Meet the Founder

MERRI Intimates: marrying sexy with comfort

Leah Montebello
January 25, 2024

Simpatica talks to Ella Merriman, Founder of MERRI Intimates, to discuss her quest to make UTI and thrush-proof underwear that empowers women.

Simpatica talks to Ella Merriman, Founder of MERRI Intimates, to discuss her quest to make UTI and thrush-proof underwear that empowers women.

“I think MERRI was first conceived when I was 16 and still at school. I had a week of needing to pee all the time, with really intense stomach pain, and was so confused about what was happening to me! I remember sitting in the library and my friend suggested that I might have a UTI (urinary tract infection). I had no clue what a UTI was!”, Ella explains.

And the notion of what the hell is a UTI is something that also probably resonates with a lot of us: from confused teens, to even more confused women, to established GPs. And despite 1 in 2 women suffering from UTIs in their lifetime, it seems nobody really knows how to handle nor prevent them. As Ella candidly tells me, “I would go to the doctors regularly and they would suggest things such as: drinking more water, wearing cotton pants, and avoiding coffee but I would always end up having to take antibiotics”.

Balancing wanting to wear nice underwear, and the risk of having a UTI, Ella is keen to point out how unfair this choice seemed to be, even at the time. She says, “Despite being told that wearing cotton underwear could help prevent recurring infections, I could never find cotton pants that were flattering. I’ve always liked wearing pretty underwear and truly believe that putting on a nice pair of pants can make you feel powerful”.

Going on to study product design and furniture making, and eventually taking on various design roles, the early idea for underwear that combined comfiness with sexiness was something that continued to niggle away in the back of her mind…

Merri Intimates big pant

Above: The big pant from MERRI Intimates

The power of the gusset

The raison d’être for MERRI is to shatter the line on the underwear drawer. As Ella explains, “The majority of women that I’ve spoken to have an underwear drawer of two halves: the comfy cotton side, which you wear on your period, when you’re having a bad day or are unwell and the sexy side, for if you have a big meeting at work, are going on a date, or just need a little confidence boost.”

Ella continues, “The purpose of MERRI Intimates is to fulfill all of these purposes – we make pants that are comfy, sexy and majority cotton”. As it happens, the comfort of MERRI pants comes from the gusset, which is 100% cotton and elongated to ensure bacteria are unable to colonise, and avoids unnecessary friction. Whilst this sounds like an intuitive design for an item that all women wear, it is seemingly uncommon. Why?

Ella tells me, “I’ve been told by an underwear designer that the front seam of the gusset supposedly photographs badly so the aesthetic has always been chosen over comfort – which is ridiculous! I guess a smaller gusset also saves manufacturers money!”. This is but one example of how aesthetics over comfort tends to rule in female fashion.

Merri Intimates thong

Above: MERRI Intimate’s high-waisted black thong

Cutting up pants

The actual story of the product started around two years ago when Ella bought £30 worth of Primark underwear and tried to rework them. She cut them into different shapes and sizes, and really wanted to test what worked and what shapes would be functional. With support from the Princes’ Trust, Ella has been able to learn the basics of being an entrepreneur, and turn a dream into a fully-fledged business plan. “Having a design background, I really believe that the product has to be uber functional and it can’t just be all chat. So it’s taken a long time to get the sourcing and exact fabric just right”, she emphasises.

Maintaining this ‘not just chat’ mentality, the MERRI underwear collection is 93% organic cotton and 7% elastane jersey. She prides her cotton jersey on being super lightweight and silky soft, but with just enough elastane to make the pants fit snugly, preserving the breathability of the cotton. They also run in three styles: the ‘big pants’, thong and bikini.

To get this product to market, Ella, and her team of two other passionate co-founders, launched a Kickstarter back in May. They not only met their £5k target within the first 2 hours of launching it, but it also affirmed that this was a product that resonated with people – male and female. They are now getting orders made and stocking out their site for a full launch later in the year.

Merri Intimates founders

The founders of MERRI Intimates, Holly, Amelia, and Ella.

Sustainable and accessible

“There are so many products being made every day that we do not need and our planet’s resources are running out; I think that modern designers have a huge responsibility to only create things that are necessary”, Ella says. Because the product is so young, MERRI has the flexibility to make sure every step in their supply chain is sustainable and ethical, and this is something she is acutely aware of.

She continues, “We are trying to have a very transparent supply chain so that we are always honest and open with your customers but we are far from perfect. We are constantly learning and improving and encourage our supporters to tell us when they believe we can do something better. Sharing knowledge is the only way we can all become more environmentally friendly”.

Another thing she is hyper-aware of is the accessibility of her underwear. Coming in at £25 for one pair, and £60 for a pack of three, MERRI pants are definitely a premium offering. Describing this as a systemic thing, Ella explains “I am super conscious that the price is a premium one, at the moment, as we are using sustainable materials and ethical manufacturers all within Europe. However, I am really aware that these prices could be more accessible. I do not want to compromise on our environmental credentials or quality but hope that as we can produce in higher quantities we will be able to make a more democratically priced product”.

The ideal would be to sell their product directly to customers to make sure they are as affordable as possible and the goal is to definitely hitch the price down moving forward. They have already expanded by two sizes, and run from 6-18, with the view to widen this size range even further, believing “prices and shipping are all things that feed into inclusivity”. Another thing you will also notice when seeing any press-pictures from MERRI is the range of models, which they aim to be of different sizes and ages: the latter which the fashion industry is certainly lacking!

The wider UTI issue

Discussing companies like Daye and &sisters who are already disrupting this space, Ella notes how we are talking about intimate health and wellness so much more. Nonetheless, there continues to be a taboo around UTIs, and thrush is something that people don’t openly talk about.

She says, “I do think it is strange that it still feels as if there is a stigma around common infections such as UTIs and thrush. On our website, we are hoping to launch a blog and a forum where people can share their experiences of common infections and learn from each other. We want MERRI to be more than just an underwear shop – we want it to be a conversation starter!”

Even more candidly, Ella describes how UTIs and thrush “can make your relationship with sex really difficult as both infections can be caused or exacerbated by intercourse”. For a lot of women, there’s almost a balancing act of passion and pragmatism, where if you’re not careful, you could end up in a lot of pain, even from great sex! This makes MERRI’s desire to start a conversation even more compelling and far-reaching.

Feel good, and feel you look good

Whilst the goal for Ella, on a personal level, is to make MERRI something she can make a living from (since she is currently juggling launching a company and also working in her office as a receptionist to fund her startup dream!), “Looking at the bigger picture, if we could make a positive change and remove taboos around UTIs and thrush then that would feel like a massive achievement. Also, if more brands started to think of underwear as being for women to feel good rather than look good, I think that’s a really big thing. You can feel good and feel that you look good!”, she urges.

Ella’s approach to being a founder is understated. Although she admits her stubbornness makes it ideal that she is her own boss, “Saying I’m an entrepreneur definitely doesn’t come naturally and makes me cringe!”.

Although Ella may not be able to admit it to herself, she is in fact making huge waves in the underwear space: taking a teenage idea for a company and turning it into an offering that women care about.

Contact Us

Drop us a line and we'll be in touch today
Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.