We count ourselves lucky for knowing Marnie Consky.
Brimming with as much experience as she is with curiosity, spending time with Marnie is to know you’re in the presence of a lightning rod – one who will light you up as much with her glow, as she will with her self.
Empowering and inspiring confidence in women is what Marnie’s all about. In fact, it’s exactly why she founded her company, Thigh Society in 2009. To give women the world over something she wanted for herself – the perfect anti-chafing underwear. When she couldn’t find it, she went out and made it herself. Now that’s a lightning rod!
We had a chance to catch up with Marnie over sushi recently, and dished about all things entrepreneurship, body positivity, and what it really means to find the perfect undies.
Let’s just dive right in. Give us a little background, Marnie. Where did you grow up and what was it like?
I was born and raised in Montreal and lived there until my late twenties when I moved to Toronto. A lot of my friends left the city either right before University or right after, but I decided to stay after graduating from McGill and am so happy that I did, since I really got to experience another side of the city as an adult, beyond the ‘burbs of my upbringing. My immediate family still lives there as do some friends, so I visit a few times a year.
Even though I’ve been in Toronto for 14 years (and love it!), Montreal will always be a part of who I am – and it feels like I get some street cred for it in “the 6” 😉
What was your inspiration for creating Thigh Society?
My inspiration actually began as a personal need. OK, true story:
Picture it, Bay & Wellesley, June 2008. It was the first really hot day of the season, and I was on lunch, strolling down the street in a sundress. Within about 5 minutes, the inside of my thighs started burning. I ran to the nearest pharmacy and bought a travel size of baby powder and waddled my way back to the office.
The powder was messy and got all over my dress and I was cursing the entire time. I knew there had to be a better way, and I couldn’t stomach wearing the ratty old pair of black cotton bike shorts in my underwear drawer again like I had in previous summers.
I spent the rest of the summer trying all of the creams, lotions, and powders I could find (nothing worked), and visiting local lingerie boutiques, department stores, and online stores looking for long leg underwear that were breathable, moisture-wicking and not super tight like shapewear (they didn’t exist).
I asked almost every dress-wearing woman I came into contact with that summer if her thighs ever chafed (many said yes!) and if she had a tried-and-true solution (no one did). I posted in online forums looking for help. Other than some plus-size options, cutting leggings or pantyhose, or wearing men’s boxer briefs, there were no good alternatives.
I didn’t understand why any of the big underwear companies hadn’t recognized the need for an anti-chafing, non-shapewear short. Why was it assumed that women should just be “ok” with squeezing into gut-wrenchingly tight underwear to get some fabric coverage over their thighs?! I have nothing against shapewear, but I don’t need it under a loose and flowy maxi dress, know what I mean?!
I was frustrated about the embarrassment that seemed to exist around the perfectly normal issue of thigh chafing. Skin on skin friction plus moisture plus heat is a recipe for disaster – no matter what your size. And, I wanted to change the perception that thigh chafing was exclusively a plus-size issue. IT IS NOT. Ten years in, I still need to explain that a size 0 woman might get thigh chafing and a size 18 woman might not.
Ultimately, my inspiration was that I needed an undergarment that didn’t exist and knew other women needed it, too and I wanted to make women feel comfortable talking about and dealing with an uncomfortable, albeit normal, skin condition.
And yet, you were in a totally different career while you were creating Thigh Society. What was it like to build something new while working full time?
That’s true, I was! And, it’s been an interesting journey.
At the end of that fateful summer of 2008, I quit my full-time job and spent the next 6 months continuing the research I had started. I had been thinking about finding a new challenge and this idea of mine presented one.
That said, I knew nothing about retail, intimates, garment manufacturing or Ecommerce, so I really had my work cut out for me! Between networking, joining entrepreneur organizations and meetups, asking A LOT of questions, I found a local factory that helped me prototype my dream garment. I gave samples to friends and family, got some great feedback, and worked with a designer and web developer to start building the brand and site.
Those 6 months were critical, and I think it would have been harder to do while working full-time. But once production was underway, day-to-day administration like emails, picking, packing, and shipping could be done virtually or on my lunch breaks and weekends.
When I realized that making any money from Thigh Society would take time, if it happened at all (the whole thing was a gamble), I took another full-time job that I loved but that was also super demanding.
For the first 6 years of the business, I treated Thigh Society more like a hobby. The responsibilities of being a full-time entrepreneur terrified me. I wasn’t sure I wanted that! But a few years ago, I met a mentor who encouraged me to overcome my fears and see the potential of the company, given its growth. We talked about it at length for 7 months before I actually felt ready to quit. It was only in August 2016 that I decided to take the leap once again and focus on Thigh Society full-time.
I’m inherently risk averse, but I didn’t want to wonder “what if” later on in life if I didn’t at least give it a go. Turning 40 will do that to a person!
Body Positivity isn’t a token for your company, it’s part of its DNA – what kinds of messages do you want to get out there to women or people in general?
I’m super proud that Thigh Society has been promoting body positivity and has been size-inclusive since Day 1, way back in July 2009. We’ve always featured women of different sizes and shapes to show the beauty in diversity and also to support our message that thigh chafing is not a plus-sized issue.
We curate body positive news, stories, articles and images from around the world and share it on our social channels so that Thigh Society can be known as a destination for uplifting and empowering content.
Mainstream media has traditionally promoted a very narrow definition of what is considered beautiful, to the exclusion of many bodies. Over time, this kind of conditioning can seep into your psyche and affect feelings of self-confidence and self-worth if you don’t measure up to society’s definition of beauty.
That’s why I believe in being conscious of the media I consume and encourage other women to do the same. Try to curate your social feed so that you don’t only see one body type featured again and again as the “ideal”. The more you can expose yourself to confident women rocking the bodies they have, along with empowering messages of self-love and compassion – the more you start to see the beauty in others, and in yourself. Trust me, it’s contagious.
Women often choose shapewear to solve the issue of chafing, but Thigh Society is different. What’s the difference between Thigh Society and body shaping?
Most shapewear companies imply that body confidence comes from looking good on the outside, achieved by squeezing into uncomfortable undergarments. At Thigh Society, we believe body confidence comes from feeling comfortable from the inside out.
Shapewear undergarments are notorious for being super tight, warm, and uncomfortable to wear for long periods of time. It can also be a struggle to put them on and take them off (nightmarish in the bathroom).
Thigh Society slip shorts are nothing like that. They’re super stretchy, made of a lightweight and breathable fabric, and wick moisture to keep you dry. They’re meant to be worn all day and night in total comfort. Because they aren’t see-through, and since they’re so breathable, some of our customers wear Thigh Society to yoga and even to sleep in as pajama bottoms – when was the last time anyone’s shapewear did triple duty like that?!
What about the “sexy factor” – how does that play in?
I’ll be the first to say that Thigh Society slipshorts are not sexy in the traditional sense of what we think of in terms of sexy intimates / undergarments / lingerie. They are a functional basic. That said, our slip shorts allow women to feel confident knowing that their thighs are protected from irritation and rash, and there’s built-in modesty coverage in the case of a gust of wind or sheer skirt.
Confidence is sexy, so there you have it!
Who’s out there in the world that you like who are helping the message, and who would you like to see shut up and why?
There are so many awesome body positive influencers spreading the message – I could go on and on but here are a few:
I’m loving Jamila Jameel right now – she’s so well spoken and eloquent, and calls things out as she sees them whether it’s in regards to body positivity, feminism or toxic masculinity. Also Megan Jane Crabbe (@bodiposipanda), Lindy West, Michelle Elman, Celeste Barber, Tess Holliday, Ashley Graham.
I don’t think I’d want to call anyone out for doing it wrong, per se, but I do think some companies are jumping on the body positive bandwagon because it’s “trendy” (I hope it’s here to stay!) and not really being as inclusive as they can be.
What’s “a day in the life” of Marnie like?
I work from home, which is awesome, most of the time. I spend my days on Zoom or in conference calls with my remote team, messaging with them in Slack, or working on strategy and planning for the coming month.
I’m an extrovert, so I miss the company of others. I make it a priority to get out of the house during the day, even if it’s for a short walk to the fruit store or to the post office to send a birthday card! I also workout 2-3 times per week which helps keep me sane.
Some of my neighbors also work from home, and when the weather is a little warmer we’ll convene outside for a few minutes in the afternoon for a quick chit-chat or gather on someone’s patio for a glass of wine in the evening. I can’t wait for the warmer weather!
Left to my own devices, I’d probably work more, but I also prioritize spending time with my husband. In the winter, we tend to be more in hibernation mode so we’ll watch a lot of movies and Netflix, but also go for a mid-week drink at a local bar. Weekends aren’t off-limits for work since I like to stay on top of things, but I do try to take most of Sunday off to get some distance and a fresh perspective on things ahead of the start of the week.
What’s one question people don’t ask about you or Thigh Society, but should?
That’s a really tough one!
I don’t get asked enough about why I care so much about this product.
And it genuinely comes down to my passion for helping women feel good about their bodies and ridding themselves of body shame. Helping them realize that their bodies aren’t any less beautiful if their thighs chafe and that their worth isn’t determined by their waistline.
I know it sounds cliche but it’s true: Thigh Society is changing lives beyond lessening physical discomfort and providing security. We see ourselves as being part of a larger movement – when women are body confident, our energy is freed up to focus on more important tasks. Imagine how much more women could accomplish in boardrooms, communities, schools, etc. if all of the negative self-talk was gone and body confidence soared?!
If you could give your earlier “bootstrapping” self advice, what would you tell yourself?
I’d say: “Guuurl, keep doing what you’re doing, you’re onto something and you’ve got this!”
I’m not big into regrets. I believe that timing is everything. But, part of me wishes I would have quit my day job a few years earlier.
I was paralyzed with indecision about becoming a full-time entrepreneur, and the only way to stop the analysis paralysis was to just do it.
What advice would you give to those who want to go out on their own and develop a passion project?
First, let’s make the distinction between a passion project and a hobby. Sometimes a hobby and a passion project intersect, but not always. A hobby can be doing something that you really love but not necessarily wanting or caring if you make money out of it. However, if your goal is to monetize your idea and make a living from it, then you need to be sure that there are potential buyers for your product or service, that you’re solving a real problem for a larger number of people.
Research the heck out of your industry: become an expert in learning about all of your competitors and identify what makes your product or service offering better. And if you have no competitors, more power to you! Try to make the value proposition as clear and easy to understand as possible.
Talk to people: I know that aspiring entrepreneurs are often afraid of sharing their business idea with others for fear of being copied, but I think it’s important to get feedback early on so that you can design your product/service/website/branding to appeal to your target audience as much as possible. The reality is that starting a business takes A LOT of work and not many people are willing to invest the time to do it. So if it makes you really nervous, you could ask people to sign a non-disclosure agreement but that might be overboard for friends and family.
Get ready to work hard and don’t quit your day job: job security and a steady paycheque can give you more cash (and less stress) to get your business off the ground.
If you could narrow down to the three most important things you’ve done for yourself to grow as an entrepreneur what would they be?
First, realize that there are no stupid questions. Starting Thigh Society has been the scariest thing I’ve ever done because it pushed me so far out of my comfort zone almost daily. At the beginning, I was so afraid of asking “stupid” questions because I thought I’d be taken advantage of. But I’ve realised that asking questions is what gets me the right information to make important decisions. Categorizing my questions as “stupid” was just my own mental game – questions are a normal part of learning.
Second, give real-time feedback. I’m fortunate that I worked for a large consulting firm early in my career where positive and improvement-based feedback was a given. I learned early on to be open to receiving feedback, not to take it personally, and how to give it professionally.
I work with a virtual team and make it a point to communicate regularly about what’s going well and what I think we can be doing better. I also encourage the team to give me feedback, too. Everyone wants to do their best, be acknowledged for their contributions, and continuously learn and improve! We’re all working towards the same goals so why not?!
Finally, be proud of your wins, no matter how small. I think that women in general – more than men – are taught to be humble about our accomplishments to the point where we downplay a lot. We never want to be seen as bragging or arrogant. But entrepreneurship is hard work and it’s important to acknowledge and share even the smallest of wins.
Finish this sentence – people who know me best would describe me as …?
A chocoholic. I need to have a piece every. single. day and am always on the hunt for new chocolate bars, cookies, ice cream…I’m drooling just thinking about it.
And a sucker for a good manicure. I tried to detox last year but failed miserably. I just love it when my nails are polished – it makes me feel put together even in sweatpants.
Podcast vs Book? And what’s your fave right now?
It depends. I just got back from vacation in Mexico and decided that I wanted to minimize screen time there so I ploughed through a few beach reads, China Rich Girlfriend, Mister Nice Guy, and Fates and Furies. I noticed that I don’t read as much as I’d like to anymore. I’m so tired at the end of the day that I end up zoning out on Netflix instead!
I do have a favourite podcast though – Founders 15 by Kevin Lavelle, founder of the men’s apparel company Mizzen & Main. He interviews the CEO’s of startups like Third Love, Sweaty Betty, Tommy John (and other non-apparel companies, too) who are in hypergrowth now.
He asks the same 15 questions to each of his guests and it’s fascinating to hear their different responses. I also like How I Built This with Guy Raz.
What would people be surprised to find out about you?
Oh gosh. I hate flying. I still DO fly, and it doesn’t prevent me from going places but I’m super anxious about it, even in the days leading up to a flight. I’m usually ok once we’re in the air as long as there’s no turbulence…but it’s not something I enjoy.