What Makes Slick Chicks Click?
Their commitment to persistence, shared values, adaptation, and empowerment has been key to this startup’s success.
Most life-changing innovations begin with an aggravating problem. In 1873, a customer of an immigrant tailor needed a stronger pair of working pants for her woodcutter husband, and that need led to the creation of Levi’s Jeans, the longstanding worldwide clothing staple. The Spanx shapewear era started 22 years ago when founder Sara Blakely cut the feet off of her control-top panty hose to achieve a smoother look under her white pants. Five years ago, Helya Mohammadian, a fashion designer, realized her sister who had just had a C-section couldn’t even get her undies on without assistance. That led to the creation of Slick Chicks, a line of underwear that can be put on with ease by women recovering from debilitative surgery or injury as well as women with disabilities and other challenges. It’s not on par with the innovation of the smartphone, but for the millions of women who are physically challenged, Slick Chicks’ adaptive underwear can significantly improve the quality of their daily lives, offering them ease, comfort and autonomy that is tremendously empowering.
Many great ideas are fleeting thoughts that dissipate long before making it to market. An action plan and persistence are crucial to implementing ideas. (Sara Blakely was rejected by nearly every hosiery mill in the country on her challenging journey to success). Likewise, creating a viable solution to the dressing challenges many women face, was just the first hurdle that Helya would face, and probably not the hardest. Ironically, if she had more business experience, she might have anticipated how difficult it would be to secure the funding to bring her idea to market…and she might not have tried and subsequently succeeded.
The first challenge was that she was introducing a new concept in a new emerging market. “We had to prove that there was a need for our product—that we had a viable market. I don’t think the VC (venture capitalist) world was ready for us.” The second challenge was that Helya is a female founder and a woman of color. According to Helya, less than 2 percent of women and minority entrepreneurs are readily funded. She reached out to dozens of venture capitalists and dozens refused her. She says she didn’t feel like they were taking her seriously—some even asked her if she had a boyfriend or if she wanted to go to dinner. “It was definitely a challenge, and fortunately there are other options out there besides VCs.”
Bootstrapping and fundraising from friends and family on Kickstarter while she persistently explored other options, she eventually landed a pre-seed round from a women’s empowerment fund created by a successful female business founder/CEO. “She was our saving grace. She came at a time when we were starting to lose hope.”
Early support from LimeLife by Alcone ultimately led to a contract with Aerie by American Eagle. Helya stresses the importance of having stakeholders—not just investors, but employees, vendors and suppliers—who are like-minded and will advocate for you. “LimeLife founder Michele Gay has a sister with MS. She totally got us, understood the need for our product, and gave us a chance, and that led to our partnership with Aerie. They’ve been super supportive as well. They have validated the need for our product, they support our mission, and inherently protect our brand. It’s been an incredible partnership.”
It wasn’t long before retail giants Target and Nordstrom also began selling Slick Chick apparel, Helya notes. “We’re doing a healthy amount of sells with each retailer, and they are great companies that share our values. It’s about so much more than just selling underwear. They understand that this product is impacting quality of life, and they share in our passion.”
Helya says they made it a priority to secure a supplier as well as retailers who embrace their mission and support equality and inclusivity. “That is what excited us when we first met our supplier MAS. Not only are they a progressive design-to-delivery solutions provider to the world’s top sports and fashion brands, they are a world-class company that serves a bigger purpose with their all-inclusive, non-discriminatory policies. They are pro-innovation, believe in what we’re doing, and help us.”
Overall, Slick Chicks’ products can be worn by anyone regardless of age. “We try to make them comfortable, functional and fashionable for everyone. I can wear the same bra that my mom can wear,” Helya explains. But because Slick Chicks is essentially pioneering a new product in a new market, they are committed to continued innovation to meet evolving customer needs, soliciting feedback from customers and retailers, and studying the data to see what customers are gravitating toward.
As a result, they have since expanded their product line to include easy-to-put-on bras. “One of the biggest things we were hearing was that there was a need for a front-fastening bra for women with dexterity issues, so we created an adaptive bra with Velcro closures. We are constantly learning about our customers and our retailers and adapting accordingly.”
Helya is quickly learning how to navigate the startup world as well. “One thing I’ve learned is that everything is negotiable. If you stand by your product, stand by what you’re doing, no matter how small of a company you are or how large the retailer is, there is always room to negotiate.”
Helya shares that perhaps the best lesson she has learned is the importance of empowerment. It’s central to their brand. Not only does Slick Chicks endeavor to empower their end-users with their adaptive underwear designs, it is also their mission to empower the people they work with. “It’s so important to empower the people around you and to be empowered by those around you. My personal goal is to support and inspire other female founders. It’s important to lift each other up, celebrate our achievements, and pay it forward.”
For more information, follow this link: Slick Chicks (slickchicksonline.com)