5 Minutes With Yang Liu, Co-Founder & CEO, JustWears

Yang Liu always knew that she wanted to start a business, so she took the leap and left her stable job in 2017 to establish JustWears with her partner. They were inspired by the lacklustre quality of underwear on the menswear market, and their sustainable retail business has grown so much that it caught the attention of a former, high-profile Google CEO.

Yang JustWears

Tell me about the JustWears story.

I left my job at venture capital and started working full time on JustWears in September 2016.

It took us 10 months to develop and test the product and branding before officially launching in July 2017 on Kickstarter.

Why the name JustWears?

There is a backstory for the name. We initially launched the brand as JoeyWears – because we invented a new pouch design to protect men’s crown jewel, just like how joey is protected in the pouch. Unfortunately we didn’t get the trademarks on time so we had to consider a rebrand.

We reached out to our customers and crowdsourced what’s the best name they would like to name us. Out of the 700-plus names we got, JustWears was repeatedly mentioned most.

In their words:” It is just so comfy, every man should just wear it.”

How much JustWears has grown since it would founded?

Within the first 30 days of launch, we made a record for being the most backed apparel project on Kickatarter in the UK out of 720 projects, and top three in broader Europe.

We received over $105,000 (£80,350) pre-orders from 1500-plus customers across the world.

Since then, we start trading through our online store. We have shipped about 13,000 pairs of underwear to more than 3000 customers in 73 countries. We’ve achieved this with a very lean team of four people. We are on the track to get the first seven-figure turnover this year.

How does it feel to have achieved this?

The first thing I did when we hit the sales target was to call my parents in China and proudly told them “I made it!” Even until now, they still occasionally asked me when I can get a “proper” job.

What’s it like having some high-profile people, like former Google chief executive Eric Schmidt, wearing your products?

It’s not everyday you get to congratulate a former Google CEO on his “fantastic package”. It keeps me smiling for probably three days. (laughs)

“It’s not everyday you get to congratulate a former Google CEO on his ‘fantastic package’.”

Of all the types of businesses you could’ve ventured into, why specifically mens’ underwear?

I got a lot people asking me “why you, as a woman, are innovating men’s underwear?” It started from my frustration with my partner’s saggy underwear. He’s never a fan of Calvin Klein.

Underwear stood out as a market with little product innovation and antiquated brand messaging. As I looked deeper into this, I realised how badly most brands were missing the mark on what the majority of men care about most: comfort. This ultimately inspired us to go off start a company of our own.

Tell me about yourself. What were you doing before JustWears?

When I first moved to London from China four years ago, I had nothing but perfect Chinglish. I started working for one of the most active seed venture capital firm 500Startups, operating the investment program in London.

How has your previous experience aided you?

Coming from venture capital, I was fortunate to get to experience first hand how digitally native brands, powered by technology (ie: algorithm, personalised recommendation), are changing the landscape of retail. This helps me navigate the direction of the brand more clearly.

What gap in the UK retail market does JustWears strive to address?

We strive to provide men with premium basic wear that allows them to be their most comfortable and confident, no matter the occasion.

We pride ourselves in creating functional and convenient solutions that will never compromise their comfort or style.

What’s in store for your JustWears store for the rest of the year?

We’ve gained lots of useful feedback and data from our community of customers. We’re using this information to expand our product lines to offer more tailored production options. This includes new silhouettes (eg: briefs), as well as partnering with some up-and-coming artists to design a collection of really engaging prints.

How is your online retail business addressing some of the challenges facing the retail industry?

Underwear stood out as a market with little product innovation and antiquated brand messaging”

We uniquely own every step of our production and distribution process  —  from product design to packaging to marketing to fulfilment. We’ve created a totally different retail experience than the high street brands. It is more accommodating, customer-friendly, and human. On top of that, we collect more than 70,000 data points, which traditional retail is not able to do so.

What is the most challenging aspect of your job?

When I first started out, hiring and managing people especially people who are older/senior than me (I’m 26) was my biggest challenge. Now I am getting into the third year of fully investing myself into the business, and the challenge becomes more about the balance between work and life. I never switch off or got a chance to. Online retail means customers could come in anytime from anywhere. I have to stay on top of what’s happening.

And the most rewarding?

Of course it would be seeing the growth on the business. Knowing that over thousands men in 73 countries are happily wearing our underwear brings an incredible amount of rewarding feeling to me.

Often the anecdotal wins would lift my whole day – receiving customers’ thanks letter for being inspiring, bumping into never-met customers in real life who called my name out, having Eric Schmidt wearing our pants, etc.

What advice would you give someone who is considering embarking on a career in retail?

Prepare to make sacrifices. Time magnifies the margin between success and failure. It will multiply whatever you feed it. We often hear about how becoming a successful entrepreneur takes focus, discipline and ambition.

But in a time when some companies achieve meteoric success in just a couple years, we don’t often hear as much about the importance of patience and perseverance.

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