The year was 2014 and the biggest underwear brands had one thing in common. Victoria’s Secret, Fruit of the Loom, Jockey, and Calvin Klein were (and still are) selling hundreds of thousands of pairs of briefs to women—and they were all founded by men.
Shawna Lauringson, a 26-year-old nurse-in-training, was interning as a midwife assistant when she started noticing a potentially related trend. Patients were coming into the practice with yeast infections and irritation down there. A midwife explained to her this was due in part to wearing restrictive, non-breathable underwear. “A lot of people think synthetic sweat-wicking things would be good for you, but moisture gets trapped in there and it becomes a bacteria breeding ground,” says Shawna. “ I was also looking for better underwear to wear myself.”
The Lightbulb Moment
Shawna thought of the Merino wool base layers that she and her husband, Garrett, loved to wear hiking in and around Los Angeles. “I knew from experience that Merino worked super well for both hot and cold weather, and it wicks the sweat away,” Shawna says. A light bulb went off. What if there was a way to create underwear in a silhouette designed for a woman's body, out of naturally breathable, antimicrobial, moisture-wicking Merino wool?
The Very First Pair
Shawna wanted to see what Merino underwear might look and feel like. The very first pair was crafted by her mom, a seamstress by trade, out of old pieces of Merino clothing. A good start, but, Shawna explains, “In the long-run, it didn’t make sense to have pieces made by hand. No one wants seams in their underwear.”
Shawna and Garrett worked to find a manufacturer who could create a seamless design. She remembers getting home late on her 27th birthday, newly pregnant with her first son, when the first prototype from the factory arrived. “I remember being so excited,” she says. After giving out a few dozen pairs for feedback, she knew she was onto something. “The biggest thing was getting feedback from friends who straight up didn’t wear underwear. They’d given up because it was so uncomfortable. But they actually started wearing our design because it was better than being naked in your own skin.”
Still in nursing school, Shawna and Garrett hit the ground running. “We loved the idea of having our underwear baby along with our actual kid,” she remembers.
It’s All in the Name
Shawna decided on the first name for the company: Stay GLDN (the brand would later be renamed to Branwyn due to trademark issues). “It was something my parents would say to my sister and me like a pat on the back,” she says. Originally coined in the 1980s movie The Outsiders, to Shawna’s family growing up, “stay golden” meant “everything’s going to be okay if you just stay true to who you are.”
“It was something they would say before sports games, especially,” she says. Her parents were both proud Title IX advocates. “My dad was drafted to the Seattle Seahawks and my mom was the one who pushed for girls’ softball in our area.” With the burgeoning underwear brand, Shawna wanted a name that signaled women staying true to their unique needs and power—and Stay GLDN was born.
A Grassroots Movement
In the months following the launch of the prototype, Shawna and Garrett pushed to get the brand off the ground. “We didn’t have any money or investors. It was just us,” she says. For the first big order, they decided to do a Kickstarter campaign. “We launched it two days after our son was born. It was insane timing-wise,” she says. “It was very grassroots though, which was beautiful for us.”
Shawna decided to put nursing school on pause to focus on the business and began selling Stay GLDN Essential Thongs (the first design) and later fuller coverage briefs at pop-up shops and makers’ markets. Soon enough, women were approaching her in the grocery store, eager to show the “underwear lady” that they were wearing their favorite pair of Merino wool panties underneath their jeans.
Something On Top
After success with the bottoms, Shawna wanted to create a bra. “I hated the concept of needing to have a bunch of different bras for different things.” She wanted to design something that would work for women all day long—a sports bra and an everyday bra all at once. “I wanted something where you could get sweaty and then continue to wear it because it dries off.”
She knew the magic of Merino wool could make this all possible with even more benefits. As a mom who spent a lot of time breastfeeding, she needed a super easy solution for a nursing bra, too. “I was a new mom with fluctuating boobs and wanted something that I could use through pregnancy and postpartum,” she says. Learn why the Essential Bralette works great as a nursing bra here.
After a few rounds of testing, the Essential Bralette checked all of these boxes. The Merino wool dried super fast and kept moisture away from the body (a big benefit for active women and nursing moms), while the antimicrobial material kept everything smelling fresh. A just-right amount of stretch left breasts feeling supported while providing room to shrink and grow. The bralette quickly became a bestseller—and remains so today. “It’s still the thing I rock the most!” says Shawna.
A Heart-Centered Transition
After four years of nurturing Stay GLDN (now BRANWYN), Shawna found herself at an impasse. “I was pregnant with our second son and I felt like I was being swallowed whole with being pregnant, having a toddler, and trying to grow a business. I felt like I was on the cusp of being ready to part with my first (business) baby.”
She remembered a conversation and an email exchange with a couple she’d met at a market a few years prior. Jeff and Lauren Shafer had fallen in love with the product after purchasing a few pairs—Jeff, who had started and sold a few successful apparel brands had reached out to Shawna to offer support at the time. “They thought it was so cool for me to be out there doing this as a young mom running a business with a baby on my back.”
Shawna reached out to see if they would be interested in purchasing the company—they were—and soon it changed hands.
Where We Are Today
Over the past few years, BRANWYN (renamed to represent the Welsh goddess of love and beauty) has flourished—but the original women-centered product DNA remains the same. All of the Merino wool Performance Innerwear uses an identical silhouette as Shawna’s original design and features the seamless feel and Merino benefits that wearers first fell in love with.
The only changes have been sustainability-focused (using ethically sourced ZQ Wool, for example) to ensure that BRANWYN keeps abreast of the latest craft manufacturing options to be as kind to our earth and our sheep as possible.
As for Shawna, she lives in Hawaii now with her husband, their two sons and baby twin girls. “I love being a mom. This stage of their childhood is glorious and such a short season of my life that I get to pour into right now,” she says. “It’s very special to me to have created a product that is loved and celebrated by others as it continues to grow and develop into something bigger and more impactful outside of my influence. It’s draws parallels to my experience with young motherhood so far. I’m pouring into and raising our children not to be my legacy, but to watch them succeed and grow on their own. It’s amazing to be able to do that.”