FEATURE STORY: Revere the brassiere
JACKSON, WYO – Local women fill niche markets with sporty bra alternatives
From breast buds to the biggest busts, Jackson Hole’s young entrepreneurs have girls covered.
While Megan Grassel, founder of Yellowberry bras, was rocking Kickstarter last week, Christina “CC” Conrad was on the Katie Couric show touting Boobypack, her new product for active women. Both entrepreneurs used the online fundraiser Kickstarter to launch their companies and rely on social media as their driving force.
Meanwhile, Dr. Devra Davis, epidemiologist and a cell phone safety activist based in Jackson, was passing out flyers at the Mangy Moose for her campaign, “Save the girls,” which educates women about cell phone radiation and the dangers it poses to the breasts. When Davis first saw the picture of a girl stuffing her cell phone in her Boobypack, a bra similar to a yoga top with a zippered water-resistant pouch, she was up in arms.
“I wish this was a joke,” Davis said.
Davis learned, however, that Conrad’s mother is a breast cancer survivor and that she warns customers to turn off a cell phone before stashing it. Conrad also sells Pong Protective Cases, which block some radiation emitted from cell phones and Conrad recommends using if “you’re going to stash your phone in your rack pack.”
“I’m glad someone in Jackson is acknowledging that, but we need more education,” said Davis. “The fact is we aren’t that far apart.”
Apple’s iPhone warns to keep cell phones at least 10 millimeters away from the body to avoid radio frequency waves. Davis, founder of Environmental Health Trust, has written three books and traveled the world to reveal cancer secrets disguised by the tobacco, cell phone and other powerful industries.
“There’s been a scientific report and we have cases of young women aged 21 with breast cancer from where they kept their cell phones in their bras,” Davis explained.
In her education campaigns, Davis not only tells people to use headsets and speakerphones, and to keep cordless phones away from the head while sleeping, she also is concerned about men’s “family jewels,” asking them to not keep cell phones in their front pockets.
Yet that’s exactly why Megan Grassel, 17, was motivated to buck that trend and create a simple, sweet alternative for girls shopping for their first bra. When her Kickstarter campaign raised $10,000 and 40 percent of its goal, she was amazed.
“It made me feel so proud that people are responding to what Yellowberry stands for … [and] that there is a real need for a bra that doesn’t look sexual,” Grassel said. To date the campaign has raised almost $40,000.
The starter bra comes in four colorful designs featuring a Yellowberry logo, all priced at about $40. At this point orders are only available online and are packed up in Grassel’s garage, delivered complete with a yellow polka dot bow. Her mother and sister are the only people on her payroll.
The bras also arrive with a message to “water the flowers every day, watch quietly and observe, go barefoot, love the outdoors and nature, seek and find a hug when you need one, and finally, campfires are rare, eat as many marshmallows as you can.” The words were originally written to help promote The Caroline Classic, a local ski race in honor of her five-year-old sister, Caroline, who died in a parade accident.
“It is a great way to think about Caroline every day,” Grassel said.
With endorsements from A Mighty Girl, a company that sells books and movies empowering girls, and Goldie Blox, a toy company inspired to create the next generation of women engineers, both of which sell through Amazon.com, investors may be watching.
When Grassel first saw the cleavage-heavy Boobypack website, she said, “Wow.”
“It’s a fun idea. I’m obsessed with boobs and bras,” she said.
A senior at the Community School, Grassel plans to continue running Yellowberry from college. She was recently accepted to Middlebury College for the February semester and is happy that she will have three more seasons to work on Yellowberry.
Neither Grassel nor Conrad knew of each other’s products.
Conrad, a 20-something graduate of Columbia Journalism School who now lives in San Francisco, also used a Kickstarter campaign to raise $32,000. Boobypacks, which now include glow in the dark designs, sell for about $60 on Conrad’s website.
While Conrad and Davis might make an unlikely pair, they provide what the other needs. For Davis, Conrad offers a young social media savvy outlet to help spread her message. Conrad gains legitimacy to combat criticism that a cell phone pocket in a bra is a risky proposition.
“I don’t think that using your bra as a purse is a new idea,” Conrad said in an email. “God knows, I’ve been doing it for years, stuffing my cash and ID up top before going out on a run or into a bar. So it wasn’t until we started talking about how useful a bra bag would be at music festivals to hold and protect your phone that I realized there was a market need that I could address. That night, while sitting on the floor with my glass of wine, I came up with Boobypack, a fanny pack for your boobs, which later became fanny pack for your rack. Having a marketable name and tagline is what really got me excited.”
Conrad said she would be happy to talk to Davis and wants to contribute to Yellowberry’s Kickstarter campaign. Both crowd-funding campaigns end April 6.
Both Conrad and Grassell are grateful to the Jackson community and have grown up in families that have deep roots in Wyoming.
“JH is home to so many driven, smart and well-educated people,” Conrad said in an email response to the question about the coincidence that multiple bra companies are being launched here. “I love how most of my friends in Jackson bus tables and rent ski equipment and for all intents and purposes appear from the outside to just be ski bums. Yet when you talk to them and hear their backgrounds, you discover how accomplished they are. For example, my friend Caroline Markowitz lives in JH and works as a waitress at Osteria. She also went to Princeton and is starting her own JH-made granola company.”
This fall, she attended a day at the Start Up Institute, a 10-week intensive entrepreneurial preparatory course sponsored by Central Wyoming College and Silicon Couloir. It was there she met a more mature local woman interested in creating bras with a unique purpose.
Celeste Myers is out of the country and was not available to talk about her product, The Ideal Sports Bra Company, for this story.
However, her idea is to create a research-based design to prolong the post-workout glow by being able change into and out of the bra as quickly as possible.
“I’m amazed at the knowledge and success of other people in this community,” Grassell said. “I feel like Jackson is such a mixture of smart, cool people coming in and out that it is inspiring.”