Knix, a Canadian direct-to-consumer (DTC) lingerie brand known for its leakproof underwear and body positivity, is making waves across Canada, having recently opened six new stores this fall alone. What began as a presence in various wholesale locations and online has transformed into a beloved consumer-centric retailer in the Canadian market, with an emerging footprint in the United States.
Joanna Griffiths, founder and president, reflects on the early days, “We were doing a lot of different things with small teams, so I went into an era of just wanting to focus; saying let’s do fewer things and do them really well. That focus was on being a digital-first direct-to-consumer brand and building up that capability and skill-set in-house.
Knix was available in third-party retailers like Nordstrom, Bare Necessities, and Equinox in its early years. However, in 2016, it shifted strategically, exiting wholesale to become primarily an online and DTC retailer. This move allowed them to streamline operations and offer a more direct and personalized shopping experience. Knix also ventured onto Amazon US earlier this year in response to customer demand for faster shipping.
Over the past decade, Knix has undergone a remarkable evolution in merchandising, store design, and overall customer experience. In a significant milestone, in July of 2022, Joanna Griffiths sold 80% of the company to Essity, a Swedish-based hygiene and health company, for $320 million. According to Essity, Knix’s sales for 2022 amounted to $170 million US dollars, marking a remarkable 70% growth from the previous year.
Evolution From Pop-Ups To Full-Fledged Store Experiences
Knix’s initial foray into retail took various forms, each offering a distinct experience. As Griffiths recalls, “Our first Toronto pop-up was held in an entire nightclub, which was a very unique approach. We partnered with a female lifestyle company, incorporating a gym [BOLO] on the main floor hosting wellness classes and workouts, while upstairs, we established our retail concept.
In 2018, Knix embarked on two longer-term pop-ups, one in Vancouver and the other in Toronto. These initiatives included lease agreements with the option to extend after the pop-up term. The original stores and pop-ups were modest, around 800 square feet. However, the newer locations have expanded to approximately 2,500 square feet.
The onset of the pandemic halted Knix’s retail operations, a challenge faced by many in the industry. Undeterred, Knix remained steadfast in its dedication to retail and, in 2021, opened its first US store in Santa Monica. This was quickly followed by openings in San Francisco and San Diego, albeit with a continued emphasis on expanding in the Canadian market.
While the evolution of store design is evident, the foundational experience remains unchanged, underscored by a robust commitment to education and community. The legacy of fun community experiences from pop-ups continues to be a cornerstone of Knix’s approach. Griffiths highlights, “Part of our strategy for this year is building a regional community ambassador team. We have representatives in nearly every market tasked with organizing events at the stores and connecting with local businesses.”
In parallel, another burgeoning DTC lingerie brand, ThirdLove, has been making strides in retail, emphasizing fit, education, and community. Like Knix, which has collaborated with Uppercase to launch stores, ThirdLove has partnered with Leap. The brand has eight stores across the US, with ambitious plans for further expansion.
The Store As A Conversion Catalyst
Initially, Knix stores offered a highly hands-on experience, with showrooms and attentive staff guiding customers to find their perfect fit. With the recent expansion into mall locations, the high foot traffic necessitated the introduction of more self-serve options. However, Knix remains committed to providing an education-rich fitting room experience for those who seek it.
What sets Knix apart in the apparel category is its ability to attract high-intent customers. Most visitors have already heard of the brand and arrive with the intention of making a purchase, their primary goal being to find the perfect fit. The store serves as the final stop – a conversion catalyst – where already interested customers receive personalized assistance. Knix boasts an impressive conversion rate of approximately 35-40%, surpassing the retail industry standard of around 30%.
“In some cases, they’re driving for three hours to come to the store, so we really need to make sure that we’re giving them a chance to try on as many items as possible,” Griffiths emphasizes.
This focus on fit, education, and a carefully curated product assortment addresses the inherent complexity of bra sizing. Sizes can vary, and brands employ different sizing conventions, leading to confusion. While many women are aware of the challenge, not all retail or online experiences cater to the need.
Canadian Growth And Expansion Focus
Knix has ambitious plans, aiming to have 15 stores open by the end of the year, with 12 in Canada and three in California. The brand’s primary focus has been on expanding its home market, recognizing a need for distinctive DTC retail experiences in numerous cities across Canada. Recent openings at Southgate Centre in Edmonton and pop-ups in Market Mall in Calgary and Polo Park in Winnipeg highlight this strategy. Surprisingly, one of their most successful stores is in Ottawa’s Westboro neighborhood. Despite being the sixth most populous city, Ottawa lacks diverse retail options. Even renowned DTC brands like Mejuri have yet to establish a presence in the nation’s capital, choosing to focus on US expansion instead.
While many Canadian and American DTC brands gravitate towards the larger US market due to its population, Knix’s unique approach prioritizes the Canadian consumer. This strategy has proven successful, with the brand seeing substantial growth and recognition in its home market.
Looking ahead, Knix anticipates significant opportunities for continued growth in both the Canadian and US markets. Griffith highlights Knix’s expansion plans, stating, “We’re always going to have a larger digital path because we have that base already, but as we continue to add more stores, we’re going to see growth coming from retail; it’s a big part of our growth strategy going forward. We’ll also be thinking critically about wholesale and the role that can play for discovery, brand building, and new categories.”
The brand’s product portfolio also continues to evolve, featuring recent additions such as pajamas and athletic wear. Additionally, Knix is gearing up for a holiday-themed surge across various categories, including the introduction of matching family-set holiday pajamas. With a forward-looking perspective encompassing store expansion and product diversity, Knix is well-positioned to compete, if not thrive, in the world of intimate apparel for years to come.