The Interview: Rose Colcord, Founder of CouCou
CouCou is a sustainable lingerie brand that aims to give the women's daily underwear category an aesthetic and sustainable makeover.
Based on her own experience and those of her female friends, founder Rose Colcord wanted to move away from the idea of women having two separate drawers of underwear, one filled with sexy lingerie and another full of "grandmother-esque" panties for daily use. She decided to bridge the gap between the two categories by creating elevated daily lingerie that empowers customers to feel comfortable and confident.
Sustainability also played a key role in product development and Colcord decided to focus on two key materials: certified organic cotton and French lace, creating staple pieces of panties and vests. At the end of their life the underwear can be composted in a suitable environment, minimising its environmental impact.
With the ambition to become the Glossier of the lingerie space, CouCou is set to disrupt a market which has long been dominated by large retailers such as Marks and Spencer.
When did you launch CouCou?
We launched the end of August last year. Since then, it’s really just picked up so much quicker than I anticipated, which was amazing.
How did you come up with the concept?
It started when my ex-boyfriend at the time asked me why I didn’t have any nice underwear. That ticked something off in my brain and I just started asking my girlfriends. And whether she was my best friend who only thrifted her clothes, or my friend who still shops at Primark, or the one decked out in Hermès and Prada – they always said H&M or M&S underwear. And it made me think, why is there this choice that women have to make and men don’t, between lingerie and daily underwear.
At the time I was doing a philosophy degree with a speciality in corporate social responsibility. And it was about how can we use philosophy and ethics to really create impact through business, and a separate focus on feminist and intersectionality. And this dichotomy between lingerie and daily underwear just represented so clearly to me this idea that as women we are made to choose between feeling comfortable and feeling beautiful, and that they're mutually exclusive. That’s my thing with CouCou. I want to make underwear, and more than that a brand, that really celebrates our everyday, embodied experience as women.
Was it during your degree that you decided to create your own products?
In terms of like my studies, I had no intention of going in fashion and anything like that. I didn't even have a particular passion for underwear or lingerie. I didn't want to produce anything new in the world, I felt like we have enough. But I was also thinking, the only thing that can't be sold on Depop is underwear, because it has the shortest lifecycle of all of our garments.
No one's paid too much attention to our daily underwear, because no one sees it. Our daily underwear is really the only thing that we choose and wear for ourselves. And then I thought how can we make underwear more sustainable but not look sustainable.
I think it's so interesting that you have a philosophy background. Is that also where you kind of drew the connection between feminism and environmental sustainability?
To be honest, I, like every woman, have struggled with my relationship with my body and my relationship with my appearance and food and comparing myself to other women. And a brand that really played a part in that, not to call them out, was Victoria's Secret. It was really Calvin Klein and Victoria's Secret that defined what it meant to be a woman, to me personally, when I was younger.
So, then I was thinking what does the new generation of women want, what are our values? And how can I create a brand that doesn't make women aspire to be thing other than who they are. And that's what I tried to do with a lot of the marketing with CouCou and with the girls I choose to represent the brand and with all of our messaging. I want the brand to be as almost like a mirror to girls, to show them themselves rather than making them want to be someone else.
What I really picked up on is that you spoke about Victoria's Secrets and Calvin Klein, and those are two brands that have this quite male view of what a woman should look like. Meanwhile you design as a woman for women.
100% I mean you only have the name, Calvin Klein and Victoria's Secret, it’s such a gendered perspective. With CouCou the name, in French it is the most endearing way to say “hi” to a friend. And that's really what I want the brand to be, a friend to every girl.
And the other thing I picked up on is that sustainable underwear is not really something front of mind for consumers or companies alike. Why do you think that is?
I really think it's because we are in quite a performative society. And I think you only have to look at our generation, and Gen Z. We build our identities off of what we wear, the oat milk we drink. All the brands that we wear, we build our identity based on who we want to project ourselves to be. But with your underwear, especially our daily underwear, it doesn’t really say anything about you because it's not seen. That’s why I think it’s not really been seen as so important by people. But I think for us as women, it actually matters more what we choose to wear for ourselves and the values that we're going to choose to represent when no one's watching.
I want to turn a bit to the actual intimates items. They are made of GOTS certified organic cotton and French lace. And I was just wondering if you could tell me why you chose those two materials.
I couldn't possibly sleep at night if I knew that I was making a negative impact on the world's resources. So, the one thing you can't resell on Depop is your underwear, so it was quite evident to me that it had to be compostable. At the same time, I was also looking at plain organic cotton and it all ended up just looking really sustainable. There are other amazing sustainable underwear brands out there, but they’re very far and few. With CouCou I wanted to make it cuter. So I started playing around with lace and I went through every trimming of lace I could find, until I found my favourite one that didn't feel super old. I felt like lace really brought the beauty.
That's also something I thought was really interesting. This idea that it's compostable. Have you actually tried composting the intimates yourself?
The lifecycle of them is eight months and I haven't had my CouCou’s for that long yet so I’m waiting until I do. But from our suppliers side they are 100% approved to be compostable. So, I have a compost bin, but I know that a lot of people don't. So, I want to focus on making it clearer that in a worst-case scenario if you don't have a compost bin and you can't go to a compost centre, you can still put it in the general waste and technically it will be composted. But ideally, it goes in a compost bin.
How big is your team currently? Or is it just yourself for now.
It's been just myself right now, I’ve brought in someone to handle the day-to-day but it’s really just me. I want to grow slowly, authentically and I have really big dreams for CouCou. I want to be the go-to premium sustainable daily underwear for the new generation of women. And I want it to be the Glossier of daily underwear. That's always been my benchmark. And what I mean by the Glossier of daily underwear is having a really limited collection of products that becomes staples, and having that kind of really friendly vibe and that being really like a direct-to-consumer brand.
What big benchmarks are coming up this year for CouCou?
There’s going to be a new addition to the Core Collection and some exciting Limited-Edition Collections.