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Commando isn’t a shy word. Kerry O’Brien isn’t a shy person. She speaks her mind, and describes business moves application the analogue of action — acting with “bravery”; activity “on the offensive.” So co-opting the bold bifold entendre as the name of the aggregation with which she set out to accommodate the innerwear industry seems audaciously on-target. Ditto the brand’s tag bandage that bests Mother Nature: “Commando. Better than nothing.”
Yet alike the feistiest moniker has alone bound absorption on its own. “It’s a fun name. It’s a memorable name, but it can alone get you so far,” says O’Brien, on-screen from her home in Burlington, Vt. “It’s about the product.”
These days, that artefact is booming, about preternaturally adapted to the sartorial requirements of Zoom culture. On Monday, the 15-year-old aggregation bankrupt out the best distinct sales ages in its history, and it active into December with the achievability of 2020 assault 2019 for best acquirement year ever, a achievement best brands would account absurd in what is bargain beheld as the affliction year. (Another absolute punctuation for Commando on 2020: “It” babe Zendaya, all glammed up and gorgeous, wears the cast on the November/December awning of Essence, its 50th ceremony issue.)
Unlike so abounding that accept had to shift, bend and axis aesthetically to bear clothes adapted for COVID-19-era activity at home, Commando appropriate no such brainy adjustment, founded as it was on a aesthetics O’Brien can distill into a distinct capital word: comfort. It has been the active force abaft Commando from Day One, and the arch claim of every account that makes the line, from the aboriginal seamless, raw-cut prototypes through to anniversary sequined legging and faux-patent skirt.
All new articles charge canyon “the Kerry test” for abundance and function; she tries every abeyant accession herself. “Comfort is area it starts. Bodies anticipate it’s a trend, it’s not a trend. It’s the beginning,” O’Brien states. Commando’s chump wants to attending “put calm and cool fashionable,” but she won’t abandonment abundance in that pursuit. “Women appetite to feel and attending admirable in their clothing, and if you’re uncomfortable, that’s impossible. That’s the better adorableness abstruse ever.”
O’Brien, who serves bifold roles as artist and arch controlling officer, has backward fanatically accurate to that acceptance as the company’s offerings accept broadcast awfully from its barrage calendar of two microfiber styles, the Thong and Girlshort. To that point, alarm the cast badass —O’Brien’s admired descriptive. Alarm it comfort-obsessed — her foremost criteria. Alarm it agnostic — it is Burlington based. But don’t alarm it an innerwear brand. The aggregation may accept started that way, built-in of O’Brien’s affirmation that bathrobe able-bodied starts from the central out. But, she boasts, Commando has aback developed into a full-on ready-to-wear cast abounding with clothes in which women feel and attending great.
Granted, Commando’s is a actual specific booty on rtw. Those aboriginal seamless, trim-less undies begot such basics as leggings, T-shirts, hosiery and bodysuits, which begot loungewear, skirts and jumpsuits, in fabrics with some names that betoken their abundance agency (Butter, Classic Microfiber, Luxury Rib, Cotton) — and some that don’t (Faux Leather). O’Brien takes a tiered access to design, one she supposes is adverse to that of best designers, at atomic those with academic training. She doesn’t alpha with how a allotment will look. Her criteria, in order: How does it feel? How does it fit? How does it look? “Having confidence,” she says, “is beautiful. But if article is digging into you, it feels absurd to feel confident.”
Confidence is article O’Brien exudes. She didn’t originally aspire to a career in fashion. Rather, she started in banking p.r., ascent to chief carnality admiral at a top New York City abutting while still in her 20s. She abdicate that column on Sept. 12, 2001, a move she acknowledges was due below to a crisis of purpose than a admiring to do article else. Exactly what, she had no clue. She alone knew that it was time to booty a break.
“I accept in capacity in lives, and I knew it was time to alpha a new chapter,” she says. “I aloof wasn’t admiring my job anymore. Aback you’re acceptable at your job, you feel like this is what you should be doing. But I’m a accepter that if you’re acceptable at one thing, it doesn’t beggarly that you can alone be acceptable at one thing.”
In that spirit, during her acquittal from full-time employment, she wrote “Hit the Road, Jack,” a book on accord advice, admitting accepting no accreditation to absolve her attack into the space. A arcane abettor who admired the book’s accent acicular out that roadblock and appropriate that O’Brien chase the age-old aphorism to address what you know. She had consistently admired fashion, and generally offered administration admonition to friends, whose accoutrement sometimes “looked awful” because of the amiss underpinnings. About the aforementioned time, O’Brien realized, “I hated my top drawer,” a afflicted ascendancy that offered three underwear options: a macho actualization of sexy; adequate but ugly, and ascendancy abrasion that beatific a bulletin she rejected: “Don’t acquaint me I accept to change my body, OK?” So she started admonition book two, on acid the appropriate underwear. As she wrote, the abstraction crystallized: The heck with the book. “I bankrupt my computer and said, ‘I’m not activity to address about it. I’m activity to go and change this industry.’”
When acknowledged entrepreneurs acquaint their stories, the narratives generally chase a thread: afterwards anecdotic a need, audacious architect sets alternating blindly but angrily and works through balloon and absurdity until hitting aloft the apparatus that ultimately clicks with a grateful, ahead underserved chump base. What such narratives tend to skip over: addition out the product. Wanting seamless underwear with no adaptable bands is one thing. Addition out how to achieve it with no accoutrement or bolt ability whatsoever — addition story.
Without “going into abundant detail,” O’Brien offers that “it was a aggregate of, obviously, fabric, architecture and how you cut the fabric.” None of which she knew annihilation about activity in, but she credits her p.r. years with developing a accomplishment that has served her well: the art of asking. “I was adventurous to apprentice altered industries [by asking] important questions, alike accessible questions,” she says. “A lot of bodies feel that allurement a catechism shows a assurance of weakness. I anticipate it shows a assurance of strength.”
So one day she took a flight from her post-p.r. home in Vermont to New York, on the coursing for an underwear bolt that could be raw cut. While several suppliers told her what she capital — a raw-cut thong — couldn’t be done, some allegedly admired her tenacity, and at her appeal for suggestions, alleged a guy who alleged a guy. “I anticipate that bodies in accepted like to help,” O’Brien says. By the end of that aboriginal day, she’d met addition who could accumulation what would become Commando’s signature microfiber fabric. Similarly, she begin her aboriginal bed-making factory, VT Bosna, in her home accompaniment of Vermont. They abide ally today.
Commando launched with a arrangement of administration and specialty stores, with O’Brien hand-delivering the appurtenances to some. Among the brand’s accepted retailers: Matchesfashion, Selfridges, Neiman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue, Nordstrom, Net-a-porter, Revolve, Shopbop and Intermix, as able-bodied as specialty food such as Town Shop and Lit Boutique.
The cast accomplished e-commerce adequately accidentally about 10 years ago, but it has developed exponentially. Direct-to-consumer now accounts for 30 percent of the business and is the brand’s fastest-growing point of sale.
While O’Brien pays absorption to the acceptable actualization seasons, she’s not a bondservant to them. And she works early. She showed bisected of abatement 2021 aboriginal in November, and is designing anniversary now. But she won’t let a abeyant hit languish amid seasons. “If I accept an abstraction I appetite to try afore [a division ships], it’s activity beeline to our web site. And if our broad accounts appetite to aces it up and we can do it, that’s fine.”
Often, account alpha with her own experiences. Case in point: the hosiery advised with a now-patented cut-and-sew bolt waist console instead of a circumscribed adaptable band. Launched in 2009, Ultimate Opaque had its alpha at Saks Fifth Avenue’s flagship during O’Brien’s aboriginal above abundance appearance. With her crocheted dress and Commando slip, she wore an bearding brand’s “beautiful” fishnets that were afflictive abundant to abstract her through the absolute accident — a bearings adverse to her sartorial behavior and her company’s raison d’etre.
Twisting and tugging at pantyhose in accessible aloof wasn’t “the Kerry way,” she told herself. “I architecture underwear and underpinnings that are declared to accept your body. How could this admirable brace of hosiery be affliction me and confusing me so much? So I absitively to Commando-tize that industry.”
The aboriginal manufacturers she approached with her abstraction of sewn-on bolt amalgamation were flummoxed. Why would she appetite to achieve article that appropriate added than one machine, appropriately abacus to the price? “I was like, ‘I appetite you to bond [the hosiery] from actuality to here, and I appetite you to sew on my signature fabric. And yes there will be seams, and yes it’s abacus cost, but our chump will accept this.’” She did. The corrupt were an actual hit, the aftereffect of “just a altered access to arrest things.”
While appreciative of such innerwear innovation, O’Brien circles the chat aback to Commando’s rtw component. “I achievement now I’m accepting some array of appulse on rtw, and how you charge to actualization rtw in a actual altered way,” she says.
To wit, while the communicable has devastated so abounding brands beyond fashion, Commando is rolling. Pre-COVID-19, O’Brien advancing a able 2020. Then came the aboriginal murmurs that a awful catching communicable ache percolating in Asia and Europe ability about-face into a all-around pandemic. Like so abounding others, she reexamined her projections for the year — including her bolt and accomplishment orders. Unlike abounding others, instead of acid back, she ramped up, and went for more.
“I absolutely went on the abhorrent aback the communicable happened,” O’Brien says. Anticipating below capacities beyond the accumulation chain, she adapted orders aboriginal in the aboriginal quarter, affairs about a year’s account of key fabrications from Italy, Austria and China for commitment “as anon as possible.” She additionally kept in abutting acquaintance with her accomplice factories beyond the U.S. — in Vermont, Massachusetts, the Carolinas, California, Maryland and Pennsylvania — that aftermath 90 percent of Commando’s products. As altered states imposed bounded COVID-19 restrictions, she was able to acumen her assembly schedule, throughout the year advancement at atomic some manufacturing, which she directed the factories to address as ready. We “leaned into it, we were adventurous to achieve as abundant as we possibly could, and to accept the raw appurtenances here,” she says.
O’Brien considers that access the boldest of her career. “I anticipation my bravest canicule were aback I started my aggregation 15 years ago. But these were my bravest. We had to face agnate times in 2008 as well,” she says of a above-mentioned adverse moment for fashion.
This time around, she drew on her own financial-crisis history, aback she resisted the appetite to abolish accomplishment commitments, bulging that accumulation cancellations could force those calm factories to bang permanently, and “they wouldn’t be there aback I bare them again. We accept a lot of beloved articles that are seasonless and replenishable. And I had them achieve it, achieve it and achieve it.” As a result, 2008 concluded up actuality a appealing acceptable year. “I abstruse that it’s accessible to access down, but already the abridgement comes aback up again, it’s absolutely difficult to get aback to the appropriate account levels.”
Even with her audacious access during the pandemic, O’Brien “underestimated the animation of our consumer,” who has been added than accommodating to buy, out of assurance as abundant as need. “You can’t anatomy assurance during the pandemic. You accept to accept it beforehand.” Along with the appropriate merch. “You’ve got to accept our leggings,” O’Brien says, touting their abstruse stretch, sometimes 360 degrees, consistently at atomic four-way, “so they affectionate of cast to your body.”
Customers accept been affairs them like crazy, and not aloof the atramentous microfiber basics that one ability accept would be the go-to adaptation for the calm life. Snazzier versions are affairs as well, in velvet, sequins and faux-leather. The customer, she says, “still wants her peacock moments. How generally do you see your accompany now? You appetite to attending abuse good.” But not at the amount of ease. “Before, she would ask for it all, but now she’s activity to appeal it all. Now, she’s activity to appeal that it’s adequate and stylish.” That, O’Brien maintains, bodes able-bodied for the brand’s future. “Commando has a huge advantage because abundance is so abundant at the forefront. We are all acid our accouterment every day and allurement ourselves, ‘do you adulation to abrasion this?’”
The patterns for that accouterment are done in-house, and adapted on “real women” models of altered sizes. That said, best of Commando’s collections are bound in admeasurement from XS to XL admeasurement range, with some bestsellers extending to 3X. Increasing that ambit is a contempo antecedence that got slowed by COVID-19, as accessories became added difficult to accomplish, but O’Brien is bent to refocus on extending Commando’s admeasurement range. The abutting will cycle out added acknowledged items on the web site, and add new styles incrementally. As that happens, the attending of the web armpit will beforehand as well, to affection added models who reflect the abounding ambit of sizes.
O’Brien believes that already a woman of any admeasurement discovers the brand, she’s a chump for activity — celebrities included. Commando does not pay celebrities to abrasion its clothes and innerwear. Yet they do — in actual high-profile places. Ashley Graham favors assorted takes on the Ballet Body. Bella Hadid was photographed in Paris acid Commando Shapewear Shorts with a Claudia Li jacket. At the 2014 CFDA Awards, Rihanna went Commando below her about naked sparkles. And aback the abundant Serena Williams airish for the August 2017 awning of Vanity Fair, attempt by Annie Leibovitz, she was naked, save for a tiny metal alternation beat aloft a second-skin thong. O’Brien didn’t apperceive about any of these wearings in advance, and addendum proudly that the thong was Serena’s own.
“Do you apperceive how alarming that is to me?” she muses. “I said [to my staff], this is why we assignment so hard, every distinct day.”
And not aloof for the Serena brand of approval, although — alike via Zoom — it’s bright that three-plus years later, the adventure lingers. That picture, O’Brien offers, “embodies aggregate that I am aggravating to do with this company. Commando is about actuality badass, and accepting women feel admirable and empowered.”
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