Victoria has a secret: she’s tired of buying bras. She has a tangled mess of straps and hooks stuffed into a drawer that is becoming ever more difficult to open and close.
What if a woman could wear her favorite bra every day, while changing the color, look, and style to fit her mood or special occasion? The idea sounds far-fetched, but thanks to Michelle Judson, founder of Changewear, it might soon be a reality. Here, Michelle tells us more:
How Changewear is different from the intimate apparel status quo: Have you noticed there isn’t much in the way of customization for intimate apparel? I have a utility patent that allows for total customization within our pocketed intimate apparel. With our Changewear® bra and Colorfils® bra inserts you can now change the look and style of your bra over and over again. I hope to catch the attention of all the other brands in the intimate apparel industry.
The journey that led to Changewear: I had a lot of obstacles thrown in my path. I got started on Changewear over a decade ago, but when I became pregnant with my oldest child, I set it aside. I was actually waiting tables for a group from PSU Lab2Market, and I asked the woman leading it, Melissa Appleyard, what it was about. I was like, wow, I wish there had been something like that for me when I was working on my idea. She asked me about my idea, and then she said, you should come tomorrow, we have space, you should come. I said, I’ll think about it. I went home and told my husband and we talked about it and said, let’s do it. I went to the attic, pulled out a bunch of Changewear stuff, and showed up, not knowing what to expect. I ended up coming in second at the pitch competition a few weeks later.
Two months later, my grandmother, who was living with us, was diagnosed with leukemia, and I put aside Changewear once again so I could care for her. Shortly after she died, I became pregnant with my youngest. I was nursing my daughter, who had just turned one, when I was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer. I went through 18 months of treatment and once again attended Lab2Market in 2013 on the tail end of my surgeries. This time I won judges’ favorite for my pitch! In March of this year, I had my two-year cancer diagnosis, and I thought, “I’m done, let’s go I’m ready.”
The biggest surprise in your entrepreneurial experience to date: In 1994, the Sara Lee Corporation launched the Wonderbra. They sold one every 15 seconds for only a year, and to this day, it is still considered a historic marketing launch of a product. The man responsible for that amazing product launch is Donald Franceschini, who was VP of Sara Lee at the time. I thought, that’s who I want to talk to. I researched him and saw he was a partner in a Venture firm back East. I picked up the phone and asked for him. I didn’t get him at first, but instead I ended up talking to the firm’s managing partner, who asked me to explain my idea. Out of that first leap came the opportunity to talk to Donald a few times, and he has made a few introductions for me in regards to Changewear.
Before making that first call, I never would have thought I could pick up the phone and ask for someone so high profile. That first action has given me the confidence to continue to reach out to others in my industry. We’re all just people. Ultimately, most people want to help out other people. You just ask. That’s a core part of building a business—you have to be able to ask.
The best thing about being an entrepreneur: It’s a blessing and a curse. The best thing is that my brain feels like it is constantly alive and buzzing, and I love that. I don’t always love it at 2 or 4 in the morning. My brain just buzzes with possibility. When I had to put Changewear down, it was really, really hard. Even though I was having children and that was lovely – it was a beautiful chapter in my life and still is—I had to tell my brain, I’m not interested in what you have to think or say. This is not the time for that. I don’t’ want your ideas, I don’t want your creativity. I cannot do anything with it right now. I promise we will bring it back, just not now. It is amazing to open my mind to creativity and tap a drive that has been waiting patiently. I am ready for a whole new chapter in my life
The biggest challenge: The other day, my husband asked me what I do all day. I told him, I feel like I push a train uphill all day, everyday. That’s what I do. If I’m not pushing it, it’s sliding back on me. But I battled stage 3 cancer two years ago, so in comparison, this business start up seems pretty easy.
Why Oregon is a good place to start a business: I am a native girl, born and raised. I grew up on five acres outside of Junction City. My dad worked for himself all of my childhood. I started working at the age of 11 and learned the value of money, time, and community. When I was growing up, my grandparents would take me to the store to buy Nike shoes for school (that was before Nike stores), my parents and grandparents bought local produce, I harvested local produce from the age of 12 on, and we valued our Oregon brands and products. I have been born and raised on Oregon entrepreneurship and I believe I will continue this amazing legacy for my children. Oregon is infused with creativity, a beautiful lifestyle, and a feeling of community in our state. I am grateful for the sense of good will, mentorship, and multitude of business programs like Lab2Market, OEN and PDC.