A New Love with ThirdLove: How One Jewish Woman is Taking on the Sexist Lingerie Industry
Oh, bras. Is there any garment more ubiquitous and more controversial to the modern Western feminist? We’ve all spent too much money on a bra that fell apart too soon; we’ve all chafed under uncomfortable underwire or too-tight straps; we’ve all wrestled with the question of whether to wear a bra at all. At first glance, intimate apparel might seem like a trivial topic but think about this: these garments have literally shaped millions of women’s bodies every single day for centuries. They have a concrete, physical presence in so many of our daily lives. And yet I’m sure we’ve all noticed that the modern lingerie industry has a tendency to produce uncomfortable, anti-feminist, five-sizes-fit-all garments.
Enter entrepreneur Heidi Zak. Fed up with the state of the modern bra, Zak quit her job at Google to co-found a lingerie company that would provide personalized, comfortable bras to women—and that would market said bras without the male gaze advertising usually associated with the industry. The result? ThirdLove, a lingerie company that uses crowd-sourced data, an app, and a website to connect women with their perfect bra. The company’s enigmatic name stems from the three factors that attract shoppers to garments: feel, fit, and style.
The Jewish Women’s Archive talked to Zak about ThirdLove’s innovative sizing model; sexism in the lingerie industry; and the lingerie entrepreneurs who came before her.
What was the genesis of ThirdLove? Was there a watershed moment when you decided to start your own company?
A few years ago, I was doing what I did every so often—heading out to bra shop. I disliked everything about the process, from finding the time to drive to a store, the uncomfortable bra fitting process and leaving with a bra that kind of fit me, but would fall apart within a few washes. I knew there had to be a better way, and I thought my background in retail and tech could be the perfect combination to change the way women shop for bras.
ThirdLove offers bras with half-cup sizes to make women more comfortable. Can you tell us how you designed these new bras and new sizes, and why women might find them more comfortable than other bras currently on the market?
Currently, the lingerie industry sizes bras based off of a single fit model, which leads to the traditional sizing options and ill-fitting bras. Instead, at ThirdLove we use the aggregate data of hundreds of thousands of real women, gathered through our iOS measurement-taking app, to design our bras. We also ask real women to wear-test all our bras and sizes before we launch them, to give us feedback about the fit and feel.
In addition to using real women’s measurements, we are also the only company to offer half-cup sizes. We did this for the 40 percent of women who fall in between A and E cups. For example, our A-half is between an A and a B cup, and would be perfect for the woman who feels squashed into an A cup but has too much room in a B. It makes me proud knowing we not only make comfortable bras for all women, but have helped the many women who don’t fit into traditional sizes.
On your website, you offer a feature called the ThirdLove Fit Finder, which asks women more than just the usual cup and band size to determine which bra fits them best. How did you design this feature?
The ThirdLove Fit Finder takes four factors into consideration: your breast shape, any fit issues you’re experiencing with your current bra, your favorite cup style, and the size of your current bra. We designed this feature based on data we collected from our app, as well as from interviewing and fitting thousands of women, taking the time to really understand the fit issues they were experiencing and what size and style recommendations could be made to alleviate some of them.
Once you answer the four questions in our Fit Finder, we will recommend a bra size and style. You can then try that bra (through our Try Before You Buy program) for 30 days—free of charge (you just pay shipping).
Can you talk about sexism in the lingerie industry and about the connection between bra design and sexism, as well as about the feminist nature of your company’s mission?
The lingerie industry, for decades (if not centuries), has been dominated by men, who are pushing an antiquated idea of what it means to be sexy. Models in most lingerie advertisements show women in compromising or overly sexualized positions. Last year, I went so far as to speak out against Calvin Klein’s billboard in New York City that suggested a woman “seduces” in her underwear while the man she was pictured next to in the ad “makes money” in his. This idea is something we’re actively fighting against at ThirdLove.
You’ll see on the ThirdLove website that our models aren’t sensually gazing into the camera, and that sometimes we show them with clothes on—to show what the bra does for the outfit our customer may choose to wear. Women are mothers, daughters, friends, bosses, coworkers, teachers, and so much more. Our mission is to empower all women to feel comfortable and confident every day. For us, it’s not just about the bras, it’s about how women feel.
You say on your site that you’ve donated $1 million worth of bras since 2013. Whom do you donate to, and how does that connect with your mission?
Our company mission is to empower women to feel comfortable and confident, but that doesn’t just stop with the women who buy bras at thirdlove.com—it extends to all women who are in need of a great-fitting bra, everywhere. We believe [that donations are] just one more way we can help women everywhere feel supported in their everyday lives.
You converted to Judaism; what sparked that decision?
My husband Dave, who is also ThirdLove’s Co-Founder, is Jewish. Before we got engaged we had talked about how when we (eventually) had kids, we’d raise them in the Jewish religion. I felt like I wanted to be part of that with them, with him, and so decided to embark on the conversion process. At the time we were living in New York City; the process took nearly an entire year.
Historically, Jewish women have existed on the forefront of lingerie design; Ida Cohen Rosenthal, the inventor of Maidenform, and Sarah Blakely, the inventor of Spanx, are two women we celebrate at JWA. Were you inspired by these, or other, Jewish women when starting your company?
Maidenform and Spanx are two intimate apparel brands that I have a lot of respect for. Sarah Blakely had the tenacity and courage to literally create a new sub-category of intimate apparel. I also admire that she has scaled and built a huge business while having a family. We recently had a baby boy (he is now nine months) and a three-year-old girl, so needless to say life is busy and I’m always excited to be able to look up to others who have managed to juggle both.
How to cite this page
Cataneo, Emily. "A New Love with ThirdLove: How One Jewish Woman is Taking on the Sexist Lingerie Industry." 9 January 2017. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on August 8, 2020) <https://jwa.org/blog/new-love-with-thirdlove-how-one-jewish-women-is-taking-on-sexist-lingerie-industry>.