The lingerie and sleepwear brand, which makes adaptive intimate apparel for women with disabilities, is expanding its assortment and adding a mobile shopping app that includes a community section where the women can connect virtually and talk about topics that matter to them, thanks to nearly $1 million in newly raised funding.
“Part of our core is making sure disabled women have as many options as they can,” Emma Butler, founder and chief executive officer of Intimately, told WWD. “Our goals for this seed round are to prove ourselves as the true makers of fashionable and functional adaptive apparel and really establish our online marketplace. So when disabled women think adaptive intimates, that first step to get ready, they know to come to Intimately.”
While that might seem like a lofty goal for a brand that was founded fewer than three years ago, competition in the adaptive apparel and adaptive intimates spaces is still relatively small. Butler discovered this in 2019 when she launched Intimately as a blog. Inspired by her mother’s own disability journey (her mother was diagnosed with fibromyalgia more than a decade ago, which made it difficult for her to get dressed), Butler started blogging about the best selection of adaptive apparel. The aim was to help women with disabilities find clothes they’d actually want to wear. Tommy Hilfiger, Zappos and Target, plus a number of mom-and-pop shops, had some ready-to-wear options. Innerwear, however, wasn’t part of the mix.
Even more disheartening was that about 61 million adults in the U.S. (or one in four people) are considered disabled; 3.6 percent of the disabled population have trouble bathing or dressing alone, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the total adaptive apparel market is expected to be worth more than $4 billion by 2027, according to analytics and consulting firm Coherent Market Insights. But the apparel options available for that market are often drab or lackluster — or just downright ugly.
“When my mom was diagnosed with her disability the only options were really medical and archaic-looking pieces. They looked like something my grandmother would wear,” Butler said. “It was really important to me that [Intimately] did not look medical. And I am not a disabled person, but I am 100 percent going to wear all of these bras. They’re so cute and they’re so easy to get on.”
Butler brought on lead designer Maddie Highland — whose résumé includes stints at Vince Camuto, Jessica Simpson and Lucky Brand, among others — to help with the latest creations, which include bras, underwear and sleepwear.
The six-piece collection, which launches Wednesday at Intimately.co, includes such features as loop grips for women with dexterity issues; Velcro side openings on shorts and underwear, making it easier for users with limited mobility to put pieces on by themselves, and magnetic bra and underwear clasps. Larger arm holes on sleepwear sets are also less cumbersome when maneuvering garments on and off. In addition, the collection comes in various fabrics, such as satin and plush, with lace embellishments.
“I got all this feedback from women in our community who were saying, ‘We want this aspect of a bra.’ ‘We want this.’ ‘We want lace.’ ‘We want it to be sexier.’ ‘We want boob grips.’ All of these amazing things,” Butler said. “So we really listened to the disabled community when designing this new collection. We put in a lot of effort to make sure it was exactly what our customers wanted. It took a lot of testing.”
Butler added that the new collection, which ranges in price from $25 to $58 for each piece and comes in sizes 2XS to 3XL (with plans to expand up to 5XL), is ethically made in Vietnam from manufacturers that employ domestic violence survivors. While Intimately’s assortment is not made from sustainable or recycled materials, the CEO said that’s a goal.
Other goals include launching in third-party retailers and possibly even opening brick-and-mortar Intimately stores one day. For now, Intimately offers a selection of adaptive brands on its site, such as Slick Chicks, Elba and Clip-Knix, in addition to its own brand.
“So, if for whatever reason the disabled women don’t like our products, they have the amazing products of our partners,” Butler explained. “We really want women to have options. Eventually when we expand out of intimates and into regular clothing.
“I think that we’re going to put our brick-and-mortar [plans] on hold because we realized that it’s not safe for many folks right now with the current climate,” she added. “And then also, there’s a lot to think about when creating an accessible store. With accessible stores, we’re going to have to make sure there’s accessible parking. We’ll make sure that all the aisles are wide enough for wheelchair users and low enough to make sure they can get into the dressing rooms. So we’re so excited to do that. But I think right now, we really want to dominate the online space because we can reach more folks that way, too.”
Intimately’s updated digital sphere now includes a mobile app, complete with a community section. “That’s where [women] can talk about sex and disability, or [things like] where do I put my disability in my Bumble profile? All of these questions that are super taboo,” Butler said. “And Intimately is truly a place where women can spend a lot of time. They can talk to their friends and meet new friends on this community app, but also shop and have super sexy lingerie that’s made for them for the first time in their lives.”
Intimately’s latest round of funding, nearly $1 million, was led by U.K.-based Venrex and the British Fashion Council as part of their new fund, marking the nonprofit’s first time investing. Butler, who resides in Paris while the rest of her eight-person team is Stateside, said it was easier to secure fashion investors in Europe. That, and wanting to be closer to the supply chain, was why she made the move.
Additional investments in the most recent round came from Steph Korey, co-CEO of luggage brand Away, and Michelle Kennedy, cofounder and CEO of Peanut, an investment firm for women.
“This is just the very, very beginning of Intimately,” Butler said. “We have a lot more adaptive intimate designs in the pipeline. We want to establish ourselves as the leader in adaptive intimates. And then next round, we’re looking to move into other types of garments. In the next 18 months or so, you should see some other garments from Intimately coming out, too.”