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G FORCE | KERRY O’BRIEN

Under achiever

Kerry O’Brien has worked in politics, journalism, and is now in the underwear business. Her Commando line is sold in more than 1,200 stores. Kerry O’Brien has worked in politics, journalism, and is now in the underwear business. Her Commando line is sold in more than 1,200 stores.
By Hayley Kaufman
Globe Staff / July 16, 2009
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It’s a long road from the CNN newsroom to the lingerie counter at Neiman Marcus, and Kerry O’Brien knows every twist and turn. A 1993 Bentley College grad, O’Brien imagined a future in politics or journalism, and in fact dabbled in both. She spent a summer in Washington working for then-Senate majority leader George Mitchell, and scored internships at CNN and ABC’s “Nightline.’’ Soon, she was climbing the ladder in New York corporate PR, earning the title of vice president by the tender age of 25. So how did O’Brien, a Burlington, Vt., native, end up in the underwear business? By coming up with a series of great ideas, talking to her friends, and knowing what women want.

HAYLEY KAUFMAN

Q. Why underwear?

A. I was fooling around with ideas for about a year. I realized a lot of my friends would come to me to ask me what they should wear underneath something. “What do I wear underneath this?’’ We loved to go out, go shopping. I’d help them MacGyver their outfits.

Q. I love the name of the line: Commando.

A. Yes, the full name is Commando - Better Than Nothing.

Q. OK, that’s hilarious.

A. Some people don’t get the joke, but they still love our line. So it’s a testament to our underwear, I think.

Q. So you were in PR and you left your job on Sept. 12, 2001. Tell me about that.

A. I was a senior VP at Weber Shandwick. My job was to know exactly what was happening every day. I lived down in Tribeca. It’s hard to talk about it. Everyone suffered that day. I don’t think I had a unique experience that day, but for me it was a wake-up call to change the course of my life. To start the next chapter.

Q. Were you married?

A. I was married - am married. My husband was an investment banker. He was very supportive of me deciding to try something new. In the beginning he helped out. Then it became such a viable business, he decided to be with me full time.

Q. Now you’re in more than 1,000 stores?

A. We’re in well over 1,200 stores around the world - clothing boutiques and Neiman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue, Bergdorf Goodman, and we’re just beginning to roll out to Nordstrom.

Q. So your lines are “raw cut.’’ That means no elastic? How does that work?

A. We do not have elastic or trim on [most of] our styles. It’s just the cut of the garment. We test it on real women. There’s rigorous testing on real butts to make sure it’s a well-fitting garment. Underwear has to fit you properly. It’s the cornerstone of any underwear brand. Women are the most particular about that. We get so much feedback - from everyday women to stars - so it’s great to hear about it.

Q. You’ve come up with so many products. Do you already know what the next big one is?

A. We’re always thinking. I have a whole board of ideas. We love our classic styles, but we’re always looking to innovate.