in 2015 Stella pitched again, this time at Skidmore College & the New York State Business Plan Regional Competition. Double Dee’s won first place, earning $20,000 and legal services worth another $5000. The same year, she also repitched to Harvard and came second with a further $2000.
It was the validation they needed to move forward.
Amassing their funds, they rented a space and opened Double Dee’s Lingerie in June 2016. They each equally pay into a fund on a monthly basis and the business is split four ways with every partner bringing her unique skills to play.
“We’re all very different but work well together. Charity is the number cruncher, making sure we don’t go broke,” Stella says with a smile. “As the networker, I negotiate with suppliers and vet potential investors. Constance, ever the psychologist, is our sales and marketing guru and is at the store every day. And design-minded Millicent overseas product curation and manufacturing relations.”
Working across time zones – Stella in Houston, Charity in New York, and Millicent and Constance in Nairobi – the team talks every day via Skype or WhatsApp. Where others see challenges, Charity sees opportunity.
“Collectively as a team, we work 24 hours. Where one leaves off, the others pick up. We’re able to be very responsive and actually get more done due to the time difference,” she explains. “Because we’re friends, we actually don’t mind spending hours on the phone and are also sensitive to each other’s needs and priorities. This flat structure has worked excellently for us because we keep each other accountable. It is the knowledge that the next gal is pulling her weight to make Double Dees’s a success, that drives us to work that much harder. Besides, we’ve always been friends before we were partners.”
Originally the plan was to produce locally but this required a lot of engineering and skills that were not yet in place.
“The samples we received were ascetically beautiful, but the quality was not up to scratch so we pivoted and sought overseas suppliers, but we’re working on our own line and building capacity with local seamstresses. Millicent is collaborating with a factory that employs 60 women, providing them with training manuals on bra production and pattern design,” Stella remarks. “Local manufacturing will need a serious investment, but our vision remains to start production in Kenya in five years.”
It’s an ambitious roadmap but these friends and founders are in it for the long haul. They pump every cent back into the business as it grows, and they plan to open more stores in Kenya and abroad.
This is great news for job creation at home but also ladies with curves across Africa.
- Don’t forget why you started.
- Maintain professionalism at all times with the people you work with. Put everything on paper regardless of whether you are friends or not.
- Clients remember exemplary customer service. Offering first class customer service will keep them coming back and next time, they’ll bring a friend or two.
- Consider a soft launch! Launch parties – and everything that goes with them – cost a lot of money and you might find yourself overwhelmed on the first day. Think about opening without the bang, a few friends and family, and then rely on word-of-mouth to spread the news. You can always throw a party later!
- While branding is crucial, consistent branding makes or breaks a company. Understand your target market and customize branding and messaging to that specific audience – from your logo, to your colours, to the language you use in social media posts, clients need to see a consistent message.
- Don’t burn bridges! It’s inevitable that some business relationships with providers come to an end. Regardless of the circumstances, maintain an amiable relationship. These people can still be advisors and your business’ biggest supporters.