Michelle Cordeiro Grant
Founder & CEO

How Lively’s Founder Fostered a Community of 65,000 Brand Ambassadors in Just Three Years

From a career in merchandising for Victoria’s Secret to starting a new kind of lingerie brand, Founder and CEO Michelle Cordeiro Grant credits Lively’s success to one main thing… a strong community. And that community, now 65,000 and growing, has helped take this online shop selling $35 bras to a lifestyle brand backed by more than $15 million in capital funding.

Tell us about your background and why you chose to start Lively.

I was lucky enough to find a role in fashion at Federated Merchandising Group, where I was able to create brands and products for one of the biggest retailers in the world. I instantly fell in love with the entire process — from concept to customer. But in the back of my head, I was still not convinced that a career in fashion could be my life’s profession. After applying and attending law school — 2 weeks in, I realized my passion really was supporting, creating, and developing these amazing brands. I finally realized that your passion could actually BE your career.

While at Victoria’s Secret, I saw that this $13 billion lingerie category in the U.S. alone was dominated by this one brand, with one POV. I knew that one day I was going to create a completely new experience for the bras and undies category, that was inspired by real life... one that could inspire women to embrace their human uniqueness, their individuality, and in doing so, allow them to live life passionately, purposefully and confidently.

What defining characteristic has made your brand successful?

Even though by definition we are a DTC brand, we’ve invested a lot in human capital by creating connections through community events and pop-ups that foster human emotion and ultimately help us build our brand. From day one our community has made us who we are and brought our brand to life. They (currently 65k strong and growing) continually help us refine our brand and make products that enhance the lives they’re already living.

The first Lively brick-and-mortar store in NYC’s SOHO.
The first Lively brick-and-mortar store in NYC’s SOHO.

From a product perspective, we’ve created something entirely new. We create bras and undies that blur the aesthetic lines of lingerie, active, and swim, taking the best elements of high-style and comfort from each category. We call it Leisurée. In fact, 70% of our what we sell does not have wires; our bras conform you, not the other way around.

What major challenges did you have to overcome to address the opportunities?

It takes 25-40 suppliers to make one bra because of the different components; setting up a strong supply chain and finding a manufacturing partner was crucial to launching our brand. Luckily, I found an amazing partner who ended up being our first investor and they built a factory dedicated to LIVELY. In starting LIVELY, I began to prioritize networking - through this, an introduction was made to a third generation CEO of a lingerie manufacturer. Together, over almost a year, we built out a relationship and crafted an arrangement to bring the brand to life.

From a community perspective, we learned very quickly that it was difficult to scale without technology, but technology in and of itself can be intrusive and clunky which puts the community at risk at the same time. Our community is our most important communication vehicle and the exchange of content and ideas requires a human touch to safeguard authenticity. So we tried many different methods to appropriately scale past 1000 ambassadors that included hours of interns, our full staff and sampling the right technology as well as the right processes.

Instagram snaps from the Lively community of brand ambassadors.
Instagram snaps from the Lively community of brand ambassadors.

What’s currently happening in marketing that most excites you and why? How will it impact the future of marketing?

The importance and intersection of online and offline. As e-commerce and social platforms expand, we’ve noticed that the interest to connect in person (for the communities they enabled to form) has only continued to grow alongside it. The pace of change consistently keeps us on our toes. We launched 3 years ago, and ‘back then’ Instagram stories had not been created. Now, it’s a critical part of our marketing strategy.

What are the biggest changes in your industry and how are you staying ahead of them?

Incorporating women in everything we do. For LIVELY, we always look towards, listen to and engage our community to make sure we’re creating products and experiences that reflect what they want and who they are. We’re focused on how women feel when they are looking at THEMSELVES, versus how they feel in front of their significant other.

What are you currently working on that’s unique or innovative?

Since day one, we’ve made one price for all, and we’re sticking to it. We’re on a mission to create an inclusive brand that enables all women to live LIVELY. One price -- Any style, any color, any size. Now and forever. While a lot of brands talk about size inclusivity, we think that price inclusivity is just as important. Soon, we’ll be introducing new sizes (38DDD up to 44DDD) in two of our core styles: the Full Support T-shirt Bra and Full Support Bralette and the prices will remain the same, regardless of size or style.

What big learning moments have you had along the way?

So many! We launched LIVELY a month earlier than we had planned. An email referral campaign (it was open sourced from Harry’s and published by Tim Ferriss) worked much better than we anticipated. At first, we thought it was fraud! Within 48 hours, we had collected 133,000 emails and drove 300,000 sessions on our site globally -- then our site crashed. We had people emailing from all over asking when they could purchase, so we decided to roll with it and turn the site on. You never know what is going to work, so being nimble and willing to adapt a plan/product/launch is a mindset that’s worth embracing.

What one leadership trait do you think is most critical to making a Challenger Brand successful?

Don’t look for playbooks, create your own!

What advice would you give to other marketing pioneers?

Don’t be afraid to adapt or create your own marketing channels and tactics. There are so many tools we use, not necessarily for their intended purpose, that we adapt and use for an objective that suits us and our community.