Meet Pepper co-founder Jaclyn Fu, the Denver entrepreneur creating bras for small boobs


Pepper co-founder Jaclyn Fu talks with us about the bra that fits small boobs better, and its place in building a movement.

I had the opportunity to chat with the lovely Jaclyn Fu about the “bra for small boobs,” an innovative product she created with friend Lia Winograd for their company, Pepper.

It may seem like a no-brainer: small-chested women need bras, too. Fu elaborated to us how her own personal experiences led her to create products that would help women with smaller busts.

With Pepper, small-chested women will now not only be able to simply wear a bra that fits and looks good, but also gain a big confidence bump. The ladies of Pepper are hoping to change negative thinking and norms surrounding our bodies through passion, persistence, building community, and just a bit of luck — in the form of a ring. Something all of us can support, no matter the chest size.

Photo courtesy of Pepper.

Could you give us an overview of the mission of Pepper and the product?

Pepper is a bra company for small-chested women. Our mission is to help women love and celebrate the body that they have. It was inspired from a lot of the stories that we hear from our customers where yes, we are giving them a better fitting bra, which is really important in helping them feel awesome about their body. But a lot of what impacted how they felt about their body went beyond the bra. It was when they were growing up, maybe they heard insults from that mean elementary school boy. Or as they got older, it was all the images they were seeing on TV — where society was telling us, in order to be beautiful and sexy, you needed to look a certain way.

These are the things that we’re trying to redefine and battle through Pepper. It’s not just making better-fitting garments, but can we come together and start a movement and all these conversations that really empower women to say, “This is my body as it is, and I love it the way it is.”

I don’t know if you’ve been following a lot of the body-positive movements going on, but what we saw was so much of it was focused on the plus-size audience. Which is awesome — because it’s so needed. But, I think there’s a misunderstanding that the opposite side of the spectrum has their own pain points, too, and their own fit issues. I think that for women, the grass is always greener. So for us, it’s awesome that so many companies and brands are focusing on these niche, underserved bodies. Because I don’t think it’s the brands that cater to everyone that’s going to make the best fit. It’s going to be these smaller brands saying, “We’re going to get to know these audiences and body types really well so that we can keep making styles that fit them.”

When you say “smaller chested” could you elaborate as to what sizes that includes?

So we offer AA, A, and B cups. And right now, the band sizes that we offer is 32-38. We just launched in April. But we also want to make it clear that, for us, having a small chest doesn’t necessarily mean [you have a] small body or you’re skinny. Because I think that’s something that people misconstrue. They think that having a small chest is only if you’re teeny-tiny. We end at 38 right now, but we are working on expanding to 40, 42, for example. So you can be plus-sized but have small boobs as well, which is a common pain point that we hear. And likewise, we start at 32 now, but we’re already getting a lot of requests for smaller sizes. Like 30, or 28. So we want to expand that way as well.

In expanding the sizes, are you also planning to hopefully expand on styles, or do you just want to do this one good style for a while?

All of our customers are already clamoring for different styles. We have the first product, The All You Bra. This one was designed to eliminate the bra gap that a lot of small-chested women have. Because it’s all about fit, so many of our customers love the fit of this one so much that they want better-fitting bras but in different styles. Because, you know, you need the strapless. You need the bra when you go to a concert, and you’re wearing a strappy tank top. There are all these other bras that you need to have in your closet, and we want to offer that. So the next one that we’re working on right now is the wireless bra. And then, hopefully after that, a strapless bra. For me personally, I cannot wait to have a strapless bra that doesn’t fall down!

Photo courtesy of Pepper.

So obviously there’s a market for this; there’s a need for this. What personally inspired or drove you to start Pepper?

I’m very much in Itty Bitty [Titty] Committee (IBTC) myself. So it was inspired by my own personal struggle of finding something that fit. I noticed everything I wore had that bra gap because I couldn’t completely fill the cup. And it signaled to me that I literally do not fill society’s standards and expectations of my body. And when there was something that kind of came close to fitting, it was upwards of $80. And it made me think, “I shouldn’t have to pay more to get the same fit that other women have. So why is it that my bra doesn’t fit me?”

So I started to do a lot of research, both going out and buying a ton of bras – making notes of what worked and what didn’t. But also looking at the industry. I told my co-founder, Lia [Winograd], about this idea and she said, “Oh, this is so interesting that no other bra fits you. That’s the craziest thing.” We started to research why that was. Most bra manufacturers, and most bra brands, design for the standard size – which is usually the 36C. They then take that design and scale it up or down.

So, if you’re any bigger or smaller than that, most likely, you’re not going to love your bra because that design wasn’t designed for your specific body type. It was just scaled accordingly. If you’re plus size, if you’re smaller size, there are certain fit challenges that the garment has to achieve. For small-chested women, a lot of times our breasts sit farther apart, so the shape of the underwire would be different. The All You Bra uses our own underwires that are less curved, and are flatter. It gives the right amount of support, but doesn’t poke into your sides. Because most underwire is way too long, and way too curved.

Another thing that we learned about why my bra didn’t fit was because of the cups itself. The cups that are in the market today – the ones that you can just buy from suppliers – they’re really deep. Which leads to that bra gap issue. We made our own cups that are less deep, so it’s easier for our customers to fill it. On top of that, we have this mesh overlay that pulls the cup from the bottom, up. It gives you that lift, without having push up padding.

Just because you’re small, doesn’t mean you need to look any bigger.

Just because you’re small, doesn’t mean you need to look any bigger. All of this is inspired by my own personal pain points, and walking into Victoria’s Secret, and the first thing a sales associate does is say, “Oh you’re small. Here’s a push-up bra to make you look bigger.” And I’m like, “I don’t want to look any bigger. I just want to look like myself.”

I went out, and I also talked to a lot of friends who had a lot of similar body types as me. And they all came back with, “Yeah, my bra doesn’t fit. I have small boobs, but what am I going to do? It’s either I wear a bralette or go braless. Or I just deal with the bra gap.” A lot of people say, “Oh you have small boobs. You can just not wear a bra.” Which, is like… I still want support; I still want lift; I still want nipple coverage. Not wearing a bra is an option for a lot of women, but just not for me.

Could you describe your relationship/dynamic with Co-founder Lia Winograd?

Lia and I used to work together at our previous company. We already had a working relationship, which was awesome. When we were working together, we were already working separately – me in Denver, she in New York – so we were already used to it. That didn’t really affect anything. If anything, it made it even more positive, because now we have the combined network of both coasts. Lia’s completing her MBA program right now at NYU. We’ve been getting a lot of help and support from her MBA program as well.

We’re also very interesting in that we have very complementary skill sets. From her past consulting experience, she’s very operational and analytical. She leads a supply chain and vendor negotiations. For me, my background was product marketing. So I deal a lot with community and the brand and marketing, so it just fits really perfectly.

The Pepper Kickstarter campaign was super successful. Did you do a lot of marketing? Or do you think that there is such a need, and people caught on?

At that time (this was 2017), both Lia and I were at our full-time jobs, and we weren’t willing to quit just yet. Pepper, at the beginning, was just a side-hustle. That’s how Pepper was born.

The way that we got the first prototype, to just give some context: Lia is Colombian, and her family is in Colombia, and they have a button factory there. One conversation led to the next, and we got connected to one of the biggest bra manufacturers in Colombia. It was awesome because this factory is socially responsible. They hire female heads of household and they pay fair wages; it was just the perfect partner that we could have wished for. It turns out that Colombia is one of the biggest lingerie manufacturers in the world. So we were like, whoa, this is perfect.

We got the first prototype, and the way we got the first prototype was through design thinking. My background is in product marketing and product development for software. Essentially, I used what I knew about designing software, and then hacked our way to designing this bra. We had this prototype and we wanted to see if women actually wanted this and if they were willing to pay money for it. or if it was just me and my friends who thought this.

We launched it on Kickstarter in April 2017. Our goal was $10,000, to meet minimum manufacturer requirements, but we did a lot of the legwork before then. So even before we launched, we had a waitlist of 1,000 people on our email marketing list. We did a lot of press ourselves, and got featured in Cosmopolitan, Huffington Post, Glamour — all these publications were excited to tell our story because they haven’t heard of a brand like ours. By the time we launched, we met our funding goal in 10 hours, which was insane. And then at the end of the 13-day campaign, we were 470 percent funded, 950 backers. This really helped fuel the growth. So immediately after that, Lia and I left our fulltime jobs. We were like, “There’s something here, we need to do this. There are a lot of women counting on us.”

Photo courtesy of Pepper.

You touched on how the product is socially responsible. In what ways is it?

They pay all their employees fair wages and benefits. They get vacation time; they have health screenings. And we also physically went down to Colombia many times, as well, to visit the factory. In fact, Lia is there right now. We have a really close relationship with them, so we wanted to make sure we were able to meet the people who are actually sewing our bras. It’s a beautiful factory. And other things they do are selecting heads of household, so it’s really giving opportunities for women in that community who are in charge of their household. And there are other certifications and standards they’re a part of.

Obviously, you’re having lots of wins with Pepper. What is the greatest win, so far?

It’s so funny that you asked about the biggest win because just this morning, we got this really heartfelt and touching email from a customer. I remember reading it, and just thinking, “Holy crap, we’re not just making bras. We’re starting this movement. This is real. This is real change.”

We’re not just making bras. We’re starting this movement. This is real. This is real change.

Essentially, it was a husband who bought this bra for his wife. They’re both competitive athletes, so she has a very athletic build, but a very small bust as well. And she was telling me about how her sister grew up with really big breasts, so she always felt like she was the inadequate one, and she was missing out. She was telling me how she’s always been frustrated about her bras, and every time she goes shopping it’s difficult. He made it his mission to make her feel awesome about her body by trying to find a better fitting bra for her. I’m like, “Wow, this is dedication. I wish every significant other could be that empathetic.” He did a ton of research, he found her measurements from her past bras, and somehow he found Pepper. And he was so excited about this. So he bought one for her. And then when she tried it on, it was this amazing experience where she was like, “Wow, I didn’t realize a bra could fit me, and I didn’t realize that my boobs could look awesome. I just needed the right bra.” She had such low expectations. And the first thing she said was, “Oh my god, no more gaps. I have this natural-looking cleavage. And I do have something. I’m not completely flat.”

So I think that there are all these moments that remind me that we are really helping women to see the body for what it is. It’s not just a reflection of all society’s negative perceptions and all the negative body standards that we see, but we’re telling them, “Your body is beautiful the way it is, and here’s a bra that makes you feel that way.”

On the flip side, what is the biggest challenge that you’re having right now?

Honestly, our biggest challenge right now – and probably our biggest opportunity – is fundraising. We have a lot of really awesome early indicators that say we’re on to something huge. People love our product, and they want more. We just need to give the people what they want. But that takes resources and capital. We’ve been trying to find a lot of angel investors and partners to go on this journey with us, to help us grow faster. But as you can imagine, being a team of female founders selling a female-focused product is not the easiest because most of the investors we’re talking to are older men. They just don’t understand fit issues, they don’t understand how an ill-fitting bra can make you feel. It’s a lot of education, it’s a lot of trying to describe these emotions. Most of the time they say, “I don’t get this whole bra thing.” It’s been difficult because there aren’t that many female investors out there.

I do have a really funny story. We were in an investor meeting, and I kid you not, the investor’s face went bright red as he was trying to talk about bras and small-chested women. It was so clear he was really embarrassed, and I was like, “Oh my gosh, this is just bras. It’s a garment, a piece of clothing. It’s like talking about boxers. How is that any different?” But there’s this weird taboo when it comes to talking about bras and the female body.

You’re based in Denver. How did that happen? And what is your favorite thing about being in Denver, which is not typically thought of as a fashion hub?

I definitely agree. Denver is not known for being a fashion hub, but there is a huge start-up scene here. The community is small enough where people want to help each other. Everyone knows each other; there’s a lot of support. I think it’s a great place to start a business. I previously worked in Silicon Valley, and then I worked in New York. And I mean, you just get lost there. Everyone is doing really cool things. But there’s just so much noise, and I was really distracted. It was hard for me to focus on all the ideas I had.

Pepper was always brewing in the back of my head. It wasn’t until I got to Denver, where I had space to think and explore, when I was able to make it happen. The awesome thing is that Denver is — compared to NYC — much cheaper when it comes to the cost of living. I went a year and a half without taking a paycheck, and the only reason why I was able to do that was because I was living in Denver, and not New York.

I learned a lot about myself in terms of whether I’m an introvert or an extrovert and how I recharge. I was going out all the time in NYC. But then I started feeling really drained, so I was really confused. Because I love meeting people, but it wasn’t sustainable for me. And then when I got to Denver, I was going out less, but I was doing more one-on-one type of interactions rather than the big group outings. And that really energized me. So I skew toward introvert, but I have extrovert tendencies.

Co-founders Lia Winograd and Jaclyn Fu. Photo courtesy of Pepper

Do you have any advice for people who may be starting a business or thinking about it?

I would say to just do it! Getting from zero to one is the hardest, I think. In talking to people, there’s a lot of “I don’t know where to start.” Sounds to me like the first step is, for whatever reason, always the hardest. You, deep down, know what it is. The first step matters — if you do it or not — but the first step itself doesn’t matter.

Is Pepper planning any events or experiences, like a pop-up store, or taking things on the road? Or are you still focused on funding and getting the product out there?

We’re direct to consumer right now. We want to focus on this first. But our goal is to do pop-ups and community events. My vision for the community events is really intimate events where women can come together and talk about all the issues like body image or how to get through the dark times when you’re having insecurities. A lot of these things, women don’t just openly talk about. So we want to create a safe space where we can get together and do that. I’m also a yoga teacher myself, so a lot of my classes focus on self-love and self-empowerment. I also see events where maybe there’s a yoga/meditation/journaling workshop piece to it — just a way for women to get away and come together to discuss those things. I think events are very much in our future, just not right this second.

Pop-ups are really awesome, too. I’m sure you’ve seen all the news about all the cool pop-ups that brands are doing now, rather than just stores. The traditional retail model is dead. You can’t just have a store in a mall, but you can have an experience. We really want to make sure that if we do a pop-up, we’re creating this really cool experience where it’s not just shopping, but it’s interacting; it’s engagement; it’s connecting; it’s community.

And a totally random question: What is one piece of clothing, or an accessory, that you personally love/can’t live without?

I have a ring that I wear every single day. So, I grew up in California. I’m really close to my parents, and they also live in California. Right before I moved to New York, my mom took me to a fortune teller. I grew up in a Chinese community, so this was THE fortune teller of this Chinese community. This fortune teller took a look at my palm. And apparently, [with] my luck line — it goes in between my index finger and my middle finger — I have this really big gap between my fingers and they don’t touch. It’s hard to explain, but my fingers don’t touch at that intersection.

And so she’s like, “Oh my god, your luck is leaving you! It’s just dropping off into an abyss. You need to close that gap. You need to get a ring and wear it on your index finger to close that space in between your fingers.” That was so weird, but my mom was all into it. She was like,”We have to do this before you move to New York. It’s such a big move; you need all the luck you can get.” So we went to the jeweler and she bought me this ring. And I attribute a lot of my luck to that moment, and to my mom. Luck is such a huge part of my culture.