How a Thriving Online Community Can Create a D2C Business in the UK

Elmira TanatarovaFeatures

Courtesy of Lemonade Dolls

The lingerie and undergarment industry is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, its image-driven nature can isolate, hypersexualise, and over-polish its models, marketing and branding materials.

On the other hand, undergarments and lingerie are essential-wear for most of the global population, and the recent popularisation of body positivity has had a role in moving the industry towards prioritising comfort and confidence in its consumers.

British lingerie brand Lemonade Dolls, the UK’s first subscription underwear brand, has been one such disruptor, with a current valuation of £2.5m and a focus on community and body positivity at the helm of its success. Earlier this month, the company launched an investment round with crowdfunding platform Seedrs and has already raised £150k, 165% of its target. Crowdfunded investing has become a very strong option in the UK for getting young direct-to-consumer companies off the ground, especially those with strong digital communities. Fuller says that in the case of Lemonade Dolls, it worked because users saw the brand as genuine.

“The kind of slogans and posts we come up with are just things me and my friends talk about and believe,” Fuller said in and interview with The Org. “It’s not something that takes a marketing agency. We’re constantly surrounded by brands and people really look for authenticity.”

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How Lemonade Dolls turns fans into customers. Courtesy of the Seedrs campaign.

Making its debut at the start of 2019, Lemonade Dolls was founded by singer-songwriter Lemon Fuller. The brand posits that it’s not just a business, but a “girl army,” and sells bralettes, underwear and T-shirts that come in a range of pastels, neons, and textures adorned with kitsch Spice Girls-esque quotes like “fight the fight” and “fries before guys.” Unlike many fast fashion brands which have commercialised the movement, Lemonade Dolls’ commitment doesn’t feel inauthentic due to the company’s commitment to sustainability. All returns are sent to charity, the packaging is biodegradable, and the factories in which undergarments are made are audited and visited by Fuller herself frequently.

Whereas many underwear disruptors have focused on creating designs which allow women to empower themselves by reclaiming their sexuality, Lemonade Dolls has focused on making underwear for 15 to 26 year olds less about sex appeal and more about fun. Empowering women has always been the goal, Fuller explains. Lemonade Dolls began as an online community which, having grown to over 85k users since conception, only became an underwear business after she saw just how big a movement the blog and empowering slogans were turning out to be.

This camaraderie and community-led strategy, Fuller explains, is behind the company’s quick growth. Since January 2020, revenue has grown 550%.

“It felt organic,” she says, “and the thing with a lot of founders is that as brands expand, they tend to lose their authenticity because the founder moves on.” This won’t be the case with Lemonade Dolls, she says, as its authenticity and company mission was established long before its product came into place.

As the UK’s first subscription underwear brand, Lemonade Dolls offers a unique service in which members can receive monthly packages with underwear, alongside other perks such as invites to parties (currently held over Zoom), exclusive early access to promotions, an invite to a WhatsApp group as well as other “getaways and treats”.

The subscription model brings Lemonade Dolls 75% of its total revenue, crucial for a business with sales margins of 79% on average. It embodied the generation its online community had served and catered to their lifestyles - young millennial and Gen Z women don’t want to go to badly lit fitting rooms to find nice, fun underwear. They want them delivered to their door. The trend was doing incredibly well in the U.S. - MeUndies and Rihanna’s Savage x Fenty in particular are turning over £70m and £150m, respectively. Fuller realised that the movement hadn’t yet taken off in the UK and decided to pioneer the movement herself.

“Our company is community-first, but when to make that claim you need to make sure you’re in touch with said community constantly and organically,” Fuller said. “What better way to get that across than to be able to send something every month? You get invites to parties as well, so you're always a part of something a little bigger.”

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Courtesy of Lemonade Dolls.

Going forward, Lemonade Dolls plans on using its investment round to develop more flexiblity in its current subscription technology as well as drive its revenues to be well-positioned for a Series A round, which Fuller says is "is already on its way.”

Building an online community which actively empowers young women who see themselves in the un-photoshopped, body positive images used by Lemonade Dolls and fostering that following is very important to the business. The company’s site includes a content section called Tit Talks, which has featured interviews with women like Kelly Knox - the first disabled model to walk in London Fashion Week - and Menna Fitzpatrick, the visually impaired Paralympic gold medalist with her guide Jennifer Kehoe. Interviews focus generally on themes around empowerment, touching on the beauty that comes from authenticity and self-knowledge as well as demanding respect as a woman. The diet culture which surrounded traditional fashion models and the presentation of lingerie as driven by a more male gaze is a part of what drove her to create Lemonade Dolls’ blatantly feminine-focused identity.

“We created a community that made girls feel good and when that went down very well, we developed the very cool online presence with empowering quotes and posts around supporting girls and going to do whatever they want, getting them confident,” Fuller said. “I realised there was an opportunity to build a whole business around this.”

As Fuller herself wrote in a post on the brand’s website: “We focus on girl power and open up the big conversation about body image. We accept all the hairy, wobbly, jiggly natural bits because let’s not lie hun, we all have them!”

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