The Disgusting Truth About How Often American Women Actually Wash Their Bras

Michelle Lam is the CEO of True&Co., an online-only lingerie company. She believes that many women are wearing bras that are the wrong size and that they don’t get the right sizes because they hate the embarrassing experience of shopping at a store. True&Co.’s solution to this is an online quiz, the results of which tell women their correct sizes.
Upon purchase, customers receive a box of five garments, and they can send any back they don’t like. True&Co. carries niche brands like Blush, as well as household names like Calvin Klein.
She’s also gotten venture funding from a very famous American actress who would look great in True&Co.’s product — but she made us promise not to tell anyone who that is and, foolishly, we agreed.
Before starting True&Co. last year, Lam, 34, worked at Bain and Microsoft (in marketing strategy). She’s a believer in big data, and has collected some off-putting stats about how often the average American woman actually washes her bras. Not very often to almost never is the answer, because they don’t want to ruin them in the machine.
We talked to Lam after Business Insider’s Social Commerce 2013 event, at which she spoke about how she uses social media to drive sales.
Business Insider: Why does there need to be another lingerie company? We’ve already got Victoria’s Secret.
Michelle Lam: We sell bras online and our differentiator is after a two-minute, fun quiz we will fit you into a bra with no fittings or photos.  Every women in my generation has nothing but Victoria’s Secret. They are great at what they do, but we have a great alternative. We are gross margin positive in a really nice way.
BI: It’s online only?
ML: It’s all online. And we ask you a series of questions with illustrations. We take the data about your body type in general and we suggest a personal shop just for you.
BI: How do you use social media for marketing?
ML: Mainly Facebook; we have 36,000 fans. We just launched last June, and weren’t on Facebook till September. We are a startup. We have no retail stores.
BI: But don’t people want to try things on to make sure they’re the right size, in a store?
ML: It’s a very complicated process where the numbers don’t mean anything. Women used to go into a fitting room and spend two hours half naked in that fitting room. Trial and error. The entire process is controlled by the salesperson who brings you bra after bra and is invasive because she is in there with her. The customer told us she didn’t want anybody to see her half naked in a fitting room. I’m a woman. I went through that process. When we started building the company, I had 500 bras in my living room and was always inviting women over to try these on and see their reactions. They didn’t want to be seen. They don’t want to do it in front of other people. They don’t want to go to the store.
BI: But this store visit is only necessary for the first time, presumably? After that, women know what size they are. Problem solved.
ML: No, women’s sizes change all the time. After you’ve had a child, after weight gain and loss, your time of the month, if you go to work and can’t use your old bras. A woman should get fitted once a year and replace bras two to three times a year.
BI: What kind of bras are women wearing most of the time?
ML: Our customer is a true woman. No push up. Perfectly fitted. She wears it to work. In her closet is a little bit of fantasy and a lot of reality. Guys have more boxers than girls have bras. Women wait a long time to replace bras. When they bought it the fit was right. But spandex and cotton, when you’re wearing it all the time, can get ruined in the wash. So American women don’t wash them that much.
BI: Really? I assumed women washed bras the way men wash boxer shorts — after every use.
ML: Most women may not wash them ever. Fibers break down. Sixty percent of women didn’t replace their bras in last three years. I was probably one of them.
BI: That doesn’t sound like the sexy fantasy men want to believe.
ML: We sell what women want to wear on special occasions. A woman’s definition of 20-second wear may be different than a man’s definition. We cater to women, not to the man. Others cater to male tastes if it’s only on for 20 seconds. It doesn’t have to be uncomfortable or impractical to wear for longer. I think you can find great merchandise that makes you feel attractive and is comfortable.

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