The Success of Body Positive Branding with Shapermint CBO Siobhán Lonergan

Welcome to the Retail Rundown, your go-to weekly podcast where RETHINK Retail teams up with industry experts to discuss the news, trends, and big ideas that are redefining commerce.

In this episode, we spoke with Siobhán Lonergan, chief brand officer at Shapermint, about the role body-positive branding has played in the company’s massive growth. We also spoke about how work-from-home culture brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic impacted the company’s branding strategies as well as its goals for the future.

Prior to joining Shapermint, Siobhán served in the same role at Thinx. She was also EVP of Design Intelligence at Sterling Brands New York, where she led global rebrands for Kleenex, Huggies, Aspirin and Aleve. Siobhán also pioneered and developed internal design processes for Kimberly-Clark to elevate the importance of design within their baby and personal care divisions.

In addition to her brand-building experience, Siobhán has led innovation initiatives for Pepsi, Mars, Kellogg’s and Mitsubishi which gives her a holistic perspective on the industry.

If you enjoyed this episode, please let us know by subscribing to our channel and giving us a 5 star rating us on Apple Podcasts.

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Hosted by Carol Spieckerman
Written and produced by Gabriella Bock
Edited by Trenton Waller

TRANSCRIPTION

Carol Spieckerman:
Hi, I’m Carol Spieckerman, and today we’re kicking off another episode of RETHINK Retail’s Retail Rundown with my guest, Siobhan Lonergan. Siobhan’s the Chief Brand Officer at Shapermint, which is a three-year-old e-commerce marketplace that specializes in body positive shapewear. Prior to joining Shapermint, Siobhan served in the same role at Thinx. She also served as EVP of design intelligence at Sterling brands, New York, where she led global rebranding efforts for major brands like Kleenex, Huggies, and Aleve. Siobhan also pioneered and developed internal design processes for Kimberly-Clark, processes that elevated the importance of design within their baby and personal care divisions. In addition to this extensive brand building experience, Siobhan has also led innovation initiatives for multinational brands like Pepsi, Mars, Kellogg’s and Mitsubishi, all of which certainly gives her a holistic perspective on the industry and across multiple categories. I’m so glad to have you here, Siobhan. Thank you for joining the podcast.

Siobhan Lonergan:
Hi Carol. Thank you for having me. I’m super excited to be on this podcast.

Carol Spieckerman:
Me as well. I know that Shapermint’s a fairly new company, but you already have over five million customers. Can you tell our listeners a little bit more about those customers and also about Shapermint’s business model?

Siobhan Lonergan:
Sure. Shapermint is a direct-to-consumer marketplace. We’ve been in existence since 2018. In that three years, we’ve actually been able to disrupt the shapewear industry with over $250 million in revenue and 5.2 million customers. That is due in large part to its proactive role in tackling unrealistic beauty standards. We exist to transform the shapewear category, and we’ve started by changing the perception around taboos and shame. That’s the mission of how we’ve started and obviously we’ve spent and really invested in new customer acquisition, as well.

Carol Spieckerman:
Shapermint is an online marketplace, but of course, right now we’re hearing so much about brands going direct to consumer and attempting to launch their own e-commerce platforms. What are the advantages of a Shapewear brand partnering with Shapermint’s marketplace rather than attempting to do all that themselves?

Siobhan Lonergan:
Well, since we founded, we’ve obviously reached a large audience and our goal was to create a marketplace that could not only sell our own brands. We have two, one is Empetua, which is shapewear and leggings. And then we also have Truekind, which is a newer brand and that’s a brand for bras and undies. Those both live under the Shapermint umbrella, but then we also have 13 national brands under our umbrella as well. What we’ve done is we’ve opened the audience and we’ve created a space for people to come and find very specialized products, mainly in the supportive wear and control wear area. I would say the advantage specifically is the fact that we’ve done a lot of the groundwork. Obviously, that’s an attractive place, but we’re also very agile within our marketing techniques. We’re also testing, constantly iterating, and finding ways to reach those people. And I’ll tell you an interesting stat, 48% of our customers are new to the shapewear category. They’ve never tried shapewear before. So that’s actually very indicative of the fact that we’re opening up the category and we’re getting people to try it who might not have considered it before.

Carol Spieckerman:
Wow, that’s quite an accomplishment. I mean, to onboard so many newbies and also too, a big responsibility, because you’re bringing them into the category and basically introducing them to it.

Siobhan Lonergan:
That’s for sure. And I think, because we’ve actually been doing some work and then companies like Skims who also have great following have opened up the category to where getting people to consider shapewear beyond occasion wear, but we’re actually getting them to think about it as part of their everyday wardrobe. I think that’s the switch that people are making. The fact then that we’ve also got products in the athleisure space, so we also sell a lot of leggings and camis. Again, we’re creating those foundational pieces for your wardrobe that are really becoming those necessities and the basics that you need to have in your underwear drawer.

Carol Spieckerman:
That kind of speaks to, I think, the breadth of the opportunity, but let’s talk about body positivity as a concept. I know that’s something that’s fundamental to your brand. We’re certainly hearing a lot about it in the retail realm and in the media, it’s all over social media, but how important is body positivity to consumers these days?

Siobhan Lonergan:
I think it’s never been more important. I think two of the big factors that we’ve been thinking about and working with as insights for us is firstly, the impact of the pandemic. Obviously, people were at home more, they’re being much more sedentary in terms of their lifestyle. And we’ve, myself included, have put on a few COVID pants and the fact is, people need a boost and a break. They don’t need to feel bad about themselves. We actually touched on that with two of our brand campaigns that we did earlier this year. We did two TV spots. The first one was, “Get Back To Dressed” and we really talked about how getting dressed makes you feel good. And when you feel good, obviously that has a positive impact on your day and on your life. Then the next iteration of that was, “Hello Outside” because again, people being at home a lot, not meeting friends, not going outside. It was that point, a few months ago where people were emerging from lockdown and they needed to get out.

Siobhan Lonergan:
I think instead of actually talking about the negative effects of the pandemic, it’s about opening up the positivity around what people can get back to and us providing the products and the messaging to support that. The other point I would say is the role of social media. I’m sure it’s on the top of everybody’s minds that latest Facebook and Instagram report in terms of like how, for instance, 32% of teen girls feel bad about their bodies and social media obviously has a role in that. But I’m not dissing social media because we actually work with social media all the time in how we actually put our message out there and then how we promote our message. But what I say is we can be the antidote to some of that negativity. That’s the role that we want as a brand to play in people’s lives to really celebrate people’s bodies.

Siobhan Lonergan:
I think that’s the thing, whether you choose to buy shapewear or not, that’s not important. Everybody is beautiful and that’s the starting point that we go for then we can build on that if they are interested in engaging with us, if they want those types of products, then that’s where we get involved.

Carol Spieckerman:
Great. You talked about the negativity out there and in that vein, there are some critics that claim that shapewear is actually an opposition to body positivity. What’s your take on that?

Siobhan Lonergan:
I think it’s all about choice. We believe in giving people the choice to wear shapewear or not. It’s a personal preference. For many people it inspires confidence and shapewear has many different roles. For instance, it makes your clothes feel better. It gives you a level of control or support. And I personally wear shapewear for that reason. I like the feeling of feeling secure and the smoothing effect. Then others might wear it during the summer because it’s great for thigh shaping. So there are many reasons that people would wear shapewear. Some of them are emotional. Some of them are functional, but we want to give them the choice. But our mission is to shape the lives of our customers by providing everyday essentials and that’s for all body types, all shapes, all sizes. I think our job is to reinforce that your body is beautiful, whether you wear shapewear or not. And that’s the message that we want to promote within our communication.

Carol Spieckerman:
I would think it’s really tricky and maybe even a minefield to craft messages that are body positive for such a diverse customer base. Can you share any examples, like specific examples of how you navigate that and how you’re able to articulate body positive messages consistently to your customers and have them resonate across such a diverse customer base?

Siobhan Lonergan:
Well, I think we’ve invested heavily in influencer programs and brand ambassador programs in this last year because we believe that word of mouth and getting other people’s perspectives is the key to reaching those audiences. We don’t always pertain to know everything about everything, but we know that our customers love to hear from other people that are going through similar things. One of our initiatives this year was to hire a chief mom officer. She specifically is really strong in body positivity. She works with us on our campaigns. She provides insights from a mom perspective, but also from a body normative and positive perspective as well. Just working with her has actually helped shape some of our communications and shape how we approach different campaigns. Then in August we celebrated National Shapewear Day in New York city, where we had a bus drive to the city with a fleet of women and the Real Housewives of New York star, Eboni K. Williams.

Siobhan Lonergan:
And we gave away $1 million worth of free shapewear. Again, we’re trying to take our message to the streets and engage other people to actually put our message out there. Again, it’s about creating the environment, creating the space for those conversations. One other thing that we’ve done that we’re proud of is that we’ve been educating ourselves. Myself and the team are actually working alongside the body positive org and we’ve done some courses so that we can continue to stay on top of what’s happening, but also that we can continue to educate the other teams within our organization.

Carol Spieckerman:
Well, Siobhan, you talked about influencer marketing and how you guys leverage influencers and along with that, we always hear about user generated content or UGC. How were you approaching that? And is that part of your overall marketing mix?

Siobhan Lonergan:
Yes, for sure. I think it’s really important for DTC brands to have on the ground messaging as well as word of mouth. We want to use influencer marketing as a way to build our community of body positive advocates. We have a three pronged approach. For instance, we’ve built brand ambassadors and those are everyday women who love our brand and want to get involved. We work with them to define either a campaign or work with their type of messaging to promote the brand. That’s one area and that’s growing. In addition, we have our Evergreen campaigns around influencer marketing. One of those campaigns for instance was, for mother’s day earlier this year, we had a campaign called shaping real moments, and this was where we got our influencers to come and post and highlight real raw unfiltered moments around motherhood.

Siobhan Lonergan:
We actually had over 700 influencers, collectively posting to create a number of 1,300 social posts. Obviously, we had really good spike in impressions and engagements. The topic was really important because 80% of our customers are mothers, grandmothers, aunts. It was a really nice way for us to engage with our customers with like-minded influencers. That’s the second prong. And then the third is where we actually are just kicking off this quarter with influencer partnerships, where we actually really elevate relationships almost in an advocacy way. We’re looking to partner with up to 10 different influencer partners who will actually post on an ongoing basis and support our brand, that outreach is happening now. Again, I think it’s important because it adds a level of credibility and validates a lot of the DTC online activity that we engage with every day. And it’s real people talking to real people.

Carol Spieckerman:
Do those people generally come to you or are you seeking them out and vetting them, or is it a combination?

Siobhan Lonergan:
It’s a combination, but initially, we were reactive. People came to us and we just worked in that way. But as we started to consolidate our program, we invested in the GRIN platform. We use GRIN to actually recruit and create the briefs for our influencers and then also to track and measure all the metrics coming out of the different activations.

Carol Spieckerman:
It sounds like at first it was just sort of, come as you are, and then it became more of institutionalized process.

Siobhan Lonergan:
For sure. And you’ll find that, that’s the way it usually happens in any startup. It starts to happen organically. You kind of fall into it and then you start to build a process around it and then you actually get good at it. So we’re kind of at a point now where we know what we’re doing and we have the tools to do it.

Carol Spieckerman:
Well, I would think that would provide a big benefit to the brands that partner with you on your marketplace, because essentially all of that great content, all the research, it’s just baked in.

Siobhan Lonergan:
For sure. They are doing great work as well. We learned from them as well at the same time.

Carol Spieckerman:
It sounds like you take a lot of input from a lot of different sources and sort of aggregate it and create the magic as it were.

Siobhan Lonergan:
I have to say, from Shapermint, it’s one of the companies that is most driven by data. We have one of the founders, Lucas Vera, who actually heads up our customer insights team and everything we do is supported by data. It’s almost like a privilege as a marketer to have that facility internally. But I think it is really important, especially in this arena to make sure that we keep ourselves real.

Carol Spieckerman:
Absolutely. Well, and you touched on how you’re very aware of, and of course addressing a lot of these shifts in consumer behavior. And one of the most drastic shifts and discretionary categories like shapewear during the pandemic was just people trying to figure out how to drive those categories because they sort of got put on the back burner and favorable staples and other things at least initially. I’m curious, did you find that people were still buying and wearing shapewear while they were working from home? And how did that shift your marketing or did it?

Siobhan Lonergan:
Initially, our sales were really great because if you think about it, shapewear usually is purchased in department stores and when they were not available and people were not visiting department stores, then online sales increased and obviously traffic online really magnified. But then we did start to see a slump in terms of our shapewear products. But what we saw in addition to that was increased sales and interest in our other products, say for instance, our leggings, we have our Empetua high-waisted leggings. Those sales did really well. Another product that did really well is our cami and then also the bras and the bralette. I think we’ve been able to weather that entire shift because we’ve had this range of products that support getting dressed up and going outside, but then also working from home as well. And I think that was the key. What we did as a marketing team was basically shift our focus in terms of the types of products that we were actually marketing over the course of the last 18 months.

Carol Spieckerman:
It sounds like it was a combination of a little bit of a category shift and category focus, but also just getting the word out that there is a source for shapewear for those who did want to wear it and you didn’t necessarily have to go to a department store to get it.

Siobhan Lonergan:
For sure. And now you can see that it’s shifting back again, as people go back to work, especially in this season, people are actually starting to think about holiday parties for the first time. Again, we were actually starting to see things pick up again and across the board in terms of our product range.

Carol Spieckerman:
Well, as it does shift and some consumers transition back to work and as they even doll up for special events, is that shifting your strategy yet again? How are you handling it?

Siobhan Lonergan:
I think we’ll go out strong for the holiday season and Black Friday, Cyber Monday. Again, it’s about showing people that whether you want to go casual, smart casual, or if you really want to get dressed up, we have the products and the accessories that can support your wardrobe choices. So I think we will definitely take advantage of that. At the same time, we’ll continue to invest in our influencers and kind of really shore up that in terms of our word of mouth marketing as well, just really having a balance between the strong acquisition approach, but then also an approach that really embodies our core DNA, which is to shape the lives of our customers by providing everyday essentials for a very inclusive group of people.

Carol Spieckerman:
Well, in terms of once again, addressing that diversity of your customers, and it sounds like that’s really just fundamental to your business as well. Are you looking to onboard new brands? How big do you see the platform getting in terms of the breadth of assortment?

Siobhan Lonergan:
We have fairly big ambitions and as well as including national brands and continuing to onboard that. We’re actually expanding internationally so that’s a big initiative for this year, but we’re also building out our own products. For instance, we’ve seen a bralette have been doing really well, that those numbers are looking really strong. And I think that’s again indicative of the new trends that we’re seeing in terms of how people are wearing clothes and the choices that they’re making. I often like to think about the evolution of the brand. If you think about how it’s come down through the years from corsets to kind of in the twenties, kind of more loose fitting, then you go kind of into the eighties with Madonna and her conical bras. And now you come to this era where comfort is key and the shape again has already changed. So I think really tapping into what’s happening in terms of fashion, but what the underpinnings that those fashion choices are what we’re really interested. I think bralettes and those more casual type silhouettes and comfort focused products are going to be really key.

Carol Spieckerman:
And I guess you probably wouldn’t want to see a lot of conical bras on a Zoom call.

Siobhan Lonergan:
For sure. But I just think it’s interesting how our silhouettes have changed over the decades and they’re changing again now in a very distinctive way.

Carol Spieckerman:
You obviously stay on top of trends and you follow consumer data really closely. What are some trends that you expect to see dominating going into 2022? I mean, is there anything in particular that you guys are watching and tracking?

Siobhan Lonergan:
I think athleisure is not going away. Yesterday in the New York Times, they did a big article about the emergence of the sports dress and how those sales have doubled over the last year. I think that’s a really interesting iteration moving from kind of the classic leggings and sports top or sports bra into kind of sports all day. So I think those dresses are something that I’m interested in. I think want to expand our portfolio again, deepening our opportunities and options within the bras space, as well as our portfolio of products that go from innerwear to outerwear. Maybe more along the leggings, more control wear and so forth.

Carol Spieckerman:
Wow. That’s sounds like you guys are in a really exciting growth period right now. And I think as things start to open up in retail in general, the opportunities just seem pretty limitless. How can people learn more about Shapermint and get in contact with you guys or anybody who might want to be a brand partner or work with you in your marketplace?

Siobhan Lonergan:
Definitely come to shapermint.com. We also have truekinds.com, that’s our other brand. Check us out on Instagram. We’re pretty active there. That’s where we really highlight kind of our mission, but then also everything to do with our products. I would say contact us either through our website or through social media.

Carol Spieckerman:
And I know you guys are all over social media, so it’s certainly not hard to find you. Well, thank you so much, Siobhan for joining the podcast today. It was great hearing from you, really exciting category and really look forward to following your progress.

Siobhan Lonergan:
Thank you so much, Carol. I’m really happy to be here and delighted to have this conversation.

Carol Spieckerman:
It was a pleasure.

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