Scarsdale Grad Overcomes Obstacles to Launch a Product for Her Generation

panicpantiesHow do you turn an idea into a successful business? That’s just what SHS '08 grad Alexandra Tartell Bernstein did, overcoming enormous obstacles including the Covid pandemic, economic uncertainty and a downturn in retail sales. Armed with a great concept, Bernstein and her partners designed the product, packaging and logo, secured a manufacturer and sold their product to several distributors, both online and in-store. Their story is a triumph of the entrepreneurial spirit, without fanfare or financing from Shark Tank.

Find out how they did it here:

Tell us about yourself — what is your business background and what were you doing before you embarked on this start-up?

I went to Syracuse University for undergrad where I majored in accounting. After graduation, I got a Masters in accounting at Hunter College while studying for my CPA exam. I was working as an Assistant Controller at a hedge fund in NYC for almost six years and also working on Panic Panties. Last summer I made the decision to leave my job and go all in on Panic Panties.

Where did you get the idea for the product?

My two best friends and I were all living in Manhattan at the time as young professionals, living busy lives and little time to do our laundry. One night we were out to dinner venting to each other about our days and we each desperately needed a pair of panties but nowhere convenient to get them. I had forgotten to pack underwear to change into after a workout class at 8 am before work, Katherine Anne ran out of clean underwear and was spontaneously going on a trip the next day and Maria got her period at work. We thought, how is it that CVS and Duane Reade are on every corner of NYC, open 24 hours a day, sell 100 options of pantyhose but no underwear you actually WANT to wear. We saw an opportunity gap and Panic Panties were born.

Please describe Panic Panties for our readers.

Panic Panties are individually wrapped, everyday panties for life on the go. Consider these your panties in a pinch whenever, wherever you need them. Just like lipstick or a tampon, keep Panic Panties in your purse, throw them in your gym bag, stash them in your luggage, and never be without a pair.

How did you go about designing the panties and the packaging? Tell us about the development of the name and the logo.

We went with the name Panic Panties because whenever we'd run out of clean underwear we'd run to forever21 and stock up on these $2 thongs they used to sell - we called them our panic panties. We worked with a designer who we knew from college and she helped us develop the logo and design the packaging. We incorporated a triangle on our packaging and logo because it's a symbol of femininity — the triangles and circle on the front of our packaging represent a woman. We also wanted the packaging to be discreet and small enough to stash in your purse, yet sleek and bright enough to catch customers attention. And our packaging is also functional - tear open the packaging, take out the new pair, discreetly reseal your old pair, and get on with your day! When it came to developing a panty, we wanted to create a department store quality thong because those were non-existent at your neighborhood CVS. Quality and fit were super important to us so we kept fitting our panties on women of all shapes and sizes and adjusting the specs until it was perfect. We wanted this to be a panty that was not just seen as an emergency pair of panties but also your new favorite thong. We started with the thong but recently launched our new butter-smooth No-Show Bikini!

Did you do any market research or focus groups to gather input and refine the product?

Yes, we did research on the most popular styles and colors and surveyed a group of women to gain insights on their preferred underwear styles, purchasing habits and the most important qualities they look for (comfort, stretch, softness etc.)

Are there close competitors in the market?

There is a product called Panty Fresh that is trying to solve a similar problem but our branding, messaging and voice completely sets us apart. We have not overlapped any retailers with them yet.

Where are they manufactured? Has this been difficult during COVID?

We got pretty lucky because our first large batch of inventory, manufactured in China, was delivered to us a month or two before the pandemic hit so we were actually not impacted. Afterwards, we started working factories in the Dominican Republic and Cambodia.

Did you finance this yourself or work with investors?

We are entirely self-funded at the moment.

What are your ideal distribution channels?

Airports, large drugstore and convenience store chains, gyms and boutique fitness studios, hotels, gift shops, boutiques, college bookstores, retail stores.

What's been most encouraging about the launch?

We launched just before Covid and landed our biggest distribution during that time with goPuff, a convenience store delivery app. They deliver anything from your basic necessities, to cleaning products and any snack imaginable in just 30-40 minutes. It's awesome! Our product was created to support women on the go and it was pretty daunting to launch just as we were entering a period where no one was on the go and no one was certain of when they would be again. Despite that, it was extremely encouraging that Panic Panties were selling on goPuff, so well, they ended up rolling us out nationwide to all locations and we spearheaded the launch of their apparel category.

What were the biggest challenges?

The biggest challenge for us was finding a consistent and reliable manufacturer. It's not easy to find factories and every time you switch you essentially have to start the process over again before you can go into production. We spent a year putting in the most effort and energy we possibly could with a factory to achieve the quality we were expecting. We are on our third factory at this point but so far so good!

What is your goal? How many pairs do you hope to sell this year? Do you aspire to operate the business or sell it to another company?

Would like to land two more deals this year and sell 20,000 or more panties. I would love to run the company with my co-founders but we are open to companies interested in buying down the road!

How can our readers buy them now?

You can find us on our website, goPuff app, online at Urban Outfitters, The Bowery Bay Shops-LGA Airport (mid-October), and Amazon to purchase in bundles for bachelorette parties etc.

And last — did any of your experiences in Scarsdale inspire you to be an entrepreneur?

Yes! My first experience as an entrepreneur was actually in Scarsdale in 7th grade. My mom took bandannabagme to Infinity in the Golden Horseshoe and the owner asked me where I got the purse I was wearing. See a picture of something similar at right. (I added rhinestones to the pockets and didn't have the bandana as the belt.) The owner asked if I would be willing to make and sell her some so I did! My next business venture wasn't until after college where I started a cardio kickboxing class called Tribox with my current partner Maria and one of our instructors we met through our gym. It was a great learning experience and reignited my entrepreneurial spirit. After that ended because our instructor moved away, my partner/best friend knew we would create something together one day, but at the time we just didn't know what it would be.

What did you like about growing up here?

I have great friends I made for life growing up in Scarsdale and it will always feel like home to me. The opportunities for education and leadership (I was the captain of the Varsity Soccer team) were invaluable and shaped who I am today and taught me that sometimes you have to persevere through failure to reach your potential.

Get your panic panties here: