The web-only bra retailer donated $10 million worth of product last year. But it struggles to find charitable partnerships that can handle the scale of donations it wants to make.

Direct-to-consumer bra and underwear retailer ThirdLove has been supporting its local San Francisco community by donating bras, underwear and loungewear to homeless shelters and women in need since 2014.

“A huge need in homeless shelters is undergarments,” says Heidi Zak, co-founder and co-CEO of ThirdLove. But clothing donation organizations like the Salvation Army don’t accept bra and underwear donations for hygienic reasons. So, ThirdLove sought out other organizations that would accept its products.

ThirdLove, No. 507 in the Internet Retailer 2018 Top 1000, donates a “large percent” of its returned bras that are in good condition, as well as extra product it has at the end of a season and some new product. “There’s a good mix,” Zak says.

In 2018, ThirdLove donated more than $10 million worth of product—but declined to specify how much that amounts to in total number of items—to nonprofits, including its main partner, I Support the Girls. “That’s been a large-scale partnership for us,” Zak says. ThirdLove has supported 29 different donation partners over the last couple of years, including Living Beyond Breast Cancer, Dress for Success, Bra Recyclers and St Anthony’s in San Francisco.

With St. Anthony’s, ThirdLove employees volunteer there, fitting women for bras and giving out its products. ThirdLove also works with the American Red Cross and other organizations that broadly distribute supplies for victims of weather-related incidents, such as floods, hurricanes or tornadoes.

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“It’s not that we do one thing; we want to look at how we can make an impact in various ways,” Zak says.

ThirdLove doesn’t widely broadcast its charitable efforts. A note about its charitable giving is hidden at the bottom of its “Our Story” page on ThirdLove.com.

“We communicate it in our emails, but it’s not a banner we put on the website,” Zak says, adding the company is working on getting the message out that it gives back.“We want to bring more visibility to our partnerships—why we’re working with them and what we’re doing with them in a more prolific way.”

Direct impact

ThirdLove was directly impacted by disaster when the California’s Camp Fire struck Chico. Its largest office is in Chico, where about 120 of its nearly 200 employees work. Zak says 10 of ThirdLove’s employees were significantly impacted by the fires. “We raised $15,000 for our teammates and did a large-scale effort to donate 3,000 bras to the local community,” she says. “We were able to distribute a large amount of product over a short period of time.”

But donating products comes with its own unique challenges. Many of its partner nonprofits can’t take in the volume of bras that ThirdLove wants to donate, so it has to seek larger-scale partners.

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Another problem that crops up is its donated items being resold on marketplaces: “The more we donate, the more we see it,” Zak says, referring to seeing its like-new products ending up on sites like eBay Inc. “Considering the volume we’re donating, you’ll find your product in certain channels that we don’t want (it in). It’s the cost of doing business for this program,” she says.

ThirdLove, however, is exploring one major way to mitigate these issues. It is seeking international nonprofit partners and charities that can take the wealth of product it wants to donate. “As we’ve grown, that amount we donate has grown, so we need partners that can handle that,” Zak says. “It became a good problem to have last year.”

ThirdLove plans to donate the same amount as last year—if not more. But right now, Zak is focused on figuring out the long-term partners that can handle its donation volume.

Recent ThirdLove funding

In late February, ThirdLove raised $55 million in its latest funding round. The round was led by consumer brand-focused firm L. Catterton—owned partly by LVMH, No. 131 in the Internet Retailer Top 1000Groupe Arnault and investment bank Allen & Company. Other investors included Anne Wojcicki, co-founder and CEO of genetic testing company 23andMe, YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki and journalist Katie Couric, among others. Altogether, ThirdLove has raised $68.6 million since its founding in 2013, according to Crunchbase.

“This new funding round allows us to continue delivering on ThirdLove’s mission to create a bra for everybody,” Zak says. “We are more dedicated than ever to giving all women the level of choice they deserve.”

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ThirdLove.com offers 78 bra sizes—cup sizes ranging from AA to I, including half-cup sizes, and bands ranging from 30 inches to 48 inches—in five different styles. Shoppers can fill out a Fit Finder quiz to find their perfect bra size. More than 12 million shoppers have used the Fit Finder since its launch, the bra retailer says. With the new funding, ThirdLove plans to add more sizes, styles, products and fit technologies, Zak says.

Co-founder and co-CEO Heidi Zak is featured in the photo for this report.

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