Meet Christina, Erika, and Rebecca, three Glen Ridge-raised sisters and the owners of women’s active underwear brand, Au Natural. The products are not only fashionable but made from Merino wool, a material referred to as “nature’s performance fiber.” Christina has over a decade of luxury fashion experience, Erika has over six years of strategy and premium marketing experience, and Rebecca has more than five years of buying experience, most recently at Saks Fifth Avenue. After two years of strategic planning, research, and development, the sisters launched Au Natural in the spring of 2021. Read on to learn more about the three and their growing Essex County-based brand.
(Photo credit: @liveaunatural)
The Montclair Girl: What was it like growing up in Glen Ridge? What are some of your favorite memories?
Christina, Erika, and Rebecca: Glen Ridge was an ideal place to grow up. It’s a small town so we’d usually venture around Essex County or the city for social activities. We loved being only an easy train ride to Manhattan, and a short drive to Montclair, where we attended concerts at The Wellmont, ate all around Church Street, did boutique shopping in Upper Montclair, and spent many Saturdays playing sports at Brookfield Park. We absolutely love the area and appreciate it even more as adults.
MG: How do you remain involved in the Montclair/Essex community today?
C, E + R: We are involved in a women’s organization called Her Life Speaks, which hosts a lot of different events in the Montclair area. Before Covid, we organized an event for teen girls called the Beauty Project. We would open the event to girls in Essex County and invite them to come for a day of mentorship, friendship, and empowerment. The event used to take place at the old Bobbi Brown studio on Label Street so the girls would end the day with some pampering.
MG: Tell us about your business.
C, E, + R: Au Natural is a women’s active underwear brand that is made from nature’s performance fiber, Merino wool. We created the underwear because we needed a product that would hold up during a sweat sesh and keep us dry for our plans afterward. Merino wool is known for its next-to-skin softness, innate versatility, and technical benefits such as moisture-wicking, quick-drying, temperature regulating, and breathability. The material outperforms cotton, which is why it is the best choice for not only exercise but also everyday wear.
The three of us always prefer using natural and organic products and wanted our brand to represent this belief, hence the name Au Natural. Merino wool is 100% natural and renewable, unlike synthetic fibers that are currently being used in the activewear and underwear space. We also focus on sustainability as Merino wool is 100% biodegradable and all our packaging is plastic-free.
MG: How did you come up with the concept of underwear? What is your design process?
C, E, + R: A few years ago the three of us were discussing our underwear and were really disappointed with what options were available to us: overly sexy, poorly fitted, low quality, or uncomfortable. After identifying the gap between style and performance, we surveyed hundreds of female friends, family, and colleagues, and we learned that most women feel this way. It was then we decided to create the perfect underwear ourselves.
None of us had a design background so the process was a little unconventional. We ordered close to 200 different pairs of underwear to find what we truly loved in terms of style, fit, comfortability, and quality. We then worked with a factory to create our own version using Merino wool as the base fabric.
(Photo credit: Au Natural)
MG: What inspired you to get into this business?
C: Au Natural really started as a passion project to create something that did not exist in the marketplace. I remember always sorting through my top drawer looking for specific pairs of underwear to go with my outfit or agenda for the day. As women, we have so many choices to make, and spending even a few extra seconds deciding what underwear to wear felt ridiculous. We created Au Natural because we wanted underwear that was versatile for our lifestyles and something that we always felt good wearing.
E: We’ve always had the dream to work for ourselves. Among the three of us, we have very different strengths and skillsets, which make us an ideal team. And because we’re sisters, we can trust each other completely – whether it’s getting a quick, honest opinion or handling business dealings with partners and customers. It’s rare to have a working relationship built on complete trust and alignment in personal values.
R: I thought it would be so fun to do something with my sisters. The three of us are already so close, so it only made sense to do something together. We also all have different strengths, so it’s great to learn from one another.
MG: What are your most popular products?
C, E, + R: We recently launched underwear bundles which have quickly become the bestseller. Bundles are a pack of three thongs or three bikinis for a discounted price.
MG: Who or what is your biggest source of inspiration?
C: I have always been really inspired by Bobbi Brown. I met her in high school when she was doing a speaking event in Montclair and she asked me to be in her Beauty Rules book. She is an example of the OG natural beauty queen and I am so inspired by her entrepreneurial spirit and down-to-earth vibe.
E: Sara Blakely is probably one of the coolest women I’ve seen succeed in the industry. She started Spanx with $5k of her own savings and never took a dollar from investors. She created her own “American Dream,” and is such a positive and inspiring influence on myself and other female entrepreneurs.
R: I am a huge Bethenny Frankel fan. I remember watching clips of her selling Skinnygirl at grocery stores. She is the perfect example of a female entrepreneur who has worked incredibly hard and hustled to get to where she is today. I also admire that she gives back through her own charity.
MG: What are your goals for this year?
C, E, + R: We are focused on building the brand and working on partnerships with different retail stores and other like-minded brands. We are also developing new styles with a global brand and are very excited to share more details in the near future.
MG: What has been the highlight in your career/life so far?
C, E, + R: All three of us can agree launching Au Natural together has been a major highlight. We had to do two years of research and development to create the underwear and get to where we are today, but the journey has been beyond rewarding. Hitting this milestone in our 20s has been such a wonderful accomplishment.
MG: What advice would you give to women who want to start their own business?
C: Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Throughout the whole process of launching the brand to the present day, I have always reached out to different people to seek advice or ask questions. In most cases, people want to help, and you never know what one conversation could lead to.
E: It can feel very overwhelming to have an amazing dream, but no idea where to start. The three of us didn’t have any direct design/manufacturing experience, but we figured it out. It just took creating a short and long-term goal list and taking baby steps to check off action items. The accomplishments build, and with some patience, you’ll be able to bring your idea to life.
R: You will learn as you go. Obstacles will come up along the way, but you will figure it out. Keep pushing through and reach out to your network, family, and friends for support.
(Photo credit: Au Natural)
MG: What is your favorite restaurant in Montclair or Glen Ridge?
C: This is such a tough question but if I had to pick it would be Cafe Giotto on Church Street. My husband and I love it for date night and ordering the gnocchi bolognese.
E: Jackie’s Grillette in Upper Montclair. The sampler platter is a must – I love the balsamic mushrooms, fried eggplant, babaganoush, and shepherd’s salad combo. We go every time we’re back in town visiting our parents.
R: Uncle Momo, hands down. Momo’s breakfast is my go-to order.
MG: What is your favorite boutique in Montclair or Glen Ridge?
C: Dot Reeder. I met the owner Laura when I was in high school and have always loved the pieces she selects for the store. She recently started carrying one of my favorite brands, Ulla Johnson.
E: I love Parcel on Bloomfield Avenue. Nancy recently helped us create custom gold-foiled stationary as a gift for our Mom, which was beautiful. Visiting is like walking into the most whimsical craft store – your inner-child will thank you.
R: I recently discovered DollyMoo and fell in love with the beauty and home products. It has amazing gifts and everything smells incredible.
MG: What do you love most about Montclair or Glen Ridge?
C, E, + R: The area is home for us. We spent 20+ years living there and now we still have so many friends and family in the area. It’s been so cool to see the area transform over the years and always so exciting when a new business or restaurant opens up.
MG: What is your favorite thing to do in Essex County?
C: There are so many great restaurants and I love trying new places – I’m meeting a friend at Le Salbuen next week.
E: I love being active and spending time in Brookfield Park with a friend or walking our family dog. It’s a great place to get some movement in, or just hang out with a picnic basket and a good book.
R: I love spending my Saturdays in Upper Montclair getting a manicure at Utopia Nails & Spa, lunch at Jackie’s, and the best-iced cappuccino from Vesta chocolate.
MG: Tell us about another business in the area you admire.
C: There are so many great local artists and photographers. We recently had a photoshoot with Lisa Kollberg who was an absolute pleasure to work with. She really made us all feel comfortable and the photos came out beautiful.
E: I love CycleBar Montclair. Last summer we worked with the owner on an Au Natural pop-up and saw firsthand how much their customers loved them. Jason and Becky (the owners), really prioritize great customer service – they go above and beyond to ensure everyone has a great class experience, and are on a first-name basis with most of the cyclists. I really admire the welcoming environment they created.
Becky was the first person who gave us the opportunity to activate a pop-up, and it was such a real-life example of ‘women supporting women.’ Since our activation, she has kept in touch and continues to encourage us with our dream.
R: Parcel on Bloomfield Avenue is a hidden gem. It’s a general store with an emphasis on stationary and decorative packaging. I always pop in when I need to get a special card or gift. The owner always gives us her time when we come in and need help, which is always appreciated.
(Photo credit: Au Natural)
MG: What is your favorite outdoor place to spend time in Essex County?
C: The Montclair Farmers market at the train station is always a fun activity and I love picking up a pie or dessert there if I’m going to a friend’s house that weekend.
E: I enjoy painting, so getting some inspiration from the Iris Gardens in the spring and summer is so much fun.
R: I love doing a few loops around Brookdale Park with my dog. It’s the perfect ambiance for a nice walk or run.
MG: What is your favorite place to work out in Essex County?
C: Core Fitness – My friend had a private class for her birthday and I have been hooked ever since.
E: CycleBar Montclair. Such a clean and beautiful studio and the music is so much fun.
R: DFIT in Montclair has the best trainers (shoutout to Lloyd), playlists and the gym itself is top-notch.
MG: Where do you go out with friends in the area?
C: Halcyon is a great spot to meet friends for drinks. I also love Jackie’s for lunch.
E: Lately we’ve been loving Faubourg, a modern french spot on Bloomfield Avenue. Very festive.
R: Agree with Christina. Halcyon is the best for dirty martinis and the lounge upstairs is so fun.
MG: What is something you think needs to come to Montclair or Glen Ridge?
C: I would love to see a fun cocktail bar in the area.
E: An Au Natural storefront!