One year ago, then-18-year-old Megan Grassell made headlines for giving up a promising skiing career and postponing college to launch Yellowberry, a company that makes cute, modest, high-quality bras for preteens. Grassell got the idea when bra shopping with her younger sister and finding few choices for young teens that weren’t overly sexy or low quality. She raised $41,000 on Kickstarter, and was held up as a model of changing the tone of marketing lingerie to young girls.
Now the company is sizing up. The bras and target audience are the same, but after a year of building its own infrastructure, Yellowberry has partnered with Aerie, American Eagle Outfitters’ lingerie brand, to market Aerie for Yellowberry, a line of bras for the “little sisters” of Aerie’s 15- to 25-year-old customers.
“The goal was to bridge the gap from Yellowberry to Aerie,” says Grassell. “When that girl moves on, she comes with a stepping stone to this next company. I think from their perspective, it’s a great way to celebrate the ‘Aerie real girl’ (Aerie’s marketing campaign encouraging girls to ‘love the real you’). That’s something that’s cool at a young age.”
Aerie brand president Jennifer Foyle says they fell in love with Grassell’s story, and decided it was the perfect partnership to extend the brand identity. “This is the first time we have done a collaboration like this, targeting girls age 11 to 15,” says Foyle. “It’s definitely a new market for us, but we love speaking to all girls with such a positive, empowering message and introducing them to the Aerie brand early. We have received a tremendous amount of positive feedback from our customers via social media, so we would love to continue to be able to offer products and collaborations like this in the future. It’s the perfect beginning for the next generation of Aerie girls.”
Grassell says that despite Yellowberry’s high-profile launch, it took the company a good part of its first year to build the systems to meet demand—she was, after all, still a high school student in Jackson, Wyoming.
“We were in our living room sitting with hundreds of back orders and not enough product, just getting phone calls, and it was so surreal, it was so crazy,” says Grassell. “I worried, I said, ‘Oh my god, will this continue? Or can we keep it going?’ There have been a lot of challenges, but it has continued, the company is growing.” Over the summer of 2014, Grassell’s mom joined as her partner. They found office space in Jackson and hired several of Grassell’s high school friends to fill the back orders.
Grassell says she had early interest from department stores to carry the product, but the company wasn’t equipped to deal with it. After securing angel investment and hiring a small staff, Yellowberry is now contracted with an agency to outsource manufacturing and merchandizing. When Aerie called, it felt like the perfect next step. Aerie licenses the Yellowberry name and designs and manufactures the bras, with final design approval from Grassell and her mom. The Aerie for Yellowberry line launched in late March and will be available for six months, after which both parties will reevaluate. Meanwhile, regular Yellowberry bras are available at the company’s website.
As for Grassell, she has relocated to the New York area before heading to Vermont in the fall to attend Middlebury College, which she doesn’t plan to defer again even while the company grows. “It was a dream of mine to get in, so the fact that I still have the opportunity to go is very exciting,” she says. “That being said, I don’t imagine myself having a typical college experience. Yellowberry definitely remains my first priority. But I think there is something to be said for being 19 and not having to be around people that are 20 years older than you all the time, and having a little bit of fun hopefully.”