How Oregon Underwear Company Arq Became an Instagram Success During Pandemic Lockdown

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It’s been a big year for underwear.

At the height of the coronavirus pandemic, more than 70% of American workers were doing their work from home, which meant, for many of them, a chance to dress up. Descent.

Enter: Arq, a McMinnville-based underwear company specializing in simple underwear for adults, babies and children.

Arq is an Instagram star in the era of the pandemic, the place many people turned to when stores closed, where fashion advice comes from ordinary people and “ordinary people”.

The company has grown from around $ 180,000 in gross sales in 2018 to around $ 7.5 million in 2020.

Once you start looking, it feels like Arq is everywhere.

Case in point: a stranger recently asked me if the hot pink tank top I was wearing was Arq.

“Yes,” I said, slightly embarrassed to wear something so instantly recognizable.

“I’m wearing the matching underwear!” she said.

Basic cotton undergarments – bras, tank tops, and underwear – are comfortable, simple, and knitted and sewn in the USA from organic cotton. For people who have spent a year in extreme emotional distress, primarily at home, the appeal is obvious.

“Some of us kissed for the first time,” said Abigail Quist, 37, founder of Arq, on a recent Friday afternoon at Arq’s headquarters in McMinnville.

“Because we’ve grown up so fast,” Quist said, “we’ve hired people over the last year. “

Now that its staff are fully immunized, they were meeting in person, some of them for the first time.

Quist employees, some from McMinnville, others working remotely from Portland, were gathered in the clean and bright warehouse / office / photo studio / future retail space. Some packed clothes in paper mailings. Some were taking pictures. Others worked on customer service and social media.

Quist’s husband Jefferson Quist, 38, an immigration and criminal defense attorney and now Arq’s CFO, worked at a desk in the office, separated from the studio by a few windows.

Staff at Arq, an underwear company based in McMiinville, Oregon. Abigail Quist is in the center, in a white shirt. June 25, 2021 Beth Nakamura / Staff Oregonian

Quist grew up in McMinnville and she and her husband are happy to be back in town, running a growing business while home-schooling their three children aged 7, 8 and 11 with their grandchildren. relatives nearby.

Arq started in 2015 as a small children’s clothing line. Quist is not a fashion designer by training. She studied art at Brigham Young University – “the church school,” she noted, “but it’s not my church anymore,” but she learned to sew from her mother. and her grandmother and made clothes for her own children.

One of her most popular items was a set of underwear and a camisole. When she introduced the adult version in 2018, “she eclipsed it all,” Quist said.

It didn’t bother her. The only thing you don’t save is underwear, she said.

“You wear it close to the body,” she said. “You wear them until they’re gone.”

This first line of underwear is sold out. They did more and it sold out again.

According to Quist, the company has grown from four employees before the pandemic to 11 now, not counting Quist. Sales have grown exponentially and production has increased in the Los Angeles fashion house where the fabric is knitted and the clothes are sewn, to meet demand.

“2018,” Quist said, “We made around $ 180,000. 2019, we made around $ 1 million. And in 2020, we made around $ 7.5 million in gross sales.”

It’s no surprise that the year that changed everything also changed the way Americans dress.

For many women, after years of thongs and underwired bras, it was a relief to wear clothes that didn’t hurt. Arq aficionados like Sam Milholland, 32, a Portlander whose Instagram page focuses on plus size fashion, said she liked the brand for the comfort of the clothes, especially when working from home.

But it’s not all about comfort. As the pandemic put an end to classic forms of commerce and small businesses struggled, many people began to rethink how they, well, buy everything.

Los Angeles-area poet, content designer and fashion instagramer Arielle Estoria, 29, said during the pandemic she found herself reassessing her entire wardrobe.

Instead of wearing clothes determined by office life, she said, people were now allowed to wear “the things that bring us joy, not because it’s trendy or cool.”

For many, that meant being interested in every aspect of the clothes they chose: going from “fast fashion” like Forever 21 and H&M to “slow fashion” and small independent brands.

For Estoria, Arq was part of her entry into the slow fashion world. She discovered them, she said, shortly before the start of the pandemic, just as she was becoming more determined about the clothes she was buying.

“I have become very intentional about where my money is going,” Estoria said.

“It’s not just about consuming,” she says. “You contribute”.

“I invest in these coins and I hope these coins reinvest in me,” she said.

This idea that fashion and consumerism can be a symbiotic relationship between business and consumer is the perfect extension of the pandemic’s constraints on business and the way Instagram users engage with fashion.

I have spoken to four influencers about their relationship with Arq and almost all of them were themselves originally “influenced” to buy Arq. And a lot of that has to do with representation.

The company page is full of well-lit bodies of all sizes and skin colors, from newborns to older women with long, gray hair, often in their studio, in their branded underwear – high waisted with plenty back coverage – and undershirt-style tank tops and bras reminiscent of college cotton workout bras.

Bri McDaniel, a 30-year-old Seattle-based photographer, is one of the people on Arq’s Instagram page.

“I discovered Arq on Instagram when I was pregnant with my second child,” McDaniel said. “One of my favorite influencers wore a lot of her underwear and I decided to check them out.”

Since this discovery, she has modeled and photographed for the company. She remains a fan.

“Representation is so important to me and they do it well,” McDaniel said.

Arq relies on all kinds of diversity. Unlike some fashionable clothing brands, with sizes up to a very large that would barely fit the average American woman, Arq takes inclusive sizes from very very small to 6 very large seriously. And the models represent this range.

For Estoria, the people wearing Arq in these photos drew her to the brand.

“If I am not represented,” said Estoria, “if my subscribers are not represented, I will not buy from them.”

Influencers who aren’t typical model sizes do a lot of work for Arq.

“What really influenced me to make my first purchase was seeing a photo of Jordan Underwood,” said Angela Alba, a 27-year-old Instagrammer who lives in Brooklyn.

In this Instagram photo, Alba said, Underwood was wearing an Arq ensemble in Bubblegum.

“They looked absolutely radiant overall, and it was so nice to see a body that looked like mine wearing cotton basics,” Alba said. “I am a USA size 26, so it’s hard to find high quality clothes in my size without graphics and frills. “

This chain of influencers has been a crucial part of Arq’s success, and Quist knows it.

“We should try to be at Bergdorf,” she said, if there was no social media. “And I have no foot in the door at Bergdorf.”

And Instagram is not just a way to get the word out, but a force that changed the course of the business. It was the community of followers, said Quist, that encouraged her to make sizes even more inclusive.

“Fortunately, I was pushed further and further,” she said.

And Quist said she is serious about making sure the company not only uses diversity as a promotional tool, but informs all aspects of the business. Towards that goal, Quist said the company is set to undergo a diversity, equity and inclusion audit.

“I know there are blind spots,” Quist said, and she is eagerly awaiting an outside firm to review all of the company’s documents and help identify them.

“We’re still growing,” Quist said. “We need to put in place systems that are as foolproof as possible now. “

How far will a growing underwear business go after the pandemic ends? Arq released a few new items at the end of June: a new style of bra and a leotard. The bra sold out completely in three of the five colors within 30 minutes, according to Marissa Boone, Arq’s marketing director.

These are the first new styles dropped since 2019. And more new styles are on the way, including unisex briefs and boxer shorts.

For now, Quist wants to stay in the underwear lane. She doesn’t think that should be a problem, even as the pandemic ends and more people have to put on real clothes to leave the house.

“People still wear underwear under their clothes,” Quist said.

– Lizzy Acker

503-221-8052, [email protected], @lizzzyacker



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