Rowena Walsh meets the women behind Stripe + Stare.
What would be better than being asked out on a date by Brad Pitt? For Katie Lopes, the answer is easy. A call to say that Alannah Weston, chairman of the Selfridges group, loved her range of sustainable knickers so much that she wanted to stock them in the store.
Katie has spent years working to create the perfect pair of knickers. The result is Stripe + Stare, a range of knickers that has been voted the most comfortable in the world and is now available in Brown Thomas Cork.
Stripe + Stare knickers are cute, flirty and destined for the compost heap. In a world of fast fashion, they are the antithesis thanks to their eco-friendly credentials.
They are also sexy, fun and a world away from the big knickers of Bridget Jones.
The range was created by a woman for women and the idea behind it was simple. Katie had a high-end boutique in London, which stocked an American brand of g-string. She noticed that women were coming into the store and buying armfuls of them at a time.
“I thought they were so expensive, but we were selling so many of them and our customers kept saying how comfortable they were. I did quite a lot of research into the underwear market and it turns out that women are loyal to underwear brands, unlike any other fashion category. When they find one that they love, they’ll stick with it and keep buying it again and again.”
Katie reckoned that her customers would love a knicker equivalent, one that was cool, contemporary and, crucially, comfortable. She couldn’t find it, so she decided to create one herself.
She was on a trip to Asia when she met Adam, who ran a small underwear factory in China. Katie’s mother made the first pair of knickers on her sewing machine and she sent this prototype to Adam. Six months later, and the knickers were on sale in her shop.
It was at this stage that, without realising it, Katie began the research necessary for developing the perfect pair of pants. She repeatedly asked customers what they really thought of the knickers, and the fit, shape and design were constantly tweaked based on their feedback.
She wanted the knickers to be made from the best fabric possible. She describes Lenzing MicroModal, which is made sustainably from Austrian beechwood trees, as the ‘Ferrari of fabrics’.
“It’s softer than cotton, wears better than cotton and holds its colour and shape better,” says Katie. “It uses 95% less water in its production than cotton. It breathes with the skin because it’s still a natural fibre. It’s so soft it’s been certified for use against newborn baby skin. The fabric is antibacterial and moisture-wicking. It’s a closed loop process – everything they use to make the fibre is used again.
“Only 2% of the underwear market is sustainably sourced today. It’s a terrible statistic when you think about a product that we wear every day.
Katie says that the sustainability and the functionality of the fabric is amazing, and her customers love them. They also love the fact that they don’t get VPL while wearing the knickers. “We use a special flat-lock stitching along the seam. You don’t get any lines or visibility under clothing because there’s no heavy elastic.” Katie reckons that’s why they’re so comfy too.
“I sort of see us as an anti-Victoria’s Secret,” says Katie, adding that Stripe + Stare are proof that underwear doesn’t have to be super-revealing to be sexy and cool. One of her customers, who was buying knickers for her 15-year-old daughter, says that they strike the perfect balance, keeping both mother and daughter happy.
It’s a balancing act that has garnered appreciation from celebrities such as Poppy Delevingne and Pandora Sykes, while Stripe + Stare were voted the most comfortable knickers in the world by one British Sunday newspaper and received a Hungry Bum award from another because they don’t ride up. US Vogue said that these were the knickers to give women for Valentine’s Day because what women want is empowerment, not provocation.
Katie believes that this is just what her knickers offer to women. “You put them on and you forget you’re wearing them for the rest of the day. They solve that problem of hungry bum. You wear them and you’re good to go. Have your cup of coffee, put on your make-up, put on your favourite pair of knickers and you’re ready to take on the day.”
For Katie, the stripe is a symbol of rebellion and empowerment. “We are all about comfort and a very stylish sustainable product but we’re also all about women supporting women and having each other’s back.
She says that the team behind Stripe + Stare is a real sisterhood. Her business partner is her sister’s best friend and her mother is always reminding her that she made the first pair of knickers. “We’re all in it together. When I’m away, my mother looks after my children. She looks after a lot of the deliveries and dispatch and makes sure that people get their orders on time. I couldn’t do it without them.”
Katie is proud that underneath all the fun and cuteness they have created a knicker that is so incredibly comfortable that one of her customers, who is having therapy for stage two breast cancer, finds them softer against her skin than any others on the market. “She said that she threw away all of her others and she’s only wearing ours.” The company donates 5% of its profits to female charities.
Stripe + Stare started out as fun endeavour for Katie, but it started becoming increasing serious and she got in touch with US e-tailer Shopbop.com. “They bought us at launch in 2017, which was just extraordinary, and we’re their fastest growing underwear brand. I don’t know how people are finding us because we’re on this website with thousands of other brands.”
The second amazing piece of luck came last Christmas when Katie received a call from Alannah Weston’s PA. Someone had given Alannah Weston a pair of Stripe + Stare knickers and she loved them so much she wanted to stock them. “When you go into BT, we’re the only knickers on the shop floor that are sustainable. It’s the stuff that dreams are made of.”
Stripe + Stare knickers are available in Brown Thomas stores nationwide, a pack of four is €47