Quality Reigns With Paced Growth

Ingrid Carney, Ingrid & Isabel, LLC

December 04, 2017

I founded my company, Ingrid & Isabel, 14 years ago with one simple product: the Bellaband. When I was pregnant with my daughter Isabel, I hit a point all pregnant women hit — I could no longer button my jeans. But instead of buying a bunch of maternity pants, I fashioned the first Bellaband, an elastic band that let me keep wearing my pants without having to button or zip them. Because it was such a common problem, my friends started clamoring for Bellabands. Today, we have sold millions of maternity bands, holding pants up worldwide.

But companies can’t exist on one product alone. That’s called a one-hit wonder, and I wanted to build an Evergreen business that would last for generations.

Retailers typically look for trends so they can capitalize on them by selling mass quantities quickly. But my prior work experience was at advertising agencies and marketing departments at tech startups, not in retail. Both of these careers were grounded in research and development, so I intimately knew the value of product prototyping and testing among your customers, as opposed to rushing to market.

So instead of reacting like a fast-paced retailer, I acted like a marketer and embraced the Evergreen principles of Pragmatic Innovation and Paced Growth. This choice defines us as a company and a brand.

Our revenues are up about 40 percent this year alone. We’re doubling the size of our staff. And as of July, we have a new exclusive maternity collection for Target, after being on a small portion of their floor since 2008.

But it wasn’t always easy. I passed up many quick-hit trends, like faux-denim ripped jeggings, in favor of Paced Growth, sometimes spending years market testing products on pregnant women.

For new items, like a nursing bra, we go through several stages of research with hundreds of moms. We interview them about their current garments, we have them bring their old nursing bras into our office and show us what they like and don’t like about them, then, we design to her issues. Everyone in my office tries on our prototypes before we ask more women to come in, try on, take home and wear repeatedly for weeks, washing and living in our samples. Then we get their honest feedback. It took us three years to develop a nursing bra we felt confident would work. In comparison, large companies in this category may take about four months to produce a new item.

The result is high praise from moms.

Keeping a close connection to mom has also yielded ideas for new products — like the Afterband. Postnatal clothing is a very crowded marketplace, and we didn’t care for the tone of that space — rushing mom into being small again, being sexy again, and doing it faster with corseted garments. From our research, we knew mom really well and had a hunch that these products and this attitude couldn’t be sitting well with her.

And we were right! Our deep tests revealed she despised most of the postnatal garments on the shelves, but was so overwhelmed with a new baby, she would never return them. Therefore the market stayed stagnant. We went to the drawing board and spent three years developing an entirely different band that appreciates mom’s time to heal and her need for support. Our Afterband grants her the patience to recover from pregnancy at her own pace. And it’s working. Sales are strong and mom’s comments are outstanding.

It’s pricey and time-consuming to do all this research and development. But the commitment pays off, and I’m always glad we do this work regardless. When we launch something, I need to feel absolutely secure it’s the right item for the current batch of pregnant women who are our customers. Perhaps we don’t produce as many items as larger companies, but every single one has been created with a bespoke mindset.

Being Evergreen allows us to be patient in developing the deep market insights and internal capabilities that I know we need in order to grow a sustainable company. If I’d had investors, I’m confident they would have encouraged me to rush our Target partnership years ago, or forced me to take on other significant partnerships to drive short-term revenue growth. Our offerings, and our company, wouldn’t have been ready. Thanks to our practices of Pragmatic Innovation and Paced Growth, we are now.

At the end of the day, I want to make sure our customers know that ours is a company that really cares about mom. She inspires us, not the marketplace.

Ingrid Carney is the founder and CEO of Ingrid & Isabel.

If you enjoyed this article or talk, please share with your friends, colleagues and family.