Starting a new business in a well-established industry is a huge challenge. But it’s one that Catalina Girald rose to when she launched her lingerie company Naja, by telling a different story to other underwear brands.
In fact, Girald didn’t think twice about going up against the likes of Victoria’s Secret. “I look at it that I produce a product that’s very different and I know that there are people that are very interested in that kind of product,” she says. “I try not to look at it as an us against them situation.”
It’s understandable why Girald approaches it in this way, Victoria’s Secret controls 50 per cent of the American market. As she says herself, it would be a “defeatist point of view”.
Regardless, what Naja offers is very different to what anyone else is doing. “I thought there was an opportunity for a cooler, hipper, more millennial brand, and a brand that did things differently,” she says. “Underwear has always been a bit of a commodity product so it's not very fashion forward it's usually plain – it's nude or black or it might have flowers here or there but it isn't anything spectacular from a fashion point of view. I wanted to really create something that stood out. But at the same time, I think a big part of my motivation for the company as a whole was that I really wanted to empower women.”
On both these points, Girald has built a company that is very unique. With a focus on being ethical and environmentally friendly, Naja is breaking new ground in lingerie. “Nobody’s really thought of underwear in that way before,” she says. “There are many brands that are turning toward ethical or environmentally friendly in ready to wear but underwear is that last frontier. But if we could make underwear ethical and environmentally friendly and empowering of women, you could actually really make an impact.”
Naja’s already making a significant impact on women all over the world. “We’ve developed this extremely loyal following of people that repeat purchase over and over because they love either what we stand for or the designs,” Girald explains.
However, it was their Nude for All campaign that made a real mark on the world. Breaking the tradition of nude underwear being one colour (what Girald calls “white girl nude”), Naja created a range of underwear that comes in seven different shades of nude. And then they bought a subway station in New York City to launch their campaign.
“It really was inspired by Richard Branson,” Girald admits. “I was at Necker Island last year and he was telling us stories about the early days of Virgin. I asked him how to stand out when you're a very little company with very little money. And he said when they were starting Virgin Atlantic they called these press conferences and said they had this big campaign coming out. They'd announce it to the press and put up one billboard and then they didn't need to put anymore up because once the press saw the billboard it was a cool novel campaign so they did the job of spreading the news.”
While working on the Nude for All campaign, Girald was looking for an idea as to how they could replicate that kind of success so she investigated how much it would cost to hire a billboard in New York City. Through her investigations she realised that it was the same amount to buy a subway station as to buy a billboard. So that’s what they did. “Then I emailed Richard to say thanks and he wrote about it on his blog and then the Daily Mail picked it up and it spread from there,” she says. “It spread all over Europe and Asia, to countries I didn’t even know existed.
“It really showed me the power of a marketing campaign and how you can use marketing to forward your mission and your brand. I think that's the way for us to keep going, to keep doing these campaigns that mean something.”
But what’s Girald’s secret to building a brand that excites people? Do something different to everyone else and have some fun.
“As part of our irreverence, all of our lingerie all of our underwear, including the nude range, have quotes on the interior of the crotch of the panties. It's like a fortune cookie!” she says. “The idea behind it was it makes you laugh or smile and it gives you some encouragement every day.
“But what's happened is we actually put a hashtag on it #lovenaja and people take pictures of the crotch of their panties and post it on Instagram.”
The other thing that Girald says is really important when building a brand is authenticity. “It's not just about you telling the story and the press telling your story but it's also important to get influencers behind your brand. There's all this influencer marketing and stuff, and I know that works for many people but we've just had Jessica Alba say that we were her favourite brand of lingerie and I think that happened more because we're very authentic.
“And it has to permeate everywhere because so many brands say I'm going to say that I'm ethical and I'm going to deliver lunches to the factory workers on Fridays and there are brands doing that now. But people see through that, especially now we're in such an age of information. People are really looking for who's really doing what they say.”