While juggling a household with three small children and a career as a freelance content creator, Erin Mehagan had no plans of launching a brand. But an unexpected discovery of a gap in the market sparked a passion in her that led to a rapidly growing online intimate apparel brand.
This post is part of The Founder Factor, where we bring you behind the scenes with South Carolina’s most impactful entrepreneurs so that you can discover the strategies, ideas, and mindsets you need to unlock your next business breakthrough.
Some people intuitively know they want to run a business or become an entrepreneur, but that certainly wasn’t Erin Mehagan. She spent the first few decades of her career in PR and client services, followed by a season as a freelance content creator. She never saw herself starting a brand or company. However, she found herself drawn to fulfilling a need based on her own personal experience. “I like to say I’m a frustrated consumer turned entrepreneur,” Mehagan laughs.
In 2016, after years of nursing her three children, Mehagan found herself struggling with her body image due to the loss of breast tissue—a very common experience for women as a result of nursing or simply aging. After an in-depth consultation with a plastic surgeon, Mehagan knew permanent surgery was not the best option for her, so she began to look for a bra that offered shape and volume without being a push-up. “I searched the internet from front to back, and if I had found something, the story would’ve ended there,” Mehagan recalls. “But the product didn’t exist!”
With breast tissue loss being such a universal challenge for women, Mehagan was shocked to find this gap in the market. “I knew if I felt this way, other women did, too. I couldn’t be the only one struggling with my body image,” she shares. To Mehagan, it was simply unacceptable that women only had two options: wear ill-fitting bras for the rest of their lives or have plastic surgery. “When I couldn’t find what I needed, I thought, ‘I guess I’ll just make it.’ I knew there needed to be another option—because when we have more options, we can make the absolute best decision for ourselves.”
With nothing more than an idea and a passion for empowering women, Mehagan started the journey toward Livi Lou Laine, a company offering bras that can be easily personalized to fit every individual need. “Even for women who haven’t experienced significant tissue loss but simply aren’t 100% happy with their breast size or shape, we believe there should be an option for them to feel confident in their clothing.” Livi Lou Laine bras have an easily-accessible internal pocket that holds gel inserts securely in place, allowing the gel inserts to be easily placed and removed. Women can customize their look based on the amount of tissue loss they’ve personally experienced or the asymmetrical size difference they are looking to balance by placing an insert on only one side.
Her goal was simply to help make women feel confident in their own skin—and that comes through in everything she does. “I want our message to promote that you can look however you want to look and feel empowered to make the best decision you can for yourself, whatever that is,” she shares.
As aspiring entrepreneurs peek into Mehagan’s journey and see her rapid success, they may envy how easily she developed her initial product idea. But she admits there’s a lot more to the entrepreneurial journey than that. “I was incredibly naive when I first started out,” she laughs. “I really thought the hardest part of starting a company was coming up with the idea. I thought that was why more people don’t become entrepreneurs. It turns out that was the easy part.” Despite Livi Lou Laine being a young, growing brand, Mehagan already looks back at the highs and lows of starting a business with clarity to share some hard-learned bits of wisdom.
“Starting out, everything takes longer than you think it will, so you have to have patience,” she says. However, she also notes that the ability to juggle multiple projects and problems is vital once things start rolling. Pulling from her decades of experience in a PR agency’s fast-paced environment, she was able to pivot and decide what to prioritize, even when everything felt like it was on fire. “The knowledge and ability to determine which fire to put our first—what will make the most impact—and then focusing on that before getting too in the weeds with other tasks has been so helpful in my entrepreneurial journey.”
When Mehagan encountered the inevitable problems that arise when launching a new product, she turned to mentors, entrepreneurs, and leaders around her for guidance. This was especially important in the launch of Livi Lou Laine because, as Mehagan uncovered, the product requires very specific industry knowledge. “Apparently, for a manufacturer to develop a prototype for a pair of blue jeans, there are about 8 components to consider. While an underwire bra requires about 34-36 specs.” After hitting walls with countless companies and manufacturers, Mehagan finally connected with a partner who had spent her career in intimates and then launched an agency to help small brand startups, specifically in intimates. This connection turned out to be the missing piece she needed to get traction. “She had the industry knowledge we needed to develop and maintain a manufacturer relationship and create a prototype,” Mehagan says.
Mehagan found herself entrenched in beta testing and preparing to launch her product in early 2021, all while homeschooling two children due to Covid. Though an unexpected and difficult time to navigate, Mehagan used the momentum of her highs to carry her through the difficult times when fear tried to hold her back. “You’ll have moments when you know you can do it!” Mehagan says with a smile, but then she vulnerably leans into her final piece of earnest advice. “You have to hold on to those confident moments tightly so you don’t waver when the fear and doubt come because they will. And when they do, acknowledge them and then kick them aside—because you know what you’re doing matters… Just prepare yourself because you will have moments of both. Frequently.”
Although she didn’t note her authentic, underlying passion as a key to her entrepreneurial success, it’s evident that the bigger picture drives her every move. She didn’t start with revenue or growth goals; rather, the goal was simply to help women feel confident in their own skin. “I have three daughters, so I’m very conscious of the messages we put out and what women hear from us. I want our message to encourage women to look however they want to look and feel empowered to make the best decision they can for themselves, whatever it is. A challenge I’m hypersensitive to in my industry is: I never want to tell women, ‘You’re not good enough, so buy this product to be better, be beautiful, or to look a certain way.’ There are already so many voices in that realm, I refuse to be another one pushing that narrative.”
Mehagan is firm on her brand message and what keeps her going through all the highs and lows:
“I know there’s a woman out there who feels the way I used to feel. That’s the woman I’m fighting for every day. That’s why I keep doing this.”
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