Empowering Women Through Lingerie: An Interview with Sabrina Cassis from Alice Kass

Sabrina Cassis by @versepasi

Sabrina Cassis is a fascinating woman, like you wish you could be in her shoes for one full day. Or have her as your best friend or your life mentor.

A bit more than three years ago, the young entrepreneur launched Alice Kass, an online lingerie boutique. Instead of using the good old strategy of trying to sell lingerie to seduce the opposite sex, she’s been convincing women to get into sexy underwear for their very own pleasure. With her 17 000 Instagram followers, she promotes a philosophy based on women empowerment and on retaking ownership of our sexuality. All that, one bra at a time.

I met up with the entrepreneur a couple of weeks ago, in her new pop-up boutique at Rockland Centre, which will go on until January 10. Here is what she had to tell me. Take some notes, darlings! #GirlCrushOnAGirlBoss

Can you tell me about your background?

I studied Business at Concordia and then I did Fashion Marketing at UQAM, during which I did an exchange in Paris at a fashion school. While I was there, I applied for an internship at SSENSE and I got it; that’s how I got to work there. I started off as an assistant buyer, but the head buyer ended up quitting, a month after I arrived, so I was still an intern when I went on my first buying trip. It was crazy! I was 24, just out of school, it was my first job as a buyer and I’d go to Givenchy, Chloé, Margiela, etc. I learned a lot, because I was kind of thrown into it.

How did you get into lingerie?

I’ve always wanted to have a company of my own, but I’m not even sure how the lingerie thing came about. I actually used to buy my underwear at American Apparel, because I didn’t know where else to go. I swear to God, I didn’t even own a thong until I was 24! I felt like lingerie was for some sort of femme fatale and I never really saw myself like that.

Then eventually, I realized that American Apparel underwear sucked — it wasn’t comfortable and it fell apart. So I started doing research and discovered amazing brands with interesting pieces I could see myself wearing.

I remember the first time I got a lingerie set, I was like “Wow, this feels amazing, I look good!”. It didn’t have padding, it didn’t make me feel uncomfortable: I looked like myself, but a hot version. That was kind of the trigger. At the time I started wanting to do this, bralettes were just starting. I would look at brands like Victoria’s Secret and realize that their brand’s DNA was targeted to men; what men want to see women wearing. I thought that something was wrong there.

I knew about online stuff, I knew about buying: I felt like I needed to do this.

Photo by Jade Wulfraat

What did you do after deciding you wanted to launch your brand?

I did a business plan, applied for a grant (with SAJE), which I got. Then I contacted brands, explained to them the concept, sent moodboards, etc. I’m really visual also, that’s how I was able to express my vision to people and get them on board.

I also needed a price point that made sense: there’s luxury and everyday stuff; the middle is one of the hardest places to be. When it’s cheap, people don’t hesitate. If they dont like it, they throw it out. When you’re in the luxury market, you don’t need as many customers. And when you do have those customers, they don’t care about the price. When you’re in the middle, for people that are used to spending less, it still seems very expensive to them.

Montreal is a city where people are very price-conscious. They rather spend on restaurants and drinks; like they don’t mind spending a 150$ on a night out, but on a bra—something that you wear everyday—they’ll think it’s expensive. I get it, experiences are valuable. It’s just funny when you think about it.

Why the name “Alice Kass”?

At the very beginning, I was brainstorming with this girl, her name was Alyssa, and my last name is Cassis, so we made up this character: Alice Kass. We created this alter ego of a girl who just embodied all of our values. People actually call me Alice a lot! I go with it, it’s like a pen name. I like it, she sounds cool.

I want to be friends with Alice Kass.

Me too!

Did Alice Kass get popular quickly?

The first person to buy something off my website was my mom! But my first “official” sale was someone in Ontario, two weeks after the website launch. You think you’re going to launch and people are just going to buy, but it’s not like that. Gaining traction takes time. People have to see something ten times before registering it in their brain; they’re bombarded with stuff constantly. So it wasn’t popular right away, but people got what I was doing pretty quickly, in the sense that it was different. It’s not about men first, it’s about the woman feeling good about herself.

The Alice Kass pop-up shop at the Rockland Center

You’re trying out the pop-up concept now with your boutique at Rockland Center. In a world where everything is online, more so your company, do you think having a physical presence is still important?

Having a flagship today in retail is super important! Everything is online, but people are looking for experience. You could buy anything you want from Amazon, but what’s going to make you buy something elsewhere is everything that comes along with it; something beyond just the product. A store is a great space to tell your story, interact with people who enjoy what you do, and see what’s going on. You can forget behind your screen, when you’re in your bubble.

You also started hosting Tupperware-like parties, but with lingerie.

Yeah, we’re probably going to launch that part of the business in the spring, when weddings and bachelorettes are going to happen again. I’ve done three parties so far and it’s really fun! Lingerie is an intimate thing and not everyone’s comfortable with it (whether it’s out of shyness or confidence issues), but when you have your group of girlfriends saying “Damn girl, you look hot!”, a sisterhood vibe builds up. Girls love it; they have food and wine, it’s like a little party!

Photo by Jade Wulfraat

On another note, what does your typical day look like? What do you do when you wake up?

Ugh, I’m addicted to Instagram, it’s so bad. I try to set rules to not look at it first thing in the morning. It’s such a problem these days, that addiction to social medias. We’re never present anymore, we’re always on our phones.

Anyways, I’m also a super hard worker, I always push myself more, even when I’m tired. Sometimes I work better early in the morning or later at night, and then in the afternoon, my brain is not working, so I’ll take a nap at 3pm. I know when I’m tired or in a bad mood. I don’t indulge in those feelings, but when I do have them, it’s better to take care of my mental health than follow a rigid structure. It’s one of the great things about running your own business. I’ll also go for a run in the middle of the day if I need to unwind.

I basically try to get everything on my to-do list done in the day, but it doesn’t matter at what time. If I’m okay with what I’ve accomplished that day, well then I’m satisfied.

Just by looking at your social media or your Self-Love project, it’s obvious that creating a women community is really important to you. Why?

I’ve always been a girls’ girl. I love working with women, they inspire me. Feminism has always been something I’ve felt really strongly about: the reality of being a woman, the way people treat you, feeling unsafe or being unable to express yourself, etc. So I try to elevate women as much as I can. There’s power and strength in coming together.

Photo par @goodbye_jane

What do you like the most about your job?

I’m super grateful that I get to decide what I want to do everyday. I know it’s a scary concept for a lot of people, but for me, it’s freedom. I wish that to everyone, to be able to fulfill their purpose, whatever it is they feel is their calling.

What do you like the least?

The accounting part. I was always good at school, I did well in accounting in university, i just don’t like it. I always push it to the last second; it’s agonizing. Some people are very fact-based, but I’m more of an intuitive person.

Do you have days on which you feel like giving up?

I have phases, like when the bills are piling up or when I’m having a bad month in terms of sales. I start panicking and think “Maybe everyone’s right, maybe this is stupid, maybe I should just get a normal job”.

Some people tell you that?

Yeah, I get it once in a while. When things are going well, people believe in you and think you’re awesome. When things are a bit rough or something bad happens, people will say “What are you doing?!” or “You work so much and what’s the return?”. It doesn’t work that way, it’s a long term vision, I’m not getting paid by the hour. Otherwise, it would be like minus a hundred!

Photo par @goodbye_jane

Yeah, your happiness is worth so much more. So how do you get out of that rut?

It’s about remembering why you’re doing it. For me, it always comes down to female empowerment and the cause of making women feel confident and take their space in the world.  I’ll look at other women who are doing amazing things and I’ll know that I just need to refocus on my mission.

Physical activity is also the #1 thing that destresses me. If I don’t run for four days, I feel it. I get anxiety and everything affects me more.

It helps that your brand has such a meaningful message and set of values behind it.

Yeah. I also try to post pictures that promote diversity. It’s hard sometimes, because I’m a blond white girl and I use myself a lot… But when I put out pictures, I try to be careful. Some people have boob jobs and it makes them feel good and I’m not going to judge that, but if a girl has a full on contouring, fake lips and boobs and the perfect body; I have a hard time promoting that. I don’t want to put that message out there, because people feel bad enough looking at social media and I want people to feel good. I feel a sense of responsibility.

Any business advice for women entrepreneurs?

Just start right away, put it out there. Have a good support system, you’re going to feel alone and discouraged a lot, so make sure you have inspiring people around you. The businesses I look up to, they all have something in common: they have a purpose and they have a very unique point of view. Find your thing and run with it. Stick to your vision and don’t try to be everything to everyone; you can’t please everyone. Also, have fun! You’re going to work all the time, so you better enjoy it.

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