Meet Bree McKeen: Founder Of Evelyn & Bobbie

Meet Bree McKeen: Founder Of Evelyn & Bobbie
With a background in social sciences, Bree McKeen is a Silicon Valley strategist that’s disrupting the women’s wear world. After experiencing ‘lifelong bra pain’ she founded Evelyn & Bobbie: a patented brand for ergonomic essentials, driven by diversity, efficiency and comfort.

 

After a year of market research, the first Evelyn & Bobbie patents were filed for what is now the Everyday Bustier™. What sets the brand apart is its “3-D EB Core™” technology offering a 360-degree hold that redistributes weight from the shoulder muscles to the core muscles.

Evelyn & Bobbie launched in the USA in 2019 – the Defy Bra and Cami products sold out within months of launching.  In 2020, the brand was stocked in around 100 stores and owned a portfolio of 6 US utility patents (only 12% of patents are granted to women and Bree has 6 of them). Now stocked in over 300 stores across the US, net sales have reached $17m with 93% year on year growth.

 

 

The E&B Brand

Could you tell us about your upbringing in “a small town with a DIY philosophy”?

My parents bought a piece of land in the middle of the woods. It didn’t have water or electricity – they built my childhood home from nothing. That says so much about the ethos that I grew up with. From a very early age, I was surrounded by a value system that prioritised hard work and creativity. My parents would say “you can do anything you put your mind to.” In a sense, I believed deep down that tenacity was more powerful than any limitation I would face.

 

What initially inspired you to study Anthropology and Social Sciences?

I started out as a pre-med as I initially had an interest in medicine. Over time, this led to a persistent curiosity around the intersection of healthcare and anthropology – I was particularly fascinated by how much human belief impacts health. And it’s not a stretch to say that my education was the perfect foundation for what I do now.

The work we do at Evelyn & Bobbie aims to rebuild an outdated industry by challenging its culture. When I started out, we had a culture of “sexy at all costs”, or what I call “woman as cupcake” (to be decorated and consumed). Those old mental models need to go. At Evelyn & Bobbie, our ethos is: comfort and performance are non-negotiable. That’s a much healthier culture for my daughters to grow up in.

 

Why are you passionate about solving problems in the women’s wear space in particular, and where does the inspiration for the name come from?

Evelyn was my maternal grandmother. She tragically died at a young age, so I never met her. Evelyn was a stunning woman who commanded any room she entered. She represents Beauty, and in many ways this namesake was a way to honour my own mother – who still feels her absence daily.

Aunt Bobbie was my maternal aunt and she represents Purpose. Bobbie was a fierce entrepreneur and a seamstress. She taught me to sew when I was young, and instilled in me an obsessive attention to detail.

 

How was your business affected by the pandemic?

We launched right into the pandemic. That certainly had a lot of challenges, but it was also timely in that many women were at home, and willing to try wire-free bras for the first time. We had a sort of deep re-orientation towards comfort in lockdown, and there’s no coming back from that. Once you show a woman that with Evelyn & Bobbie you can be comfortable all day long and look great, there’s no going back to the 93-year old underwire! Why would you??

 

How does E&B compare or contribute to competitors such as SKIMS?

SKIMS is a remarkable brand and has done so much to elevate our category. Kim is a marketing & PR genius. And our products do very different jobs. For the mature woman who needs real lift as well as support, Evelyn & Bobbie is the go-to.

 

How does running your own business compare to your past experiences working in the San Fran Tech Space?

When I look back across my previous jobs, it feels like a trail of breadcrumbs leading to Evelyn & Bobbie. Career-wise, “growing up” in Silicon Valley truly laid the foundations for an innovation and IP-driven perspective to business. And working in investing really helped me navigate that side of things. Even studying anatomy and physiology – that led to a focus on ergonomic design. It all seemed to come together into my perfect dream job. It’s hard to explain how grateful I am for this opportunity to lead Evelyn & Bobbie.

 

 

Building A Better Bra Business

How has the fundraising process been for you?

Evelyn & Bobbie is big enough now that we are growing via our own profits. But we needed a serious amount of capital in the beginning. I was so incredibly lucky to find one perfect investor – a human being who I deeply respect and admire, and who truly believed in the vision from the beginning.

For me, finding someone who was investing as an individual, and not tied to a fund, was the best fit. That said, I did have a lot of early meetings with fund investors that were incredibly frustrating. The majority of investors are still men, and I had meetings where 50 minutes out of a 60-minute meeting were spent trying to convince them that comfort was something that even mattered to women.

More than once at the conclusion of the meeting I had prospective investors say “well, I’ll ask my wife and see what she thinks.” It’s hard to imagine that any investor would have a due diligence process that consists of ‘talking to their wife’ if you get my point. I was very impressed with Alfred Lynn of Sequoia, however. He had done a lot of homework on the category before we even met. I’ll never forget that.

 

What are your long-term goals for growth and why?

Our goal is very simple: we want to be the premiere wire-free bra, globally. When you think of wire-free, you think of Evelyn & Bobbie. We recently started selling in the UK and plan to grow across Europe in the next two years. We have been blown away by the pull for this product. We can’t explain our growth by our marketing spend alone, so we know that women are telling their family and friends about us. That’s what women do when they find a product that truly changes their life. They tell other women.

 

What social challenges have arisen and what sacrifices have been made?

I have three kids and I have Evelyn & Bobbie. I do not try to be everything to everyone in life or in business. I have found that I can really only do a few things if I want to do them well. It’s only in the last few years that I’ve been able to accept that.

 

What unforeseen opportunities have arisen?

I couldn’t have anticipated how much we would connect with our customers. The outpouring of love for Evelyn & Bobbie is truly overwhelming at times. We have a dedicated Slack channel, #customervoice. I am touched to the point of tears by what they write on a weekly basis.

 

When you first launched, what brought the most traction and momentum for you? And what hasn’t worked so well?

Our momentum is simple – we are making women’s lives better. It may sound grandiose, but for women who have been in pain their whole adult lives, it’s real. Millions of women in this world still deal with daily bra discomfort, neck and shoulder pain, posture issues, and more, all because of their bras! So when you find something that gives you freedom from that pain, and makes you look great, it’s profound. It’s our customer’s voices that are truly at the root of our longevity and success.

 

What’s the smallest change that’s given the biggest return?

1/16th of an inch. That’s the smallest change that’s given the biggest return. We obsess over the tiny details of our bras – size by size – to make them work on as many shapes as possible. I really believe the tiny, meticulous iterations we make to the products over time is what makes all the difference.

 

 

The Founder Fit

What motivates you?

We have a Slack channel dedicated to our Customer Voice. I hate to admit this, but I personally don’t take a lot of time out from my busy life to reach out to a company and say thank you. However we receive love letters from our customers on a daily basis. So many that we have a customer voice channel where we share the love! And our entire team reads every word. It is hearing the difference that a better bra can make for someone – that is the biggest motivator. Here’s an example from yesterday:

 

“My post surgical chest has a lot of bone covered by just skin…no padding. As such, it is extremely difficult to find a bra that holds the prosthesis in place and doesn’t rub on my bones. I bought the Defy bra just to see, and this bra is probably the most comfortable I’ve ever worn. It almost makes me forget it’s not my real breast.
-Erin V.

 

What has been your biggest lesson, fear, or failure?

Failures in this venture have been – and I mean this – too many to count. But as I tell my kids, you will get knocked down, it’s about how quickly and gracefully you get back up. In the end what I have learned is that mistakes and failures are all part of it. They key is to learn and move forward. And if you don’t learn, guess what? That lesson is going to smack you in the face again, right around the next corner.

 

Do you have a mentor or people you ask for advice?

Yes. You have to have trusted advisors who have actually done it before to survive in a venture like this. I have an incredible Advisory Board of serious pros who I can call on regularly.

 

If you did not have your own company, what would you be doing?

When I look back on my background, it’s hard not to see a trail of breadcrumbs leading to Evelyn & Bobbie: a childhood in the woods with creative parents, anthropology, anatomy and physiology, working in early stage investments… it’s hard to imagine a world where my path didn’t lead to precisely where I am right now! I never could have seen it coming. But I’m so grateful that this is how my path unfolded. The entrepreneurial journey has been so very fulfilling for me.

 

How do you manage your strengths and weaknesses?

I surround myself with people smarter and more talented than myself. It’s that simple. And I’m honest about my weaknesses, or at least try to be. I used to try and be everything to everyone, and it didn’t work. I’ve long since given that up.

 

How has what you do changed you as a person?

Evelyn & Bobbie has changed me in too many ways to count. The biggest one, is that it forced me to find balance. Early in the venture, I let things go much too far in the direction of “ work-a-holic”. And it wasn’t healthy.

When I met my husband and became a mother, I had to make a decision to do things differently. I had no choice. In the end, it was the best thing for me and for my business. Now, don’t get me wrong, it’s not easy. But I’ve learned that as a founder, when you finally get out of the way, the people around you rise to the occasion. I’ve been blown away by how amazingly the Evelyn & Bobbie team has led this vision.

 

As burn out can be common to founders – what tools and lifestyle changes have you found that both have and have not worked for you as part of a more holistic health journey?

The biggest positive lifestyle change for me has been prioritising 7-8 hours of sleep every night. And mind you – I have a two year old. So that means I have to go to bed early. But boy does it make a difference.

I’ve also learned to embrace the “seasons of life.” I’ve always been an avid reader, but I accept that with a high growth company and three kids, this is not my “devour a book” season of life. Audiobooks in the car are as good as it gets. And I’m ok with that.

So in short, I just don’t try to do it all. That’s an illusion. I can’t be the best Mom, be the best CEO, have my best body, be perfectly Zen all the time, and make everything look perfect on social media. I’m now ok with that.

 

What is your opinion on plant medicines as tools for living in alignment (cannabis, psilocybin etc)?

I definitely believe in plant medicine. I’m currently listening to Michael Pollen’s new book, “Your Mind on Plants.” It’s really interesting. I am taking a number of herbal / less mind-altering plants right now – to help address adrenal fatigue and cortisol.

 

What does spirituality mean to you?

Our family doesn’t go to church, but we hold hands every night before we eat and say grace together. We focus on gratitude: for each other, for our blessings, for the farmers who grew our food. Aunt Bobbie, my great aunt (and one of the matriarchs that I named my company after), studied many world religions; And she taught us that “every thought is a creation”, that “worry is a prayer for the things you don’t want”, and that we are all part of God. I believe that.

 

If time and money were no object – what would be on your to do and to see lists?

More time with my kids. More time on horseback. More fun date nights with my husband. More nights soaking in the hot springs. More lazy mornings snuggling in bed with my family. I think when I really zoom out, those are the things that I value the most.

 

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