Resilience, innovation, and work ethic? Single mom-of-two Katie Lopes has it all in abundance. The co-founder and creative/sustainability director of London-based, globally-popular Stripe & Stare channelled her fashion background into creating a company based off of one simple presence: the world’s most stylish and soft ‘knickers’ (that’s undies to you and me) that are better for the planet. From those perfect panties—which count Oprah as a fan, btw—the brand has evolved into loungewear and sleepwear too. Sustainability informs everything Lopes turns her hands to, with each cloud soft pair being 95% degradable. With over one million pairs sold since launching in 2017 and the company garnering a B Corp certification recently, her mission continues. Get ready to reboot your top drawer after you read her story!
You used to be a buyer. Tell us a little about your career backstory?
I worked in television for five years after graduating, but I wanted a career where I could work hard and juggle a family on my own terms. My sister and I opened a store in London in 2003 where we were the first in the UK to stock brands like Zimmermann, Rag and Bone, and Alice and Olivia.
Were you always interested in the lingerie/underwear market or what initially captured your attention?
Fashion was so fickle and what worked one season would not the next, so it was super hard to predict. I became really interested in underwear as the sales of this [category] were so constant in the store. Once women found a brand they loved they would come back again and again for it. I couldn’t find a brand making the perfect knicker [panty] for everyday. This was in the hey day of Victoria’s Secret, but I wanted something created and designed by women, for women. Something they wanted to wear for themselves that was super comfortable but still really cool and flattering—not frumpy or boring! It was also when we were waking up to the damage fashion was doing to the planet, so sustainability felt paramount. I became obsessed with the perfect pair of underwear and would use my customers as a daily focus group to get to the most comfortable and flattering design possible!
How long did that take?
Tell us more about the lead up to launching the brand in 2017. What was the mission you set out with?
At the beginning it was just something I was doing for my customers in the store, but then we had businesses like Selfridges and Shopbop come to us as they could not find a cool comfortable pair of knickers that were sustainably sourced for everyday. At that point I realized I had a real business on my hands, so I joined forces with my business partner Nicola and we took the leap.
What have the first five years been like? What are some things you’re most proud of and what were some initial learning lessons you’re grateful for?
Such a rollercoaster! We have flown since day one, selling out of knickers all the time and the feedback from customers is insane! Over 1,000,000 pairs sold and of those customers, 98% of real customers say they are their favorites. We have been named the comfiest by magazines like Forbes and The Times. We have so many fans of the brand—even Oprah called in lots of products recently as she discovered them in a store in California and couldn’t believe how soft they are!!
You’ve got the only biodegradable lace underwear in the world. Tell us more about the journey to making that happen.
We really wanted to be the most sustainable we could be. In our main line, the fibres are 98% biodegradable—the elastane that gives the stretch was the problem—so we were trying to solve the problem of the 2%. New technology meant there was a new elastane from Japan that could solve the problem. It was a huge amount of work to find the right components and then the fibre mills that could combine it with our current fibres, but it was worth the work to get this right. And it has led to B Corp status with a double IBM!
Congrats! What’s the Stripe & Stare offering like today?
We are absolutely known for our underwear—this is what we are the best at! We hear from women everyday that this is the only underwear they now wear and that they have had to throw all the rest away! We are so proud to have invented the most comfortable underwear. And our customers were so in love with the super soft fibres (they are proven to be 2-3 times softer than cotton—they do it through this clever sound abrasion test) that they were asking for more, so we now make sleep and lounge too. The underwear is still 50% of our business.
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When did you launch in the US and what has the reception been like so far?
We launched from day one with Shopbop and we now also work with Bloomingdales, Revolve, Saks, and lots of independents. Some 20% of our business is now from America and we hope one day it will be our biggest market. Since the beginning, we have repeatedly sold out of underwear there, so we hope this means you all love it! A big highlight there was at the beginning of the pandemic when Arielle Charnas name-checked us as one of her favorite brands. That crashed our website in five minutes! There have been so many people talking about us, just because they genuinely love us, so it makes all the hard work worth it.
Stripe & Stare has some mind-blowing facts about the state of the underwear market when it comes to sustainability. Can you shed some light for our readers?
Yes! Only 3% of underwear is sustainably sourced and it is something we wear everyday and cannot buy second hand, so it is one of the most important things to buy right, buy well, and then be very careful about where it goes at the end of its life. Coupled with the fact that most women’s underwear companies are founded and run by men! How can that possibly be?! The days of us all dressing for men are over!
Who in the sustainability space inspires you?
I love any companies that are taking products that we use everyday and doing it differently, and better for the planet. Favorites are reusable deodorant brands such as Wild, and Allbirds trainers. I love the Earth Shot prize that the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge set up to invest in amazing companies making real changes. The first ceremony was in London and it gave so much hope for the future. The next is taking place in Boston in December and will be well worth watching.
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What else motivates you?
My children. I am a single mother and their sole provider, so that certainly gets me going everyday!
If you’re having a stressful day, how do you blow off steam?
Walking, running, or reading. I live in the country now after 20 years in London and it is calming to be able to get outdoors and breath—that keeps me sane.
What have been some highlights of 2022 for the business?
The B Corp accreditation was a really big one—that was a huge piece of work so we were thrilled to be awarded it. Oprah calling in products was so exciting as we all love her here. And we are close to signing a deal with a major US celebrity, that I cannot talk more about yet…but if this happens we will be doing cartwheels! It has been really easy to find authentic endorsement partners, as once women wear our brand, they are happy to tell the world!
What’s to come for the remainder of the year?
Hopefully this major partnership that we cannot name check yet but hopefully we can let you know in the next two weeks!
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We’ll keep our fingers crossed. What’s your biggest dream for the brand?
That’s simple—to keep being worn and loved by millions of women around the world. And eventually to be able to help other women set up their own businesses. It is so hard as a working mother to be able to juggle the work/life balance, and although most days I am on my knees with tiredness, at least I can pick and choose my hours so I get to do the important things with my children. If I had a regular 9-5 job, I would miss so much. Only 4% of investment money goes to female-led businesses, yet they have a 50% higher return on investment rate. It’s time for more of us to take the plunge!