Founder Spotlight: Charity Migwi
Tell us a bit about your company
Double Dee’s Lingerie is a lingerie company based in Nairobi, Kenya that caters exclusively to busty women, from cup size D and up, providing alluring yet functional intimate wear to a market that most often is neglected by mainstream companies. It is run by two high school friends, who live in Nairobi and New York City.
What inspired you to start your business/ what opportunity in the market are you seeking to address?
We started the business because my business partner and I were frustrated at the fact that we couldn’t find products that could fit us, and if we were lucky enough to find them, they were downright unappealing. We hated that we were being forced to sacrifice fun and beauty for functionality, and that by not catering to our needs, the industry was telling us and women like us that there was something wrong with our bodies.
What are one or two of the biggest wins or most encouraging experiences you’ve had so far?
Our biggest win happens daily, every time a client finally feels what it’s like to wear a properly fitting bra. It seems like such a simple thing, but to a busty girl, this can be life-changing. And the change is instantly visible — the posture improves, clothes fit better, there are a clear confidence boost and even a twinkle in the eye.
A lot of women leave our shop wearing a new bra, and they ask us to throw away the one they came in with. Something else I am so proud of is that we have created a customer experience that goes beyond a conventional vendor-buyer relationship and that has allowed us to be there for our clients through the milestones in their lives. We are with them when they are in the throes of dating, during their weddings, and when they get pregnant and their bodies change over 9 months. And then — when they begin nursing, we have what they need again.
It’s amazing that we’ve been able to create this experience and these relationships. My business partner on site at the store full time has even attended many of our client’s bridal showers, weddings, and baby showers.
What about your personal background, experience, or perspective fuels your passion for this venture?
We always remember when we were 18, going lingerie shopping for the first time as adults, and being told repeatedly, “Miss, we don’t have your size.” That’s one thing we never want to tell our clients. So although we already offer an expansive size range (we carry products D-K cup range), we are always looking to expand it even further, because we never want a woman to feel like her body is abnormal, when truly it is the failure of an entire industry for not providing what she needs.
Another key thing we committed to do when we started the company was tol make sure African women were front and center in our marketing. Unfortunately, all our vendors are based in Europe or North America, and so it would have been easier for us to use the images they provide. But we invest the extra time and money to reshoot the products we carry with models who represent our clients in skin colour, body size, and life experience.
What have been one or two of the biggest learnings so far?
We have learned so many lessons, I could write a whole book. But the biggest ones are to learn how to adapt and adapt quickly. And to break off ties, when the relationship has served its purpose. This pandemic was the biggest lesson in the importance of adapting. Although Kenya didn’t go on a full lockdown, we self-imposed a store closure for two months in April and May and run our business online. It was the best decision that we could have made because it forced our clients to get comfortable with online shopping, which is something we had struggled to do. It also helped us learn how to serve clients virtually, including sizing them and this has helped us grow our international clientele.
At the same time, we had time to understand what the pandemic was and what changes we needed to implement to make sure we kept both our staff and our clients safe. And since we opened back in June, we can barely keep up with demand. And even though a lot of clients still prefer to come to the store for the customer experience, we now have a lot of repeat online orders too which has helped us sustain growth without the operational challenges of expanding the store. Although we are two months away from moving to bigger premises because 2020 was a remarkable year and our backroom storage literally can’t fit anything else.
The second biggest lesson was the importance of breaking off ties when the situation calls for it. For us, this meant buying out our two business partners. We founded the company as a team of four friends and for the first 3 years when we were fundraising and setting up, things were going great. But as we got into the day-to-day of running the company, things weren’t going as smoothly. And because we were all friends, we gave each other a lot of rope, but eventually, we had no more rope to give. It was one of the most difficult things we ever had to do because it also meant we lost friendships. But ultimately, it was the best thing that we did for the future of the company.
What is an obstacle you anticipate grappling with as you continue to build this venture?
We are in our fifth year of operations, and one of our goals is to venture into manufacturing because this was the original plan. We had to give up this dream and start off as a retailer because as we did our research, we quickly understood that we didn’t have the industry or market knowledge, or the financial means to manufacture the products we wanted. And we were not willing to compromise on quality or size range. Now that we’ve successfully been in operation for 4.5 years, we feel ready to start dipping our toes in. It’s exciting but also tough, trying to find the right designers and manufacturers, who are mostly located in Asia and European regions. There are a ton of obstacles for first-time would-be manufacturers, like high minimum quantity order requirements. But we hope to figure it out.
What are a surprise or two that you’ve encountered as an entrepreneur?
That the politics of a country far away from Kenya, can impact our operations so significantly. Most recently, when the attack on the U.S. Capitol happened, we were finalizing orders for Valentine’s period, a pretty significant holiday for our industry. That attack sent a frenzy in the markets, including impacted foreign exchange rates so greatly, that our order cost us 40% more than it normally would. We are now in the process of becoming foreign exchange rate experts because we never want to have to experience such a hit again.