Underneath it all, Dear Kate’s Julie Sygiel is a real innovator

Don’t call Julie Sygiel a panty queen, a title she’s heard aplenty. However, this WeWork Soho West member, the founder of Dear Kate, is an expert on all things underwear.

The idea for her company came about when Sygiel took a chance course in entrepreneurship, a departure from her usual chemical engineering classes at Brown University. What started as a class project to write a business plan for functional underwear spurred into a full-fledged company in 2012.

Sygiel developed a line of high-performance underwear and athletic wear after a grueling two years of research and testing for the perfect silky-soft fabric lining she calls “Underlux.” This lining—wicking, stain releasing, and leak resistant—is ready to battle any potential mishap.

Dear Kate’s mission is to give women the confidence to do anything by equipping them with apparel that’s up for the challenge. Even her line of yoga pants lets you go commando at the gym.

“In the beginning, when I came to everyone with my idea, I got a lot of pushback,” recalls Sygiel. “People told me, ‘You can’t do that. If you want to create a stretchy fabric, you need to have a laminate layer to the fabric.’ We got a sample, and it felt like a yellow rain slicker on your butt.”

Dear KateAfter countless tests, Sygiel discovered that the most important thing to women is comfort. She went back to the drawing board and finally figured out how to do it without a plastic layer, and it “performed better than your regular underwear.”

Dear Kate proudly offers delicates that don’t compromise, plus look beautiful on all body types.

“We want you to feel like you’re being supported,” says Sygiel. “Our tone is very much a cheerleader, and one of our favorite phrases is ‘Get it, girl.’”

Her go-girl philosophy stems from her earlier days as a Girl Scout and growing up in a non-traditional home in the small town of Jackson, Kentucky. Her mother, a judge and a lawyer, was the breadwinner of the family. She grew up in the home with a father who homeschooled her through high school, cooked their meals, and wheeled her around in her stroller.

“My dad is a strong feminist, and he made it clear that I can do anything I wanted to do as long as I set my mind and heart into it. Just as well as the boys, if not better,” says Sygiel.

Her 12 years of scouting taught her the importance of setting goals. She sold 10,000 boxes of cookies during her long tenure as a Girl Scout. She credits her success to having an “uncanny ability” in remembering people’s orders every year.

“I had a loyal following, and I always sent thank you notes afterwards.”

These days, she’s focused on exciting projects planned in 2015, including a new active wear collection. Sygiel understands that working out is becoming an important part of her customer’s lifestyle, so she launched her “Commando” Kickstarter campaign that raised over $150,000 last summer. In addition to her passionate backers, Sygiel has raised $1.7 million to date, and a lot of this funding has gone into expanding her product line with thoughtfully designed products for women.

Recently, she received a confirmation of her hard-earned efforts when a heartfelt note from a college friend she hasn’t spoken to in years came across her desk.

Her friend felt compelled to write to Sygiel after a recent hiking experience on the Appalachian Trail, recalling how all the performance underwear she bought had been ruined midway through the trip. Her mother sent a care package along the way that included a bundle of of Dear Kate underwear that lasted the duration of her camping excursion. She added that it looks completely new even to this day.

“We honestly get emails once a week that make me want to cry, and I think that’s one of the things that makes me want to come into work everyday,” Sygiel says. “I love that our customers share things with us.”

Sygiel says that for her customers, nothing has been TMI.

“I’ve heard it all,” says Sygiel, with a huge grin on her face. “You’re not going to surprise me.”

Photo credit: Lauren Kallen

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