No products in the cart.
In September 2019, Lydia Okello, a content creator who works mostly with slow fashion brands, received an email from a small underwear company that was offering to ship a package of its products without posting any pressure about it. Mx. Okello agreed, and within two weeks a recyclable package containing a plush purple bralette and a matching pair of dizzying high-waisted panties arrived on her doorstep in Vancouver, British Columbia.
“I was surprised that underwear can be so comfortable straight away,” said Mx. Okello, who was so enthusiastic about the underwear that she has since bought eight more pairs, paid entirely out of his own pocket.
The ARQ brand of McMinnville, Oregon sells only one type of underwear: a border parody of grandma’s panties that rise so steeply it only goes inches above your belly button. (The company also offers three types of bralettes, a tank top, and a bodysuit in various cheerful colors.)
At $ 28 a pair, the panties aren’t exactly budget-friendly. Yet despite the unfashionable silhouette and purple price tag, ARQ has managed to garner a cult following that pledges absolute loyalty to the overly intimate due to their impressive coverage, comfort, and counterintuitive sex appeal.
“I’ve never felt better in my underwear in my life,” says Miriam Salamah, Los Angeles workplace specialist. Ms. Salamah discovered the label two years ago after browsing the Instagram profile of an ex-boyfriend’s new girlfriend and admiring a mustard and red plaid set she posted – until she found out the price.
“You want $ 28 for a pair of underwear?” she said in a expletive language. “I can not afford that.”
It wasn’t until early 2021 that Ms. Salamah became financially comfortable enough to buy a pair and has since acquired two more. “It’s amazing to take a pair of 3XL underwear out of the box and breathe a sigh of relief when you know it will fit me,” she said.
Kate Resler, a digital content strategist based in Albany, NY, bought her first pair of ARQ panties at the start of the pandemic and has been a passionate collector ever since. “I buy another pair of pairs every pay period,” she said.
For Ms. Resler, the hyperbolic panties are more than worth the price. “They don’t tend to ride up or down, they don’t stretch during the day, and they cover my whole bum,” she said. “I still wear my high-waisted Hanes, but they’re a lot more restrictive.”
Like some Skivvies-based “Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants”, ARQ has achieved something really wonderful: a single underwear style that adapts to and flatters every body shape.
“Most of the handful of people I’ve worked with on production in LA told me they were ridiculous,” said Abigail Quist, founder of ARQ. “I thought to myself, ‘No, they look great and feel great, trust me.'”
Ms. Quist, a former ballet teacher, founded the company in 2016. She initially sold children’s clothing, but switched to adult underwear in 2018. The underwear’s eerie fit was not achieved through rigorous testing. Rather, Ms. Quist sewed a pair for herself and loved them so much that she decided to produce more.
She attributes the comfort and fit of ARQ to the bound seams, an unusual finish in underwear. Instead of elastic, the edges are made of fabric that is turned over and sewn through to form a hem.
Growth has been rapid since 2018. In 2020, ARQ had gross sales of $ 7.5 million, compared to $ 1 million in 2019, Ms. Quist said. Undoubtedly, the pandemic played a role, with people abandoning their normal clothing in favor of cozy tie-dye jogging suits and nicki dresses.
“This silhouette ties in with the current message of wearing things for You,“Said Cora Harrington, founder and editor of The Lingerie Addict. “I’d love to put ARQ under the umbrella of this anti-Victoria’s Secret, anti-erotic aesthetic that focuses on women being themselves.”
Notably, ARQ’s growth is being driven mostly by word of mouth, with a dash of strategic product seeding among slow fashion influencers. An online whisper network has been formed in which women consult about the properties of panties.
“I had friends who came up to me and said, ‘I noticed you have ARQ. Do you like her? Are they worth the money? ‘”Mx. said Okello.
Often these casual conversations lead to a purchase. And then another. “Our repeat rate is insane,” said Ms. Quist, who added that more than 48 percent of customers end up making a second purchase.
The princely price is based on the weight of the cotton-spandex fabric, which, according to Ms. Quist, is twice as thick as the average pair of Fruit of the Looms. The cotton is organic and the company works with a Los Angeles factory that pays workers $ 14.25 an hour. ARQ’s shipping and fulfillment warehouse wages start at $ 15 an hour, and the company covers healthcare for all employees.
Beyond its immediate successors, ARQ is designed to receive positive reviews from a less obvious demographic. “If I had someone to date and put on a pair of ARQs, even guys would compliment them,” said Mary Niamh McGettigan, a student in Halifax, Nova Scotia.
Ms. Quist insists that there is nothing enchanted about her underwear – “We can’t make magical garments that fit every body” – but the evidence suggests otherwise.
“All of my adult life I’ve been trying to find standby underwear that I know fits comfortably and easily,” said Mx Okello. “I had never found this until I found this one.”