Beyond NYU: Redefining the bra industry with Pepper

Lia Winograd, the co-founder of size-inclusive bra brand Pepper, joins WSN for Women’s History Month.

Jennifer Ren

Jennifer Ren and Jen Lee

Winograd: Your network is your net worth, and I think what I really focused on in the MBA was talking to as many people as possible, and I think that NYU was the connector to all of that. 

WSN: Empowering women through commerce, NYU Stern alum Lia Winograd launched bra brand Pepper with co-founder Jaclyn Fu back in 2017. 

Winograd: We noticed there were a lot of D2C companies at the time, you know, five or six years ago, entering the market and promising the perfect fit for everyone. We noticed that a lot of companies were trying to address this problem for the plus size category, because as you grade up, the fit isn’t optimized for that category, you’re not going to get a good product. And so we realize, “Hey, there is a gap in the market, but for the opposite side of the sizing spectrum,” and that’s how the idea of Pepper started, and when we started the company. 

WSN: Yeah, so you just mentioned your company’s name called Pepper. I’m a little bit curious about that. Why did you choose Pepper as your company’s name?

Winograd: We were actually at lunch, and we started talking about things that were in front of us. So there was like a sugar packet, and we were like, “Should we call it sugar? Should we call it salt?” And then, when we landed on Pepper, it just felt really right because pepper has this really punchiness about it. It has flavor. It’s spicy. It’s small and round. And it also had a really nice alliteration with “petite,” so that’s where the name came from. 

WSN: So you’re also in charge of the design? 

Winograd: Yes, I manage finance, logistics, manufacturing and the product team, which is merchandising and design. So we have creative designers and then we have technical designers, and I think the most important thing that we vet for is an understanding of who our customer is, and whether or not they really understand our mission, and what we’re trying to accomplish. So someone who is flexible and knows how to innovate and really, really understands at the core what we’re trying to do and our mission.

WSN: Pepper’s unique mission soon received overwhelming support and recognition. To accelerate her company’s success, Lia applied and was accepted into the MBA program at NYU Stern, which helped her gain new techniques for her entrepreneur toolbox. 

Winograd: I went to undergrad at Tufts in Boston, and I majored in economics and international relations, and I always knew I liked business, but Tufts didn’t have a business degree, so that’s why I gravitated toward economics because I felt that was the most comparable. So I never took marketing classes. I never took accounting classes. And I think that was what drove me to go back to school and to learn the basics, so that I could really understand my own business and how to grow it. I really value the connections that I’ve made, as well as the time that they took to talk to me about my idea and to just listen and to help in any way that they could. So I think entrepreneurship is a unique path for every person. So you’re not always going to have a tool set that works for everyone, but I think they really took an approach of adapting to my stage at every step of the way and to understand who would be the most helpful to connect me with at the stage that I was at.

WSN: Since graduating from NYU, Lia has been named to Forbes 30 Under 30 list for retail and commerce companies, but this journey hasn’t been easy. 

WSN: So, do you have any words that you would like to share with women entrepreneurs?

Winograd: It is twice as hard for women to start businesses, and so I would just say persist. I think a lot about what kind of leader I want to be and how my words are perceived by others, and I know that that takes twice the effort. So I would just say to keep persisting and to believe in yourself and not let anything get you down.

Videography by Jennifer Ren. Reported by Jen Lee.

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