Okko launched in November 2018. But, we didn’t first start at Wharton as business partners.
Burgers and beer first brought us together. On our first day at preterm, we met at Shake Shack and quickly became best friends.
The original inkling to start a company came a few weeks later.
Phoebe: “I had the perfect white dress for a party hosted by the Out4Biz student club. But, everything in my top drawer showed through it. After scrambling from store to store on Walnut Street before the event, my hunt for a decent pair of seamless underwear fell short. I settled on one from an athleisure brand that was still too light for my skin, cost over $20, and fell apart after a few washes. I couldn’t stop thinking about this maddening experience. When I approached Leigha with the pain point, she totally got it.”
We could not wrap our heads around why getting dressed in the morning took any brain space for women. Dudes can select any pair of boxers without the fear of it “working” with their outfits.
It was out of this frustration that Okko was born.
At first, we didn’t know where to start. Leigha came from private equity focused on tech investing, and Phoebe worked in consulting then at an AI startup. So, we decided to focus on what mattered most: speaking to the individuals we wanted to serve. We’re so grateful for the over 100 ladies – representing the full spectrum of ages, ethnicities, body types, geographies, and occupations – who let us interview them.
These conversations surfaced a few themes. Women had a 1-3 pairs of underwear they loved but not enough for daily wear. Also, fit was a huge issue because either styles only worked with one body type or sizes were limited. Finally, incumbent lingerie brands’ messaging no longer resonated with the contemporary woman.
So, we founded Okko as a concept of selling a better experience: being the one place where women can find all their invisible undergarments. Our goal is to be the “favorite” in our customer’s top drawer because we’ll reliably offer the highest-quality pieces she actually wants to wear. No frills, no BS, just great product.
That’s why we started with our Signature Seamless bra/underwear and Nipple Covers. These pieces are frequently used yet have the most room for improvement. Our long-term vision is to grow into other undergarment categories (all invisible, of course), such as tights, with the goal of streamlining the currently-fragmented purchasing process. Of course, our #1 ladies – customers – will help us figure out what to produce next!
But, being a solid product company in the direct-to-consumer space today isn’t enough. The consumer decides who she wants to buy into, and that decision is based on an emotional connection to a brand’s mission.
Building an authentic brand has been our top priority. To start, our name stands for “Our Kind of #KnockOut.” It communicates our ethos: bringing women together as a community to help each other look and feel absolutely incredible. We want to create a space for women who don’t want to have to choose between caring about female empowerment and caring about their fashion choices or appearance. Our #knockouts are badass feminists who still like to look cute.
Beyond just a name, we’ve worked really hard to make every customer touch point consistent with this identity: sophisticated yet functional, beautiful yet real. For example, we don’t use the ubiquitous pink in our branding and photograph models of different body types and ethnicities but who still wear makeup for shoots.
Getting to this point – where Okko is operational with a defined brand identity – has been exhilaratingly fun but at times difficult.
Probably the most significant challenge has been on the supply side. If you’ve ever heard of a horror story about manufacturing in Asia, we probably experienced all of them and then some with our primary supplier. It was a costly, emotionally-taxing experience, but we know we will be stronger in the future for it because we really try to learn from our mistakes.
Additionally, the only outside capital we’ve raised is a small friends-and-family round that solely financed initial inventory orders. We applied for funding from Wharton but were rejected several times. Strategically, we also didn’t want to raise venture capital at this stage so we can build a business profitably – and with a more loyal customer base – albeit more slowly. Thus, we’ve had to be scrappy about marketing spend, acquiring customers through word-of-mouth and events rather than expensive digital advertising.
Notwithstanding these hurdles, we can’t think of a better place to start a business than at Wharton.
In late 2017, we agreed to go all in. We passed on a traditional summer internship to work on the business full time and continued to do so during the semesters. Being a student has given us flexibility to make this commitment, and take on the risk.
Moreover, the network of alum and professors is unparalleled. We’ve built a robust group of alum founders – including Of Mercer, Binto, Baboon, Dagne Dover, and more – who have been in the trenches and can share best practices. The Executive Director of Wharton Neuroscience Initiative, Dr. Elizabeth Johnson, is a neuroscientist whose expertise in visual behavior we’re leveraging to improve our visual assets, from our website to packaging. And, there are so many more professors who have really helped us out.
Most importantly, we can’t underscore how supportive our fellow MBAs are. In countless conversations, our friends have said “hey, can I connect you with X?” or “have you thought about doing Y?” Wharton women are also some of our best customers, driving much of our early sales directly and through referrals.
With graduation around the corner, we look fondly back at what we’ve been able to accomplish at Wharton and the people we’ve met along the way. But, we’re excited for the next phase for Okko. Sick of a visible panty line, or ever in Philly (our HQ)? Hit us up.