As a challenger brand, JustWears is shaking up the underwear industry. The brand’s founder, Yang Lui, and her team have found a way to break through the noise of established brands, and set a precedent for consumers and businesses for the future.
In our podcast, Ecommerce Marketing 101: How to Scale Your DTC Brand, I spoke with Yang about how she built a challenger brand from the ground up. From the initial product concept to getting investment, through to building a loyal customer base—Yang offers some fantastic insights that you can bring to your brand.
Listen to the full episode on:
Yang’s definition of a challenger brand
First of all, let’s define a challenger brand. Yang broke up her definition into three parts.
1. An alternative to established markets: Firstly, challenger brands often adopt an underdog mentality. They position themselves as alternatives to established market leaders and appeal to consumers seeking something different. The core value proposition they offer is simple: "We provide an alternative and better solution to your needs."
2. Challenge the status quo: Secondly, challenger brands tend to be disruptors and challenge the status quo.
Take Dollar Shave Club as an example. When they entered the market, they disrupted the razor industry by offering quality products at affordable prices, which challenged the dominance of established brands.
3. Creativity and product innovation: Finally, challenger brands differentiate themselves through creativity and product innovation.
In the case of the underwear industry, this category has seen little innovation in decades. Unlike established brands like Calvin Klein or Hugo Boss, which have stagnated in terms of product development, Yang and her team introduced pouch underwear to the UK market. This new design helps reduce sweat and chafing, and makes the wearer feel more comfortable.
What’s more, their marketing approach is light-hearted and humorous. It’s a complete contrast to the serious, black and white images of chiselled torsos that you see from a lot of established brands. JustWears’ aim is to make customers smile rather than feel self-conscious.
💡 If you want a deeper dive, take a look at Amy's article that explores different challenger brand examples and how you can create a successful strategy.
8 tips on building a challenger brand
A challenger brand isn’t born overnight. Yang says it takes the right mentality from the founder to build something that will be sustainable for the future. Here are her 8 tips on creating a successful challenger brand.
1. Have an innovative product idea
First off, you need a good idea. 💡 JustWears came to life after Yang’s husband complained about how uncomfortable his underwear was after a long day at work. This prompted Yang to search for a new pair. She looked to mainstream brands, like Nike and Under Armour, for a solution.
But she couldn't find anything that truly addressed her husband’s needs. Plus, most options were either cotton-based or made from synthetic fabrics, neither of which were environmentally friendly or provided good comfort.
Chatting with her male friends confirmed that many people faced the same underwear woes: they fit poorly, were uncomfortable and they all wanted something that was better designed. Yang realised there was a gap in the market for men's underwear that was made with comfort in mind.
Drawing from her background in fabric research at university, Yang saw an opportunity to innovate. She envisioned underwear that was not only impeccably designed and sustainably made, but also featured a pouch to keep men dry and comfortable.
💡This led to the birth of JustWears. 💡
Key takeaway: A good product idea is born from an understanding of what's missing in the market. It’s useful to draw from personal insights and to be open to new ideas. This way you can make your brand stand out and offer customers something truly valuable.
2. Test your product ideas
Next, Yang dived into a crash course on fashion design and scoured the globe for materials and manufacturers. Once she’d created a product sample, she gathered a group of friends as product testers. From their feedback, she was able to fine-tune the product.
Once confident with the product, she launched JustWears on Kickstarter. And the response was overwhelming.
“Surprisingly, the concept of ‘pouch underwear’ to support men, and help them feel comfortable, really took off. In the first 30 days it became the most backed project in the UK with over £150,000 of pre-orders from 60 different countries. That was an amazing moment. It wasn’t a massive amount of money but I realised: this is it!”
Key takeaway: Make sure to get lots of feedback on your products before taking it to market. Sites like Kickstarter are a way for small businesses to build interest, get feedback and get investment for their product ideas.
3. Build brand equity (not just awareness)
A big part of being a challenger is building brand equity. This is a combination of elements such as brand awareness, brand loyalty and your perceived product quality. Ultimately, brand equity helps build trust and recognition over time and can influence consumer behaviour and preferences.
To build equity, Yang emphasises the importance of emotional connections with your consumers—rather than just connecting with their minds.
“When we talk about connecting with people's minds, it can be very easy. You got your brand message, your value proposition and you’ve a physical product. When the customer receives it, they register you in their mind. But what really makes a great brand great is that they connect with the consumer's heart. That means there is emotional value being created in the process to really connect consumers to who you are as a brand.”
Key takeaway: To cultivate brand equity, make sure you’re building emotional connections with consumers. This will help you create lasting value and forge genuine relationships that set your brand apart in the industry.
4. Find brand values that align with your own
To create a challenger brand, you need to define your brand's values, mission, and purpose. These elements must be crystal clear from day one.
As an example, Yang says that it's incredibly important her business has a lasting impact across generations. For JustWears, they want to bake positive social change into the core of their business. This comes from Yang’s own personal experiences.
“I come from the southwest part of China. It’s the border between Laos and China, where access to education and other resources is just not fair or equally distributed across the region. A lot of people don't have the opportunity to be living in a nice, thriving environment. At JustWears, the social element for us is that we’re constantly giving back. We want to help people in under-developing areas, including those in areas of deforestation.”
Key takeaway: Your brand’s purpose, missions and value can come from personal experiences. What is it that you truly care about and want to change in the world? This is a great starting point to building something that resonates with your audiences.
5. Use your messaging to set yourself apart
The way you communicate doesn’t just help differentiate you from competitors; it can provide real value to your customers. It can also help your brand’s mission, vision, and purpose shine through consistently in every customer interaction.
JustWears’ witty marketing messaging and bold graphics reflect the fun and humorous nature of their brand. It’s also one of the key ways they stand out against the established brands.
“People laugh when they check out our website and see our taglines: ‘Underwear your balls deserve, made of wood for your wood.’ It’s very humorous, but the product is actually very good quality. We try to strike a balance between building a sustainable commercial business and building a value that is tangible to our customers.”
Key takeaway: Your messaging can be used to stand out from competitors and reinforce your brand values across your different marketing channels. This consistently can create deeper connections with your customers.
6. Create content that's authentic and real
Yang and her partner started to create their user-generated content (UGC). As a small business with tight budgets, UGC was a way to create authentic video content to help boost brand awareness and sales.
As the business grew, Yang saw that the scrappy nature of their UGC content resonated with their audience. It brought a sense of genuineness to the brand, making customers feel like they were part of a community rather than just consumers. This authenticity translated into higher click rates and increased sales conversions. 📈
They learned some super valuable insights, too.
“We decided to double down on generating more UGC content at scale to understand what elements really engage with our customers. In this process, we realised the number of followers doesn't really guarantee a conversion. Instead, it's the creative elements within the content that make all the difference – from the script to the opening lines, even the first five seconds can be pivotal.”
💡Wondering where to start with UGC? Read our article on creating a user-generated content strategy.
Key takeaway: Embracing user-generated content can build your brand identity and also create genuine engagement with customers. It's not about follower counts—it’s about creating content that resonates with your audience's emotions and values.
7. Get creative with your paid content
When it comes to ad creative, Yang says there's no one-size-fits-all formula. That’s because the performance of creatives fluctuates over time.
Currently, the team is focusing on content that promotes gifting because it resonates with their female audience, despite being a men's underwear brand.
“A lot of female customers really love our brand and find it really entertaining. They think it could be a really good gift. So in our content, we’re reflecting the nature of gifting through our brand’s sense of humour. For example, we explain to customers how great this product is in a very funny and joking way. In our videos, the guys who receive the product feel really happy about it, which helps preempt our customers' expectations. We’re saying: "If you buy this underwear for your partner, they’re going to be as happy as the guys in this video.”’
Another creative angle that works well for JustWears is the snippets from their time on Dragon’s Den. For those who don’t know, Dragon's Den is a UK TV show where budding entrepreneurs pitch business ideas to a group of wealthy investors.
JustWears smashed it out the park and secured investment from Touker Suleyman. 🤑 This wasn’t just a massive milestone for their new business; it gave the brand loads of fantastic content they could repurpose on their socials. 👀
From here, they were also featured on UK TV shows like Good Morning and Gogglebox. The reactions that people have to the underwear makes perfect content for JustWears paid socials.
8. Reward your customers
JustWears runs both a loyalty and an ambassador program. Both require different actions from customers and deliver different results. However, they both compliment each other well and push JustWears’ brand message to more people. Let’s get into them:
Loyalty program: The loyalty program is rooted in the concept of reward schemes. Think of Tesco's Clubcard. You rack up points every time you purchase and can use those points to get discounts. Everyone understands how it works and it’s really easy to be a part of. Plus, for JustWears, if you post a pic of your purchase on social media, you gain more points.
Yang says that, commercially, the loyalty program boasts higher sign-ups than the ambassador program. And it has higher engagement rates for referral link redemption.
Ambassador program: The ambassador program, on the other hand, is designed to amplify word-of mouth marketing. It encourages customers to share their experience with the brand and bring awareness to JustWears’ brand vision. In return, ambassadors get bigger rewards and commission on sales. 💸
Yang says that consumers often think you need to be a super-prominent influencer or celebrity to get involved. But JustWears make it really accessible—anyone can sign up. The ambassador program has lower sign-ups but a significantly higher engagement rate among participants.
“Both programs are tailored for different purposes and different audiences. I think it’s really good to have both if your brand can afford it.”
Key takeaway: Consider different ways to reward your customers. Loyalty programs offer discounts, whilst ambassador programs help amplify your brand message. Both help spread your brand’s message to the world. 🌍
Yang’s key takeaways for building a successful challenger brand
Here’s a summary of Yang’s top tips that you can take with you into your brand right away.
- Hand an innovative product idea: A good product idea is born from an understanding of what's missing in the market. It’s useful to draw from personal insights and allow yourself to be open to new ideas. This way you can make your brand stand out and offer customers something truly valuable.
- Test your product ideas: Make sure to get lots of feedback on your products before taking it to market. Sites like Kickstarter are a way for small businesses to build interest, get feedback and get investment for their product ideas.
- Build brand equity: To cultivate brand equity, make sure you’re building emotional connections with consumers. This will help you create lasting value and forge genuine relationships that set your brand apart in industry.
- Find brand values that align with your own: Your brand’s purpose, missions and value can come from personal experiences. What is it that you truly care about and want to change in the world? This is a great starting point to building something that resonates with like-minded audiences.
- Use your messaging to set yourself apart: Your messaging can be used to stand out from competitors and reinforce your brand values across your different marketing channels. This consistently can create deeper connections with your customers.
- Create content that’s authentic: Embracing user-generated content can build your brand identity and also create genuine engagement with customers. It's not about follower counts—it’s about creating content that resonates with your audience's emotions and values.
- Get creative with your paid content: The performance of paid creative fluctuates over time. So don’t get tied down to an idea. Instead, keep experimenting to see what resonates the best with your audience. Are there additional buyer personas you can target? Has there been any good media coverage that you can repurpose in your campaigns?
- Reward your customers: Consider different ways to reward your customers. Loyalty programs offer discounts, whilst ambassador programs help amplify your brand message. Both help spread your brand’s message to the world.
If you’d like to listen to Yang’s full episode, make sure to subscribe to our podcast: Ecommerce Marketing 101: How to Grow Your DTC Brand.