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It’s been three decades since Wonderbra ushered the heavily padded, push-up bra into the undergarment segment for women. The already brazen sexual marketing tonality got a brand new anchor to hook the minds of women (and more men) worldwide. And the trend has lasted since. In the profusion of sensual imagery that lingerie brand brigades douse us with, side-stepping towards comfort and fun, The Underworld.co offers a much-needed breather. The Underworld.co’s witty one-liners, colourful GIFs, cheeky videos have the heartening approval of the target market—which comprises women who want to feel comfortable in their own skin and break away from the pernicious singular narrative of “looking sexy".

The genesis“How about wearing undergarments that are functional, fun and make you feel confident?" asks Joyita Banerjee, 32, founder of The Underworld.co, a Gurugram-based underwear brand for women.

It’s The Underworld.co’s seventh month post-inception, and it has gathered, not only raving reviews but also a regular clientele. “I want The Underworld.co to be a brand not tainted by the male gaze. Women by default are sensuous and I want them to celebrate that by being comfortable in their own skin and in their second skin—underwear," says Banerjee.

Unsurprisingly, the industry is dominated by floral, polka dots, and Aztec prints for women’s underwear. Banerjee’s first step was to steer the design to something fresher. “All the prints of my first collection of panties, vests and robes were designed keeping the Indian woman in mind, and what role the society plays when it comes to her (sexual) freedom. They were naughty and aimed to make women giggle. The ‘into the wild’ print was supported by fig leaves; ‘SUCHABUM’ said another sprawled along the bottom in a crossword style print. The ‘hippie’ print in purple and white was a huge success," says Banerjee. The robes from the first collection also tapped on a relatable problem of trying to put on “decent clothes" (read: hook on a bra) when the milkman rings the bell each morning. The solution? An easy-to-wear soft cotton robe for coverage without the hassle of getting fully dressed.

Managing the business

Being a graphic designer, prints, designs and the brand language posed less of a challenge than jumping into the manufacturing fray. From choosing vendors, to sampling, sizing and shipment hiccups, the process needs unbridled energy and nerve. With operations, marketing, business development and designing the next collection, Banerjee wishes that there were 36 hours in a day. But she’s not yet ready to add another person to the team. “It’s my baby and I want to nurture it and shape it till it’s ready to be handled by other people I can trust," she says.

Facing challenges

Exhaustion and funding are the biggest challenges of being a lean business. Banerjee admits to missing a regular salary and says that being an entrepreneur can be demotivating at times. The well-established garment industry is hard to break into and being boutique drives cost up. “But you have to keep your nerve and optimize the situation," says Banerjee. “The rosier part includes rewarding moments like being worn by celebrities and famous bloggers, or heartwarming testimonials about how women love the look and feel of their new purchase," she says.

Even though social media is a large part of Banerjee’s digital marketing plan, she admits to be frustrated by ever-changing algorithms, challenges of content surfacing without sponsored posts, and tricky targeting that can drain a short financial pipeline. Instead, she substantiates social media with relevant pop-up events in the city and flea markets where customers can touch and see the products. Talking directly to the customers can never be replaced by a digital platform. Her last successful stint was at the three-day shopping and entertainment event, The Lil Flea, held in Delhi in February.

While commercial success is the cornerstone for expansion, Banerjee is not thinking of profitability alone. The Underworld.co aims to get involved with non-profits to teach young girls from underprivileged backgrounds about sanitation, hygiene and sexual education.

One Woman Show is all about the trials, tribulations and successes of solo women entrepreneurs

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