By Hannah Connolly
e’ve all been there, a pair of tights bought in haste that don’t quite hit the waist properly, or sag because the length is too long. Awkwardly pulling up 10 deniers worth of hold-ups before ladders erupt or completely distracted by uncomfortable shapewear or bras. Enter Heist, the revolutionary foundationwear brand on a mission to change the way we experience our foundationwear.
With the launch of their latest campaign for their new Contour Bra, Heist alongside CEO Natasja Giezen-Smith are, together, tackling bras as part of their ongoing dedication to innovating and literally un-hooking the way we experience and wear underwear.
“I remember going into a board meeting to do a presentation and I was wearing a fairly cheap pair [of tights not by Heist]. I wanted to look good that day so I put on my best dress, and I am quite tall so I could feel them rolling, and I was in the middle of my presentation.” Shared Dutch-born and raised Giezen-Smith over Zoom. Recalling an experience prior to discovering Heist and illuminating an issue many of us face- our underwear, instead of working with us, can sometimes feel as though it is working against us.
“Wouldn’t it be great if everyone could have underwear that fits you like a glove?”, mused Natasja. A seriously appealing proposition, given that over 80% of women admit to wearing bras in the wrong size according to a survey published in the journal of Chiropractic & Osteopathy.
When the label launched back in 2015, it was with these problems in mind, that Heist erupted into the foundationwear market carving out space as instant market disruptors. With Giezen-Smith helming the company as CEO as of 2020 after initially joining as Chief Operating Officer.
“After university, I accidentally stumbled into management consulting, more because I couldn't get a job in publishing than wanting to be a management consultant,” she shared. Adding that after 5 years she discovered a passion for solving problems, an aspect of her working approach still integral today. “I was working in energy and that didn't really float my boat, so I was thinking what else can I do and how can I change careers”, prompted by a friend in 2005 to look into an MBA in London, where she has lived ever since.
"With every product that we make we solve real problems women have in the real world"
“The learning was landing a lot better than when I was an undergrad, I knew what I was learning and how to apply it,” adds Giezen-Smith. “After my MBA I just followed my nose. I had some run-ins with some people who owned a design firm and they needed some help.” Queue, a eureka moment, discovering a world less centric to spreadsheets and logistics but one where creativity collided with business know-how. “I went back to school in the evenings part-time, whilst I was working, at Central Saint Martins. I did the business side and did a lot of interesting projects, helping friends build their business plans for startups and scale-ups.”
Giezen-Smith, then received a call from a head hunter that would map out the next 5 and half years of her life, sharing: “I was called for a job at ASOS. There was this really funny moment where they called me with the offer and were like this is your salary and you get 40% discount off of the products… I was like ‘what is my pension plan?’ Turns out it was a good pension plan so I went for it.”
Here Giezen-Smith became a Commercial Director and spent time mediating the needs of the marketing team and product team all whilst scaling the business. “I had not worked in a big company for a long time and it's great because everything you do has a massive impact. My team would come to me with a plan that would add £10million and I would be like we don't get out of bed for £10million it has to be at least £50million. If you do a couple of billion in sales, £10million is not a lot, but in reality, £10million is a lot of money so I wanted to go back into something a little smaller.”
Enter Heist: “when I left ASOS I was thinking about what I wanted: A smaller company, tick. A business to consumer company, tick. A company where my particular skill set can make a big difference, tick. It ticked all the right boxes, the right product, the right team, the right time in my development.” Shared Natasja.
Her promotion to CEO coincided with the outbreak of the pandemic and unprecedented disruptions to industries across all sectors. When asked about her highs and lows, Giezen-Smith shared her proudest moments are that the company is still here, something she admits to never taking for granted. “When people don’t go out they don't need tights and foundationwear, so that was really hard and sales went down so we had to figure out how to make the company stay afloat,” she said.
“If you look at the trends, we are moving away from stuff being done in the same way just because it always has been”
‘Support’, the theme of Heist’s latest campaign happens to also be a thread running throughout the DNA of the company and one that helped steer it through the unprecedented impact of the pandemic.
On the origins of the new ‘Contour Bra’ and the subsequent campaign, Giezen-Smith shared: “It starts with a design intention, with every product that we make we solve real problems women have in the real world and the word that was bandied around a lot was support.”
This filtered organically into the marketing campaign that featured an empowering photo series captured by photographer Britt Lloyd of how women support one another day-to-day. Echoing the redesigned and reconsidered structure of the latest piece in the Heist product line and emblematic of the values at the heart of the company.
The cast of individuals bringing forth dynamic relationships that underpin their personal and professional lives and are inclusive of podcast co-hosts: Emma-Louise Boynton and Elspeth Merry; model-of-the-moment and music artist Chi Virgo and her mother Kess; and creative consultant Rae Elliman and her younger sister Mabli.
Though the innovation doesn't stop here, Heist’s enduring mission is to address, or re-dress foundationwear across the board. “If you look at the trends, we are moving away from stuff being done in the same way just because it always has been”, said Natasja.
After tackling tights and other foundationwear peices, Heist's gaze is firmly fixed on underwear, with Natasja announcing: “We have quite a lot exciting stuff coming in the pipeline, where we look at things and think how can we do it better?”, adding, “I am really excited, we have used some great materials that haven't really been used yet, new methods that haven't been used yet. That's the stuff of dreams, solving some real problems.”
Executive Short: Natasja Giezen-Smith's Top Tips To Making It To The C-Suite
“Firstly, know it is absolutely doable. It can feel daunting from the outside looking in but like most things, it doesn’t happen overnight, it builds up slowly. Next, find out what it is actually like, you can do that formally or informally. Wherever you are in an organisation try and figure out what your bosses problems are and ideally what your bosses, bosses problems are.”
“Reach out to people, you know a lot of executives are busy but you might get lucky. Don’t ask me to go out for a coffee that is too vague. If you have specific questions ask those, for example, ‘I am trying to make this leap from where I am now to the next role, what advice do you have and can I schedule a 15-minute call?’”
“My other piece of advice would be to get a good grounding on different aspects of the business, especially finance. No CEO can last very long or be successful without knowing the basics of finance. If you are not from a financial function, find out as much as you possibly can. Start reading relevant publications and books. I would recommend reading the weekly edition of the Financial Times. Don't start with the hardcore money bit, start with the people bit, reading about the things people are talking about.”
“I want to rid the world of crap underwear”, Natasja Giezen Smith, CEO of Heist, shares her journey to the top and the importance of support with The Stack World.
By Hannah Connolly
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