Alums Who Do Cool Things: Julie Sygiel ’09 makes ‘that time of the month’ feel sexy
When Julie Sygiel graduated Brown in May of 2009, she graduated not only with a degree in Chemical Engineering, but as the CEO and co-founder of her very own company: Sexy Period.
The story of Sexy Period—a company that designs high-tech lingerie for women to wear without fear of stains during their periods—began right here at Brown University. And whether or not you experience a menstrual cycle (ahem, gentlemen), read on, because the story behind Sexy Period is one of some serious entrepreneurship and innovation.
During Julie’s junior year at Brown, she enrolled in ENGN 1930X: Entrepreneurship and New Ventures with Professor Danny Warshay. Professor Washay assigned the class to “design a business plan for a new venture” in groups, recommending that the groups attempt to find solutions to problems, for he felt that those were what “the best plans are based on,” says Julie. In Julie’s group was the future co-founder of Sexy Period, Eunice Png ’09, who had just returned from a trip with some of her girlfriends. During her trip, Eunice had realized a serious problem: every girl who gets her period experiences “period spills,” but there was no product on the market that specifically addressed this issue. The group decided to go with this idea, and it was here that Sexy Period was born.
One of the first steps Julie, Eunice, and their group had to take was substantiating their claim with some evidence from market research. Combined with their knowledge that “this would be a difficult topic to bring up randomly to people [they] didn’t know,” and that girls at Brown love to write on stall walls in bathrooms, Julie’s group decided to hang up surveys on the walls of bathroom stalls around Brown’s campus. They also reached out to their friends and peers, lingerie boutique owners, and lingerie buyers through online surveys and in person to see if creating “leak resistant” and still-sexy underwear was not only feasible, but also something that people would actually buy.
The women who responded to their outreach efforts supported their idea enthusiastically. Says Julie, “The response was overwhelming. Friends asked us if it was actually possible to design a pair of underwear that were comfy, breathable, leak resistant AND didn’t look like granny panties. 60% of women said they experience menstrual spills at least once every month. If you think about it, women menstruate on average 60 days per year, a significant time to be worried that someone’s checking out your behind for the wrong reason.”
With their market research backing them up, Professor Warshay gave their “new venture” design the green light. Though she had always planned on becoming a chemical engineer, it was when she and her partners began drafting the business plan for Sexy Period that, in Julie’s words, she “realized starting a business is way more fun than being in a chem lab,” and Julie and Eunice decided to actually go ahead with their group’s proposal and work on developing Sexy Period’s product line.
“The product development process was,” as Julie puts it, “long. We worked all during senior year and for six months after graduation before we had a fabric we thought worked.” Though arduous, this process was necessary; it was clear to Julie that they needed to have a working, functioning product, not only a great idea, to actually get their line on the market. When asked if she has any advice for current Brown students who are trying to get start-ups off the ground like Julie did, Julie says, “Spend time developing your product or service as much as possible before thinking about marketing or fundraising…everything is easier when you have a working prototype.”
It was during this process of creating the fabric they would use that Julie’s chemical engineering studies were most helpful. But even once they had found their perfectly balanced fabric, the process was not over. Julie continues, next “we conducted the performance trials, then the design and sample process. Samples involved fittings and many pattern revisions to get a product that was able to be made in production volume with the perfect fit.”
And though studying for a chemical engineering test may not have been easy, Julie certainly found difficulties in the process of creating Sexy Period’s line of lingerie. It was difficult at times, in Julie’s experience, to balance school and her work on Sexy Period, and Julie and Eunice both enrolled in Independent Studies so they could focus more on Sexy Period. But Julie also welcomed the chance to get out of the bubble that is sometimes found on College Hill. She especially enjoyed meeting with members of the Rhode Island community and advisers at Brown who gave her great advice on the field, which she recommends any students interested in engaging in entrepreneurship also do. (She recommends checking out www.ri-cie.org in particular.)
In truth, it seems that the most difficult part of the process, however, was where the experience of creating a business was completely disjointed from anything Julie or Eunice had previously experienced: “The hardest part for us surrounding the creation of a new product was sourcing the materials…In today’s environment where you can find almost everything by Googling it, it was a shock to us at how difficult it was to find suppliers. It took a ton of phone calls and persistence to get where we are now,” says Julie. Once the perfect prototype for Sexy Period had been developed, Julie could turn her attention to fundraising, which she had learned a great deal about in Professor Warshay’s class, and marketing.
Though after graduation Eunice wound up going to graduate school, Julie devoted her full attention and time to Sexy Period, and it seems like the hard work put in to Sexy Period has certainly paid off. In 2008 Julie and Eunice won the Rhode Island Elevator Pitch Competition and were finalists in its 2009 predecessor. They’ve also been featured in several news and magazine articles, including “The Story” on NPR, of which a Brown alumna is a producer. The website for Sexy Period, is fun, friendly, and sophisticated, and so is the line of lingerie Julie and her team have designed.
Now that Sexy Period is being launched—in fact, there’s a launch party this Saturday to which Julie says Brown students are welcome to attend, just RSVP by March 16—Julie’s time is dedicated to Sexy Period. Julie spends her days creating and designing for the Sexy Period girl, who Julie describes as any girl who gets her period, and who’s “smart, fashion forward, confident, and believes that women can do anything.”
When asked about from where she draws her inspiration, Julie says: “I am continually inspired when I meet a woman and she tells me a horror story about a period spill. It makes me feel a responsibility to women everywhere to solve this issue and continually develop products solving women’s undergarment issues. I heard Diane Von Furstenburg speak at Brown my freshmen year and was inspired by her resilience. As I’ve been working on a startup for the last three years, I’ve learned to never take no for an answer…There will always be obstacles, and things happen and you think ‘wow, could anything else go wrong right now?’ and of course it does, but I am continuously optimistic and remind myself that there is always a solution to the problem if I am creative and draw on my resources.”
If you want to learn more about Sexy Period—both its story and its products—check out www.sexyperiod.com.
Images via www.sexyperiod.com