Heidi Zak turns on her video chat and immediately pulls up her phone to check her teeth.
“I just ate an Oreo,” she says with a smile.
Such is the life of an entrepreneur and mother in 2020: sneaking treats between meetings, because all meetings are at home. And so are the kids, and so are the kids’ snacks.
It’s a laid back, take-it-as-it-comes attitude that seems to be rooted deep within Zak, who exudes a quiet confidence even through the screen. The cofounder and CEO of San Francisco-based inclusive lingerie brand Thirdlove has taken this approach throughout the current pandemic, focusing her energy on moving forward and on finding the silver lining instead of dwelling on what once was. “Life isn’t perfect and business isn’t perfect,” she acknowledges, “but it could be worse.”
Like many others stuck at home, she’s taken to upgrading her living space—both for adults and for kids. She and her husband added a fire pit for outdoor s’more-making and pandemic-safe entertaining; a pizza oven for more exciting at-home meals; and an indoor gym for keeping her grounded (yes, she has a Peloton). “There’s a mixture,” she says, “of adult coolness plus kid coolness going on at my house.” They even put in a slide that goes from their upstairs deck down to the backyard—something that has proven fun for, well, everyone.
“The slide is the fastest way down to the backyard,” Zak says, smiling again. “I don’t take the stairs. I only take the slide.”
Function, comfort, and a touch of playfulness—it’s similar to the pillars that make up Thirdlove, which Zak founded with Ra’el Cohen in 2012 with a mission to change the way women think about and shop for intimates. It’s about providing comfort, style, and empowerment in a way that feels genuine, celebrating the female form without over-sexualizing it.
“When we started the company, our chief creative officer and founder Ra’el and I were looking at brands and were like, ‘Why is it that all the models are staring sexily into the camera on these sites?’” Zak says. “It’s very disconcerting when you’re trying to figure out how the product’s going to look for you, but that’s how they had always shot lingerie models. Women pillow fighting—all that stuff that’s completely so silly—was completely the norm in 2012. When are you getting ready with a ton of women, pillow fighting?”
Thirdlove’s approach was (and remains) much more holistic: photograph a diverse range of women—in age, race, and size—to showcase that their product looks good on every body. “I think people want to see themselves reflected in the brands and services and products that they buy,” says Zak. “That’s hugely important today.” With inclusivity at the forefront, Thirdlove also set out to reeducate women on bra sizing. Reports have estimated that up to eight out of 10 women are wearing the wrong size; Thirdlove combats this with its online quiz, which asks a few simple questions about breast shape, current fit, and general comfort (and, Zak says, has been taken by close to 18 million women so far). It then feeds users with a recommended fit, which includes somewhat revolutionary half sizes. All in the name of comfort and ease.
“In my mind, and we use this tagline a lot, the best bra is the one you never think about,” says Zak. “That is the truth of the Thirdlove bra. If you’re wearing a bra that fits you really well and is the right bra for you, for your outfit, for your mood, you actually never even think about it.” Her favourites include Thirdlove’s 24/7 Classic T-Shirt Bra and its 24/7 Lace Contour Plunge Bra (the first lace bra she’s ever really loved). She’s also loving the brand’s new cashmere sweatsuit—a great gift idea if you don’t know your lady’s bra size.
In the eight years since launching Thirdlove, Zak has learned a lot about herself, about business, and about community. She stresses the importance of listening to her customers (they hold frequent focus groups) and of taking care of her staff (though they’re not together in the office right now, they participate in wellness days during which the whole team is given the same day off to relax, free from incoming email). And, of course, there’s that whole roll-with-the-punches thing.
“The journey is never straight up and to the right,” she says. “It’s full of ups and downs, some bigger and smaller than others, but it’s always an evolution and a journey, and you are learning along the way. But it’s certainly not always easy, and that’s part of what makes entrepreneurship so amazing and so challenging at the same time.” It’s the delicate balancing act—and when struck, it means you can have your Oreo and eat it, too.