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Ex-Victoria's Secret CEO helps bra startup take on Victoria's Secret

Startup Harper Wilde is taking on Victoria’s Secret to bring bras direct to the consumer — and the former CEO of the retail giant is backing it. Sharen Turney, who headed Victoria’s Secret from 2006 to 2016, now sits on Harper Wilde’s board, using her experience to develop the company’s brand.

“Sharon is amazing,” Harper Wilde Co-CEO Jane Fisher tells Yahoo Finance’s The Ticker. “We look for help in every functional division… She worked with the same factory that we are working with. So she helps us think through everything from how to work with them better, all the way down to the technical designs of our products, to thinking bigger about what's the long term strategy for the company.”

CEO and President of Victoria's Secret Sharen Turney arrives before the Victoria's Secret Fashion Show taping in New York, November 13, 2013. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri (UNITED STATES - Tags: ENTERTAINMENT FASHION BUSINESS HEADSHOT)

That company strategy focuses on streamlining products consumers need. Fisher explains the Victoria’s Secret brand is not resonating with the modern customer, who she says is becoming very price sensitive.

“It's kind of like your razor blade,” Fisher says. “No one walks up to you and says, ‘Hey, that's a nice shave, where'd you get your razor?’ It just really needs to function properly. So women don't want to spend a lot of money on it. We're half the price of a lot of our competitors with an exceptional quality bra.”

The focus on intimates to be simple but functional comes as consumers shy away from the Victoria’s Secret image. The retailer’s parent, L Brands (LB), cancelled its fashion show this year, saying the decision was part of a move to “evolve the messaging of [the company.]” The show saw its lowest ratings ever in 2018.

Fisher says lacy, sparkly intimates aren’t what most women are looking for.

“A lot of different bra companies put embellishments on the bras,” Fisher explains. “We surveyed and talked to hundreds and hundreds of women. We invested in things that they really care about, like the softness of the fabric and the cups, and our straps adjust from the front.”

Not only is that keeping Harper Wilde’s costs low (the company has seen a 300% increase in sales this year) but it allows Fisher to focus on the initiatives behind her products instead of purely aesthetics.  

Harper Wilde's "Know Your Worth" bra

Harper Wilde offers products to forward its social activism, creating bras that encourage self-worth and empowerment over the traditional sexual appeal that built Victoria’s Secret. This month, the startup released its limited edition “Know Your Worth” bra. Ten percent of each purchase goes to Girls Inc., a mentorship and educational program to help young girls develop their self esteem.

Fisher criticizes competitors like Victoria’s Secret for being founded by men. She says to continue to break the glass ceiling, her company needed a greater mission: to give back and create what she calls “independent Wilde Women.”

Meghan Fitzgerald is a producer at Yahoo Finance.

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