Vivian Lee

Founder of Kinflyte

Vivian Lee came up with the concept for Kinflyte’s line of posture corrector intimates and activewear based on her own challenges as a working mom in Silicon Valley. Raising kids, working in consumer tech, and commuting long hours took a toll on her back, neck and shoulders. The options on the market were limited to restrictive back braces, straps, intrusive wearable devices, and bland posture tops. She wanted to build posture correcting support in beautifully designed bras, intimates and activewear. Design inspiration came from couture fashion and a retro-futuristic aesthetic, which distinguished the look and feel of her functional line.

With her background in product marketing and consumer products, Vivian conducted extensive research, design, and development. She developed an innovative line of posture corrector bras and activewear, collaborating with a veteran designer formerly with The North Face and prototyping lab founded by an ex-Nike exec.

Vivian launched Kinflyte in the Spring of 2019 using crowdfunding platform Indiegogo, and Kinflyte quickly became a notable featured project and exceeded it’s fundraising goal by 3X.

Where did the idea for Kinflyte come from?

It was the perfect storm. I just had my second child and was commuting 2 to 3 hours daily, working in Silicon Valley. Between work and child care, I was dealing with daily stress on my back, shoulders and neck. My posture was certainly not great. I tried various products, and nothing quite worked for me. The posture tops and bras on the market were unattractive and not something I could wear to the office or outside the home.

I love great fashion and aesthetics, and that was clearly missing for me. After consulting with movement professionals and physical therapists, I knew I could improve the form and function of posture-correcting apparel.

I eventually connected with a talented designer who previously had been with The North Face and CamelBak. It was incredibly important to nail both the performance and aesthetics of multifunctional bras and tops. Women’s bodies are complex as we come in all different proportions, shapes and sizes, so designing bras and activewear for a wide range of body types is not easy. But I was committed to developing an entire line that would be size inclusive and adaptive to the needs of different women, regardless of activity level or age.

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

My typical day can vary greatly depending on where I am at with new and existing products. I invest daily in direct marketing, ecommerce activities, supply chain management, and customer service. I have regular calls and strategy planning sessions with our marketing agency and daily touch points with our fulfillment warehouse. Longer term activities are dedicated to design and development, sourcing of materials, and overseas manufacturing. I’m thankful for my tech background, as I’ve grown accustomed to leveraging advanced online tools and services that greatly improve the ecommerce shopping experience.

Right now, we’re all facing the uncertainties that lie ahead because of the Coronavirus pandemic. It’s affecting every aspect of our life and our priorities. As entrepreneurs, we need to adapt to the changing landscape and needs of our customers. Everyone is feeling the gravity of the situation. Now more than ever, we have to deliver and clearly communicate the value we bring to our customers. Authenticity means everything.

How do you bring ideas to life?

I’m a creative problem solver, and I look at challenges as if they are intricate puzzles to solve. I observe and research problems, and think of creative ways to solve a particular problem. Finally, I market test. Crowdfunding is a great way to gauge potential demand and interest. It’s also a great way to gather feedback from early adopters to address any potential flaws prior to commercial launch.

Traditional bras and intimates haven’t really evolved that much in the past 50 years when it comes to basic structure and design. The sports bra was invented in the ’70s, and many sports bras on the market are nearly indistinguishable, aside from the branded logo.

As someone who comes from outside the fashion industry, I thought of ways I could develop bras and intimates that could stand out from the sea of bras. Function was key, but aesthetics was just as important because we judge everything by appearances. So working collaboratively with a designer, I landed on a retro-futuristic concept inspired by a love of sci-fi cinema (e.g. Blade Runner, Fifth Element), my Korean heritage, and couture fashion.

I launched Kinflyte on Indiegogo primarily because I wanted to market test to gauge potential demand and address any areas before going into commercial launch. It was a very positive experience and I was able to make adjustments to the products in my first production run.

What’s one trend that excites you?

One trend that excites me is around sustainability. There is more innovation happening around sustainably-made textiles. With performance based knits, there are for example, recycled options for polyester and nylon based knits. We’re seeing the growing popularity of plant-based fabrics that are derived from wood pulp, bamboo grasses, and organic cotton. We can take what would be considered waste or byproducts and turn them into premium, high quality fabrics.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

As a startup entrepreneur, I naturally juggle many hats. I make daily task lists and re-prioritize every day, which helps my productivity level and organizational skills. While medium and long term goals are important, how you prioritize your day-to-day is vitally important for any early venture.

What advice would you give your younger self?

Don’t get trapped in self-doubt, and don’t be afraid to pursue something of your own. My younger self was more cautious and wanted the stable career supporting another founder’s vision. I realize that defining and supporting your own vision is often the most rewarding, despite its ups and downs.

Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.

Innovation in fashion can often from a complete outsider with zero fashion experience or connections.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

Research your industry (indirect and direct competition) thoroughly. You’ll learn a lot when it comes to what you might be missing, or where the gaps are in the industry. Insight and innovation often comes from outsiders.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?

Know what you’re good at, and know what you’re not good at. Then find the right partners, people, and agencies who can help you accelerate your growth and achieve your goals. Early on, I identified the areas where I needed the most help, and I planned accordingly. So, I was able to take a concept and take it all the way to realizing its potential.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

One failure I had early on was in my very first manufacturing production run in the development of Kinflyte. When you engage in overseas manufacturing (for the first-time), you most certainly will miss target deadlines and encounter challenges you had not anticipated. I experienced a near two month delay on my first production run because I assumed it would all be under control.

I quickly learned that I needed to be involved in every aspect of production, and always be in the mindset of trouble shooting. I underestimated the materials I needed, so I had to make last-minute decisions on sourcing additional materials and trims. There were challenges with early samples that required adjustments in the actual patterns themselves and how we handled mass production (even at the smaller batch levels). I learned through the manufacturing process that Kinflyte’s 3D constructed bras and tops are much more complex to produce than the average traditional bra or sports bra.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

If you design apparel be inclusive! Inclusivity can mean many things – whether we’re talking about size inclusivity or designing adaptive apparel to accommodate people with mobility and/or health concerns. Create your own niche or specialty that sets you apart from the competition, and demonstrates real value.

What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?

The best $100 I spent was in a Shopify subscription plan. Their plans start at $29/month. It’s a turnkey platform for website ecommerce, and easy to use. Ideal for non-developers.

What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?

Activecollab is a great platform for collaborative work. You can create multiple projects, discussion threads, and upload files and documents. It’s great for project management especially when working with remote teams.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

Shoe Dog is the memoir by Nike founder Phil Knight. It was one of the books I read when I founded Kinflyte. He’s candid about the ups and downs of his start in entrepreneurship and how he built the Nike brand. It’s motivational, insightful, and entertaining.

What is your favorite quote?

“Hold fast to dreams, for if dreams die, life is like a broken-winged bird that cannot fly.”

-Langston Hughes, poet

Key Learnings:

  • Identify real problems that you can solve creatively.
  • Do thorough research before launching a business. Crowdfunding is a great way to market test new products.
  • Be different. Don’t try to be like everyone else. Create a niche for yourself.
  • Sustainability is important. Think about how you can integrate sustainable practices to your business.
  • Adapt to changing landscapes. Consider that we are living in extremely challenging times due to the pandemic situation. How can you best adapt in volatile times?