Soma was founded by an all-female team with a mission to design bras and panties, pajamas and loungewear that fuse fashion and function—so that you would never have to choose between the two. In Celebration of Women’s History Month, we sat down with Holly Wilson, our VP of Design and one of the founders of the brand. Read on to learn more about Soma's all women design team, the design process and uncover what makes Soma truly special in the intimate’s world.
Can you tell us a little bit about your career journey?
I have been in the fashion industry for 28 years and most of that in the intimate apparel industry and the last 18 years with Soma. I joined right at the beginning of the concept and designed the launch collection. I was really drawn to the idea of starting a new intimate apparel concept. Lingerie is such a personal product and I loved the idea that I could design amazing pieces that make women feel beautiful and compliment all of their best features. There’s nothing better than being able to make that kind of an impact on women.
Can you tell us more about the design team and process at Soma?
Our design team is all women and always has been, even from the very beginning. I am very grateful to be able to work with such a smart, talented and innovative group of women, they amaze me every day with their ideas.
And what really makes it work is that we are women making products for women, so we understand what it’s like to experience them first-hand.
We can empathize with some of the challenge’s women might be facing with their foundations and we find really innovate solutions that can change her experience.
What differentiates Soma from other intimates’ brands?
At Soma we set out to try and fill what we saw as a large gap in the market, which was women 40+. 18 years ago, her choices were so limited in the space. On one hand, you had this very large specialty retailer that was focused more on sexy as defined by a man. And if she wasn’t shopping there, she was shopping at a department store which was great for convenience but in a department store setting, if you’re not sure what you’re looking for or you don’t know your size it can be an overwhelming experience. It was very obvious that no one was addressing this customer and we saw an amazing opportunity to create a retail concept and a store experience that was comfortable and wasn’t intimidating and where we could hire professionally trained bra-fitters who could match the customer to her exact solution.
As women, we knew that if we could relate to these revolutionary product ideas, so could our customer because we have all had these challenges – it was time for a new way of thinking.
Can you share what makes Soma stores special?
Our associates are what makes our stores so special. Our trained bra fit specialists offer what I would consider concierge-level service because, yes, we are fitting the customer and taking her measurements, but that’s just a starting point. They really listen to each woman about what she likes, what she doesn’t like, and what does she need the bra or panty to do for her. We match the customer to a bra wardrobe that is going to work for her, that will cover all of her needs depending on her lifestyle. And you can’t get that kind of service anywhere else which is what has really made Soma iconic.
Where do you find your design inspiration?
We get our design inspiration from a lot of resources, but our most important source is our customer. She’s is an essential part of our design team whether she knows it or not! We read all product reviews and we talk to her in stores on a regular basis. One of our most important assets is our store team because they have the intimate conversations with customers every day, and they funnel ideas to our team, which we turn into amazing product solutions. So, it’s essentially that every customer is a part of our team because everything we do is for her, everything is targeted at addressing a potential issue or something she wished that she had. And when you think about solutions, the thing that really changed the trajectory of the brand was introduction of our Vanishing collection. It all started with the Vanishing Edge panty – no ride, no roll and no show at a time when people were talking about panty lines and customers were thrilled because we answered their challenge. That’s when we knew our innovative solutions would clearly set us apart in the market and we never looked back. The next question was “What should we tackle next?”
How has Covid impacted the brand?
When Covid started we had to figure out how to continue to service our customers because her lifestyle changed in an instant. And it’s a testament to her trust in us that our customers converted to online shopping almost overnight. People want to feel safe and comfortable. So for example, our Enbliss collection has popped to the top of our assortment because the wireless bra and the bralette are such strong go-to’s for the customer’s lifestyle right now. The Enbliss bralette offers ultimate comfort but with the support that most bralettes can’t deliver on. We also launched our Soma WKND lounge and our Sunday collection has been really strong because both speak to casual dressing and the strength of comfort. It’s also been amazing to see her continue to support our brand and tell all her friends – so our engagement is up and we are really enjoying our growing Soma customer community. We are really lucky to have customers who love us.
What are some things that are important to Soma as a brand?
First, we always listen to our customer and try to understand what she is looking for. We have a wide customer base, and we address a lot of women as young as their early 20’s but our core customer is 40+ and I encourage my team to never make assumptions about a women’s age and her sense of style. 40+ women are very chic and incredibly smart and they know what they like. Our approach has always been to be ageless in our appeal and have a strong point of view.
Second, the product is key. Creating innovative solutions that really work can take a lot of thought, energy, creativity, ingenuity, and attention to detail. The development process for bras can be as long as 2 years or more for truly “never-before-seen” products so the design team has to have the ability to not just understand what the customer needs today but what she’ll be looking for 2 or more years down the road. And quality, premium-level bras and panties are the standard so we do a lot of wear-testing and we don’t deliver anything that we haven’t proven or tested. This is what has made “Beautiful solutions” synonymous with the Soma brand.
And third, inclusivity and diversity are such an important part of our culture. Our internal talent is from all over the world and come from a multitude of backgrounds. Because of that they bring differentiated points of view which is not only important for our culture but for our design process because women are so unique. We have 46+ sizes and we make products for a variety of skin and cosmetic tones so that she can find something she is comfortable in no matter what.