Discovering a new love for ThirdLove

Abigail Grubbs/ May 21, 2024/ 2024

“To know, love, or deeply believe in” your problem is one of the most important aspects of being a successful entrepreneur, Heidi Zak told us. On Wednesday, Heidi, the co-founder and CEO of lingerie company ThirdLove came to speak about creating a better bra-shopping experience for women.

As soon as I heard she was going to visit us, I became excited about learning from someone who was able to enter the garment industry. How do you find a gap in a market for which there exists so many options? How do you keep it going?

Heidi Zak ’00, Founder of ThirdLove

Heidi first walked us through her story, from working in investment banking in New York City, to interning at Aeropostale, to studying at Sloan School of Management at M.I.T. She ended up working at Google, and one day after work she realized she needed a new bra.

Naturally, Heidi ended up in a bright, pink, heavily-perfumed Victoria’s Secret store. She grabbed a few bras, tried them on and realized they weren’t a good fit but felt she had to settle. She even recalled hiding the Victoria’s Secret purchase in a larger back out of shame.

Why wasn’t there a better bra out there, especially for older, working women, who no longer benefit from the bright, uncomfortable products at other stores?

Heidi was looking for something more…practical!

Heidi realized she had a chance to disrupt the industry, and it was something about which she felt passionate. From that, ThirdLove was born. The company relies on three pillars: better product, digital experience, and inclusive marketing. The brand is different from others because it began as an online experience, which was especially convenient for working women who may not have the time or ability to go into stores. And, people loved it. Heidi described beginning with a try before you buy model for women to experience the comfort of her product before committing to buying it, and the results were successful. Women loved the product and the brand now has loyal customers who have even inspired an athletic and swim line.

Her main pointers as a CEO of a company with an estimated net worth of 750 million dollars were the importance of taking risks to disrupt the industry. Heidi reminded us that it’s not about money right away, but rather taking chances to maintain a competitive edge and deliver something new to the world.

I greatly enjoyed hearing from Heidi and seeing the progression of her experience as a startup founder. From trying something new to being willing to send products to potential consumers before receiving payment with her try before you buy program, she embodied the risk-taking mindset we’ve established as vital for an entrepreneur. She touched on industry disruption and accepting the prospect of failing, which we’ve also learned about in class.

What I was most struck by, however, was how down to earth and kind Heidi was. She came through as a humble and giving founder, especially through programs like the Take Back Bag, where women can fill a bag with donated clothes to take used clothes out of landfills and put them towards a recycling process. Companies like this, that are simultaneously helping consumers feel empowered and the world heal, are truly inspiring for our world.

Some ThirdLove merch

To end things off, Heidi offered ThirdLove swag in the forms of beanies and hats. Students eagerly picked up their merch, and we gathered in the hall to talk about just how cool Heidi was.

Madera is a rising sophomore from Cambridge, MA. At Duke, she plans to study Economics with a minor in Journalism and Media. She serves as an Associate News Editor for The Chronicle, Duke’s student newspaper, and a member of Duke’s Business Oriented Women. She also enjoys being part of the club volleyball team, going for runs around campus, and trying sweet treats around the Durham area, especially Rose’s ice cream sandwiches. She looks forward to better understanding the process of building a successful enterprise and immersing herself in the innovative environment of Silicon Valley.

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