It is not difficult to find inconvenience in life. However, it may be difficult to change it. One person was inconvenienced by the very underwear that is integral in our lives and started with the desire to solve this inconvenience that people simply accepted. She has since become the CEO of a 'Femtech startup', a business focused on women's health. The Sookmyung Times met Hwang Taeeun, CEO of 'dansaek'.
Before we begin, would you introduce 'dansaek' and the CEO?
I'm Hwang Taeeun, the CEO of 'dansaek'. It is a startup company that wants to give women more convenient underwear. In the case of 'Comfort Air', one of our products, we wanted to offer options beyond the limitations of existing women's hygiene products. And 'Free Underwear' was made to solve the inconvenience of existing lingerie. I am trying to solve the inconvenience that I used to suffer through as a woman.
Please explain what kind of work your company does as a women's underwear brand.
Until the 2000s, women's underwear was more aesthetic than comfortable. Most of my underwear was for looking nice to others even though I was uncomfortable. After graduating from university, I started to wonder why I should continue to wear underwear that inconvenienced me. So, I developed underwear that relieves the inconvenience that I experience because I am a woman.
How did you come to run a brand?
When I first started, I thought of two things: simplicity and comfort. It is a women's product, but it was not produced by women, so I wanted to solve the inconveniences and the things that hadn't been developed by technology. First, I started by removing wires and hooks from the bra. And, despite the growth of the sports clothing industry, with many high-functioning fabrics, junior underwear has been made only of cotton for decades. Furthermore, rather than adding disposable sanitary products, I started with the simple idea that underwear can absorb menstrual blood.
Was there a particular opportunity for you to become interested in Femtech companies?
I didn't begin with the intention of starting a Femtech startup on purpose. But I thought about what I knew and had experienced the most, and which industry is so uncomfortable but still unresolved. It was Femtech. After giving birth to my daughter, I also decided I should now solve the problems that I suffered as a woman. I thought all women, not just me, would have experienced the same or similar things. Even when I talked with my friends, they sympathized with me. That's why I'm running a Femtech startup.
What is the most memorable product for you among all of your products, and why?
It's 'Comfort Air' (Nonsaem Underpants), which was developed first. I have visited more than 20 factories and fabric companies since 2016 in order to make this product. I have heard many times: "Why are you making products like this?" or "No one needs or will buy them because the cost is too high." Still, I was able to launch the first product in October 2017 after looking for factories and fabrics for more than a year. Since then, we have improved the product more than 42 times. I don't think what we have now is perfect. So, I'm continuing to strive for the best quality because it's a product that can be used by all women, including my daughter and her friends. I think Comfort Air represents 'dansaek'.
Please explain in detail any difficulties you have had while operating.
The hardest thing is to compromise. After all, we are internally dealing with everything from product planning to production, sales, and distribution. One of the biggest reasons for planning to sell Direct to Customer was to avoid compromise. In order to eliminate the inconvenience, people may think that the cost will be reduced by subtracting materials such as existing wires and hooks, but we need better fabric and more complex manufacturing than when using the existing materials. In this process, I was advised that we should compromise with a little cheaper fabric and a little easier process. But in 'dansaek', all the team members agree not to compromise.
Could you elaborate on the 'dansaek' belief that there is no compromise?
We don't compromise because 85% of the team members are women, and the CEO and director are also women. So, the belief of "underwear for us or our family or acquaintances" is deeply embedded. We are still working with many textile factories and manufacturing plants by making a lot of adjustments to avoid compromising for a low-cost, easy process. After four years of such management, the average repurchase rate is more than three times that of the existing underwear industry. It was hard to become a brand that makes people want to buy more instead of using it once and throwing it away, but I think we succeeded.
It doesn't seem easy to make a product that fits the signature slogan of "take off the discomfort and wear comfort." How did you overcome that difficult moment?
It was all thanks to the team members. Not only I but also my team members believed that if the product was good, the customers would recognize it one day. I'm still not worried about our products. I'm thinking of continuing to make the best products, but I'm not looking for cheaper fabric or products that need less processing than now. This direction has been assured through our team members.
What has been the happiest and most rewarding moment of running the company?
It is when we get feedback from customers. We can't satisfy all the customers though we think about products and keep renewing them, and there are some customers who write reviews and request repairs. Then we tailor the repairs to individuals as much as we can. Currently, we are conducting a free one-year service for 'dansaek' products that are not carried out elsewhere in the underwear industry. If we send the product to each customer after repairing it, they write a review with great care. The reason for this is because the product didn't fit, but they don't want a refund and want to continue wearing the product. After receiving this review for the first time, I thought that if our product is recognized like this, I should bring maximum satisfaction to our customers. And for this reason, 'dansaek' products have a satisfaction rating of 4.8 out of 5. I feel rewarded whenever customers who use our products give reviews such as "It's so comfortable," "It's a product that I trust," and "It's innovation and revolution." We can also know that we are not going in the wrong direction.
Recently, interest in the Femtech industry is increasing in making products for women's health. Could you tell me your thoughts on this?
I'm so glad that the 'Femtech' market is growing. The participation rate of women in the past was low, and the inconvenience of women and the things that women wanted were not important in the industry. However, as women's participation in society increased, women's voices also increased. And I think products or services that solve women's inconveniences have appeared. Also, the reason why the world is developing is to solve existing inconveniences, so if the Femtech industry continues to attract interest and grow, it will be beneficial to women.
May I ask you briefly what your plans for 'dansaek' are?
As mentioned earlier, we are trying to make products so that women can wear comfortable underwear. In particular, we are focusing on women's life cycles. (When a woman wears her first bra, when she has to wear her first menstrual product for the first time, and when she grows up and wants to wear underwear comfortably for her body, and after marriage, after childbirth, when she is in her 40s and 50s or older)
Lastly, please do you have anything to say to Sookmyungians?
If there's anything you want to do, try it. I didn't graduate from a university that anyone would have heard of, and I wasn't an honor student at school. Because of my stubbornness to make a product that I really wanted to make, I got my first business loan, government-backed pitching, won a women's start-up competition, appeared in TV documentaries, and even procured investment after a meeting with an investment company. Looking back to 2016, I couldn't imagine the current situation. It is said that people don't change, but I think situations can change as the world changes. If there's anything you want to do, don't hold it in but shout it out.
HWANG TAEEUN (1986.07.17)
-CEO of 'mariedemarie' (2010~2011)
-Manager of Cosmetic Shop (2011~2014)
-CEO of 'dansaek' (2016~)