Niche in the market

Megan Grassell glared at the leopard print bra her 13-year-old sister held in her hands.

She saw the black lace, push-up wires and padding the size of toilet paper wads.

This was not what Grassell had in mind for the girls-only shopping trip, where Mary Margaret hoped to buy her first bra. 

Their mom would never buy such racy lingerie for her daughters, Grassell said. But, at the time, few other options existed. The market seemed dominated by barely-there brassieres and bras meant to add years of growth onto a girl’s chest size at the snap of clasp.

Mary Margaret came home that day last year with beige and white bras that were, in Grassell’s words, “just not cute.” 

Buying those drab bras was like buying tube socks, she said. So Grassell, now 18, decided to make what she couldn’t find in stores.

A girl’s first bra should be fun, Grassell said. Trying to find a comfortable, age-appropriate fit doesn’t have to be awkward and dreadful.

“I wanted to make a bra that wasn’t so sexual, that would maybe make that first experience just less awkward,” Grassell said. 

The Jackson teen started cold-calling fabric companies, asking for a yard or two of cloth. She dropped about $50 to buy enough to make about 10 prototype bras.

In April of last year, Grassell walked into the office of a seamstress near her home in Jackson with a basket of fabrics and a sketch of Yellowberry’s first bra.

At first, she tried the bras on herself. Then she recruited Mary Margaret and her friends as models. Together they decided what they liked and didn’t like, whether it was better to have an open circle in the front of the bra or not, and where straps needed adjusting. She hired a designer to draft the company’s logo — a small yellow berry sewn into every bra Grassell sells. A friend helped Grassell make a film for Kickstarter, a crowdsourcing website where she raised nearly $42,000 for the company.

The first box of bras arrived at their home in Jackson from a Los Angeles-based production facility in February.

She wouldn’t let anyone else open it.

“These are mine,” she recalled thinking. “This is real.”

Selling the first few hundred bras took longer than she expected, she said, but word about Yellowberry has spread and sales increased.

She spoke about Yellowberry on The Today Show in New York in April. The New York Times, Huffington Post and countless “blog moms” have interviewed Grassell about her business venture, too.

Many people — especially mothers — relate to Grassell’s message, she said.

“Yellowberry is much more than a product,” Grassell said. “It’s a method. Girls shouldn’t feel like they have to grow up too fast or look a certain way.”

Since her first box of bras ran out, Grassell has ordered more. She’s considering hiring extra help for packaging and consulting because currently, Grassell and her mom pack each bra into a plastic sleeve, wrap it in yellow tissue paper and tie it into a brown box with a yellow bow by hand. She may soon expand Yellowberry to include underwear and is thinking about selling bras in stores. 

Her products, which look like fashionable alternatives to sports bras, sell online in several designs and colors. The “Budding Berry” sells for $29.95, the “Tiny Teton” for $38.95.

The Star-Tribune caught up with Megan while she finished an independent research project for the Jackson Hole Community School, where she is a senior. Her topic? How advertising in the apparel industry pushes young girls to be too sexy, too soon, and what she hopes Yellowberry can do to counter that trend.

Casper Star-Tribune: First off, what is a yellowberry?

Megan Grassell: The name has a lot of meaning. If you look at a berry before it’s fully ripened, it’s just a yellow berry. That’s very much like a girl’s life in her tween and teenage years, when you’re growing up into a woman. You can’t really rush them. They just kind of mature naturally and organically. 

CST: Did anyone ever try to tell you — or did you ever think — you were too young to start a company?

Megan : It wasn’t that I was too young, it was that I didn’t know anything. Where’s your high school diploma? Where’s your college degree? Some people just didn’t take me seriously and that made me so mad. It took me a while to earn that. [The Kickstarter campaign] finally gave me the, “OK, this girl wasn’t just joking around. It wasn’t just a hobby.”

CST: How did you learn to start a company? There are a lot of things about business a normal teenager might not know, like the difference between wholesale and retail.

Megan : I did a lot of reading, but I just talked to a lot of people. If the worst someone can say to you is no, then all you can do is ask the question. 

CST: What advice would you give to your 13-year-old self, if you could?

Megan : Your body is changing and you don’t really know how to deal with it. It’s OK to be embarrassed and to be uncomfortable. It’s OK to laugh at yourself, too. This too shall pass. Everything’s going to be OK.

CST: Where do you see yourself in five years? 

Megan : That’s a difficult question. I was accepted to Middlebury College [in Vermont]. But I’m sort of ready to defer that. … The moment would really pass for Yellowberry to really become something in four years. I think it’s really important for me to go with this idea and see what it could become. … I think learning by doing, that’s the best way to learn something. It would be beneficial to have been in college. [But] this is a crash course in business and there’s no final exam.