Going Commando with CEO Kerry O’Brien

Kerry O’Brien quit her corporate PR job in NYC after 9/11 and moved to Vermont with her husband to start a new chapter in life. She wasn’t sure what she was going to do, but she’d always loved fashion and had long been frustrated that there wasn’t an intimates brand that seemed to understand what she wanted—garments that were comfortable and gave her confidence. In fact, she tossed her pantyhose away on the last day at her big corporate job.  Sensing a void in the intimates apparel market, she decided instead to launch her own intimates brand and create underwear that “loves you back.”

Today, her luxury basics brand—Commando—features in some 30 runway shows during New York Fashion Week and counts celebrities and models like Ashley Graham among its most devoted fans.

O’Brien says she wasn’t afraid to break the rules when she launched Commando because she didn’t know what they were. For entrepreneurs starting their own brands, her tips include:

  • It’s okay to break industry rules. Underwear is “supposed” to be finished with elastic trim to keep it from falling down or curling, but O’Brien didn’t know that, and she wanted to avoid anything that would cut into the wearer. So, she created an innovative, raw-cut underwear line with no elastic—which remains one of Commando’s best-sellers.
  • Be your own focus group and test model. O’Brien still acts as her own test model to ensure every Commando garment makes her feel comfortable and confident. Sometimes that means trying on garments and doing jumping jacks in the dressing room to make sure designs pass the “Kerry test.”
  • There are no real categories in retail anymore. O’Brien didn’t try to fit products into traditional intimates categories like daywear and sleepwear because people simply don’t shop for apparel that way.
  • Don’t let costs dictate your strategy. Cost-effective fabrics were the norm in the industry, but O’Brien chose to source the best materials she could find from Europe and then manufacture product in the US to ensure comfort and quality.

To hear the rest of O’Brien’s advice on starting and growing a retail brand, listen to the full episode.