Underwear Designer Creates Yoga Pants That Let Ladies Go 'Commando'
MANHATTAN — Yoga pants can be a minefield of awkwardness, with panty lines, bunching, chafing, wedgies and menstrual mishaps.
So after trying on no fewer than 70 different styles of the skin-tight studio staple, Julie Sygiel, founder of the lingerie line Dear Kate, was certain she could do better.
"I like the marketing challenge of a taboo subject and trying to find a way to present it that makes people feel comfortable," said Sygiel, who is currently taking online pre-orders for the $128 pants that allows wearers to "go commando" — or without underwear — while providing protection from unwanted exposure and other issues.
Through a Kickstarter campaign her company launched in late May, the 26-year-old has funded the production of a line of pants that have a built-in panty liner made from "Underlux" — a lightweight, breathable fabric the company uses to make its special underwear, Sygiel explained, noting the underwear aren't meant to replace tampons or pads.
They also have special seams that make it impossible to reveal anything below the waist, she said.
Upon trying on the first prototype, "I was just glowing," recalled Sygiel, who lives in Midtown East and runs her company from the Financial District, in offices shared with the website Refinery 29.
"It was amazing being able to wear yoga pants without underwear. They're incredibly comfortable, and you’re not worried about visible panty lines."
Though Dear Kate only set out to raise $15,000 — enough to pay for a small fabric order and its manufacturing, both of which are done in the U.S. — the online response Sygiel got was tremendous.
As of Monday, two days after the campaign ended, she'd raised nearly $159,000 from more than 1,300 donors, allowing for the manufacturing and distribution of the pants, as well as qualifying donors for their own pairs. Those interested in the pants can pre-order through October, when it will stock them in their online store.
Donors were enthused about the design.
"I want tight-fitting pants, but I don't want to share all my anatomical details with the world," said one Kickstarter page commenter.
Others said the pants will save them the frustration of having to change or rearrange underwear during yoga and other workouts.
"I was all kinds of distracted worrying about what was going on with the apparel situation," spinning instructor Rachel Spiker said on the company's Facebook page, noting that underwear has gotten in the way of her teaching. "Made class not great."
Yoga enthusiast Stefani Jackenthal, who runs an Upper West Side-based wine-tasting business, described underwear lines as almost taboo.
"I'm always surprised to see women in class wearing panties," she said. "Those panty lines and thongs hanging out are certainly issues."
Sygiel's sense of the level of demand for better underwear drove her to launch Dear Kate as a startup during her junior year at Brown University in 2008 while taking an entrepreneurship class.
Some early seed money in the first few months after graduating let her pursue the goal of creating "the Wonder Woman of underwear," Sygiel said. Her quest involved buying, cutting up and reassembling countless pairs of underwear and then giving test samples to all of her female friends.
"The goal was to have the thinnest fabric combination possible that added the right protection," she said.
Sygiel shied away from adding material that was too plastic-like, because "we don’t need a yellow rain slicker on our underwear, we just need a little extra protection," she said.
Once she found the perfect fabrics to combine into three layers at the base of her underwear, she found several U.S-based fabric purveyors and a manufacturer in Queens. The first 100 pairs went on the market in January 2011.
Dear Kate has since expanded, placing underwear in about 40 small boutiques, but largely chasing after web retail through its online store. Sygiel, who has four other female staffers, wouldn't divulge her profit margins, but said she's shipping to all 50 states and 36 countries, and that the company in 2014 has already doubled its sales from all of last year.
In the future, Sygiel said, Dear Kate could expand beyond just underwear and yoga pants to create clothing or activewear "that’s more thoughtfully designed for women."