Jane Dong, the COO, and Heather Eaton, the CEO, took the body-inclusive brand from a class project to a full-fledged business that makes clothes "to fit our bodies—not the other way around."
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heather eaton and jane dong of frankly apparel
Credit: Courtesy of Frankly Apparel

Have you ever wondered how to turn your dreams of owning your own business into a reality? We can help. Each week, as part of our Self Made series, we showcase female entrepreneurs—as well as their quality handmade goods—and share their best advice related to starting, maintaining, and growing your own business.

While Jane Dong and Heather Eaton, the founders of Frankly Apparel, a braless clothing brand, have loved fashion, their respective career paths didn't lead them in that direction. Eaton, the CEO, worked in investment banking and business operations, whereas Dong, the COO, started off in management consulting. The pair linked up in graduate school at Stanford University in 2019, which is when they dreamed up their brand—at first, as a hypothetical class project. Their idea? A clothing line for all cup sizes, which stemmed from both founders' personal needs.

"You can never guess where you'll end up. The moment I heard Heather tell me about her hatred for her bras and wish for braless clothing, I was in," Dong says. "Clothing is so universal to most humans' lives, and helping women think less while being able to feel more confident is so meaningful."

frankly apparel lifestyle shot
Credit: Courtesy of Frankly Apparel

Kick-Starting the Company

The Frankly Apparel founders launched their brand with a Kickstarter campaign (this allowed them to learn whether or not women would buy their products before paying for production orders) in October 2020. "This ended up being super successful, with us spending very few marketing dollars and still doubling our goal," Dong says. "We also became a viral TikTok brand around this time, even before we launched direct-to-consumer." The pair began selling direct-to-consumer through their website in May 2021, and, after, graduating in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, decided to forgo any other career plans and pursue their fashion line full-time.  

The Perfect Fit

Designing braless options for the widest range of customers possible has been the founders' mission from the start. "If you're an A or a B cup, it's not too difficult to go braless with clothes that already exist on the market," Eaton says, noting that the fashion industry designs for women with a B cup. On the other hand, women with DD cups or G cups still face obstacles when it comes to clothes' baseline fit; lift, support, and movement are rarely supported across all garment types, Eaton says.

To cater to this range, they decided to make split sizes, like L/M. This allows women to go up one size in the bust (where they might be a large), instead of defaulting to their standard waist and hip measurement (which might fall closer to a medium). "It's been really gratifying to hear from our customers when they say, 'This is the first time I have seen all of my measurements on the same line of a size chart,'" says Eaton. "It makes us feel like all the extra complexity to challenge the status quo is worth it! Clothes should be made to fit our bodies—not the other way around."  

frankly apparel lifestyle shot
Credit: Courtesy of Frankly Apparel

Shaping the Fashion Industry

In the founders' eyes, their customers serve as Frankly Apparel collaborators and co-creators. "Before we launch new styles, we share the sketches and early prototypes with our followers and ask them for their feedback," Eaton shares. "We aren't a fast-fashion company, and we try to minimize waste as much as humanly possible." If their collective approves of a piece, they produce it in small batches with female-owned factories, and use recycled materials whenever possible to make everything from their Frankly Apparel "The Gage" Bodysuit ($85, franklyapparel.com) to the Frankly Apparel "The Emma" Dress ($98, franklyapparel.com). And if customers don't like a new style? It simply isn't made.

Eaton and Dong want to change the conversation when it comes to fashion and women's bodies, too. When starting their business, a production consultant told them that their clothing above a B cup wouldn't sell because it "doesn't look good on a hanger." They wanted to combat this narrative about sizing in the fashion industry, and started with their personal experiences surrounding finding the right fit.

"As two founders who are differently shaped and have chests that are different sizes, we feel strongly about ensuring our underserved and typically ignored customers are heard and designed for," Dong says. "We want all of the women who encounter and try the brand to feel that relief from not needing to think about a bra, and we also want them to know that they are beautiful as they are."

Remembering the Mission

Are you thinking about starting a business? Eaton and Dong recommend learning to shake off failures. "I think a sense of humor is so important when it comes to starting your own business, and we both try to keep things lighter—even on days when the issues you're facing don't feel light," Dong says. "It sometimes feels stressful because everything that happens with your business does start and end with you. Believing in your mission so strongly that you're willing to do almost anything (within reason and your own moral compass of course) will help you on the tougher days."

Eaton also tells entrepreneurs to take a break from the to-do list. "For us, it's been really important to stop and celebrate the wins, both big and small, and to take time away from Frankly Apparel to refresh," the co-founder explains. "We keep each other honest on using vacation days, and if we notice we have been in a 'bad mood slump' for a while, we will choose a day and just take it off to do other things." Spending time with their families, traveling, and exploring their hobbies is all a part of this work-life balance and helps them stay energized for what's to come—which is continuing to design for underserved women in the fashion industry and making Frankly Apparel a household name.

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