Knix founder Joanna Griffiths on the power of being a change making brand

The word “authentic” gets used—and abused—a lot in marketing these days. Truly authentic brands reflect the real lives and stories of real people.

This has been a core belief for Knix since day one. Joanna Griffiths started the company to sell leak-proof underwear for women, but built the brand by leading new conversations about topics not commonly discussed in media and marketing—“menstruation and stress incontinence, those kinds of things,” she says.

There is a disconnect between most marketing and media and women’s real life experiences, she says. It’s in the gap—the space between the message and the reality—that Knix connects with people, changing the conversation to reflect their reality and deliver a new message about inclusivity and body positivity.

That model took on new meaning this year. The launch of the Knix maternity line was directly shaped by Griffiths’ personal experience of becoming a mom.

During pregnancy and now her life postpartum, Griffiths observed a stream of marketing and messaging directed at expectant and new moms (“the internet very quickly picks up that you are pregnant,” she says).

She realized Knix needed to change that conversation, too. That led to the creation of a travelling exhibition called Life After Birth—featuring pictures of the intimate moments of the postpartum experience that many women face but often don’t talk about.

Griffiths spoke to The Message about her inspiration for Life After Birth and the underlying marketing strategy behind the Knix brand.

Inspiration for Life After Birth I

“While I was pregnant, I noticed there was a real lack of diversity within maternity marketing. I’m a 35-year-old, white, heterosexual woman. I’m a size extra large and I didn’t see myself represented in the images that I was seeing. And If I wasn’t seeing myself, that means there’s a huge group of people that also aren’t seeing themselves.

“We had a tremendous opportunity to be sort of change-makers within the field, and to start leading by example. Just like we’ve been doing within the intimate category as a whole—kind of being at the forefront of body positivity, and inclusivity.”

Inspiration for Life After Birth II

That was the start of the inspiration. Next was her experience right after having her baby. Just hours after giving birth, a family member asked how much weight she lost during the delivery.

“That’s wild. It’s not that person’s fault, it is how society has trained us. Literally the second the baby is born, it’s all about bouncing back.

“But what we fail to recognize that there is no bouncing back, because you are forever changed. And if we start changing the dialogue around postpartum and recognize that it’s not two days, not two weeks, it’s not the fourth trimester… it’s actually the start of a new identity and chapter, I think we’ll start changing the way that we talk to people about it and the amount of pressure we put on people to figure everything out immediately.”

On top of that, Griffiths struggled to feed her new child early on. The same day Knix was winning an award for marketing innovation from the Retail Council of Canada, she was meeting with a lactation consultant.

“I felt like a huge failure. And I felt really alone,” she says. She posted a photo and shared her feelings on Instagram, and almost immediately people were responding about their own experience. “I was like, ‘Wow this is the thing that affects most people, and people actually really want to talk about it.’”

A few days later, she visited the Knix office to share her vision for how they would launch the new maternity line. She wanted inclusivity and diversity, all kinds of different bodies and people. And she wanted an art exhibit.

“And It’s going to feature the stories of as many postpartum women as we can possibly find,” she told her team. “And we’re going to start showing these kinds of images. And we’re going to start creating a narrative.

“Life after Birth project is really this experiment [about] what happens when a founder, five-days postpartum, is planning the launch of a maternity and postpartum collection.”

On the importance of purpose

While contemporary marketing has become fixated on brand purpose, Knix has always had a fundamental reason for being—a mission to empower women to be unapologetically free. That purpose isn’t just about building the brand with consumers, but her personal motivation.

“Building a company is really hard, and you’re gonna hit like a million setbacks. And when it’s not about a larger purpose, I don’t even know how people get through it. I don’t know what the driving force is to show up every day when things aren’t going well, or to fight for what it is that you’re believing in, the impact you’re trying to have.”

How purpose drives sales

And how has this marketing philosophy help Knix move product? “The way we have approached building Knix is that we’ve always been great listeners. And we’ve been storytellers.

“The stories that we tell are the stories of as many women as we possibly can,” she said. Knix has featured more than 1,000 women for its campaigns to date. (Griffiths appeared in her first shoot for the Knix maternity line. That’s her back row, third from left in the top photo.)

“And when you do that, and when you’re really creating a company that serves a very important reason in consumers’ lives, is that they then become a part of the organization and they become empowered. And they become like the most incredible spokespeople and ambassadors that you can ever dream of.

“Because they’re more than just passive consumers. They’re actually, in their own way, helping to actively shape the work that is being done.

“They become your wear testers, your product innovation labs, your influencers, your storytellers, your ambassadors… and then they feel part of it. I think for us, that started because we got our roots in crowd-funding. So we’ve always taken this collaborative approach and always shared the success of the company, and made people be a part of it… It’s a really powerful thing.”

David Brown