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Lithium The sisters behind underwear brand Siren Basics

Jan. 5, 2022
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Every bona fide Cool Girl comes equipped with a few things: layered necklaces, a mini bag, vintage denim, and now Siren Basics. 21-year-old Brenda Liang and her 16-year-old sister Clara didn’t set out with the intention of becoming an Instagram phenomenon within the Lower East Side community; they just wanted to make underwear they would actually wear. It turned out that every other young New Yorker was looking for the same thing. 

Brenda was looking for an intimates brand with which she could have a long-term relationship. Tired of the only options being overly sexualized or heavily branded, Brenda began sketching out what she was looking for in efforts to refine her Google search. Eventually, she had an epiphany: if it was this hard for her to find a cute, slightly ruffled white thong, she couldn’t be alone. The idea for Siren Basics was born in her NYU dorm room two years ago, and this past January the sisters launched their first collection

The sisters intentionally distance the brand from being defined by words like “sexy.” It’s important to them that their basics aren’t pigeon-holed into the category of date-night panties, but are rather seen as an everyday infusion of confidence and comfort. Siren Basics counters the male gaze, rebuking the idea that confidence has to come from feeling conventionally desirable in the eyes of men.

If the first collection serves as a solution to the gap Brenda saw in the underwear market, their aptly named second drop, the “Abundance Collection,” is a playful elevation of the original silhouettes—suited for the perfect whale tail at 2000s-themed parties. I spoke to Brenda and Clara, who were at their family’s home in New Jersey, over the phone this past March to hear more about their upcoming release, why people have resonated with Siren so much, and their ever-changing dynamic as sisters. 

“Because we're growing as individuals while simultaneously cultivating a brand from scratch, the brand becomes such a reflection of us,” Brenda mused. “I think a big question we used to ask ourselves was: how can we define Siren and have it be concrete when we’re always growing as people?”

While Siren Basics’ following has grown significantly since its early days, Brenda and Clara have remained committed to being an approachable brand with whom their customers can build a relationship. Their Instagram often feels more like a community meeting place than marketing strategy. Their page and stories are filled with fan art and collaborations, rather than the sponsored content you might expect. Brenda designs the collections with herself and her friends in mind, and then enlists the help of her peers. Siren Basics' young, diverse group of models is a genuine reflection of the sisters’ customer base because they are the customer base.

“Our first test shoot was whimsical and crazy,” Brenda said. “Our friend Layton, who's a photographer, came in and did an insane job shooting for us, you modeled, my roommate Allison was walking a dog and brought it to the shoot. Marlo, a Siren team member and our close friend, did the makeup, and it all took place at our good friends’ apartment. We were all kind of exploring and experimenting, and that’s what Siren is—it’s the people you love.”

Though Brenda and Clara’s friends are heavily involved, Siren Basics remains a family venture at its core. At the onset of the pandemic, the Liang sisters and their parents poured their energy into officially launching the company. Quarantine bore a lot of uncertainty for the sisters. Clara was finishing up her sophomore year of high school last March, and she spent much of last summer unsure of what her education would look like when it resumed. Like many other 16-year-olds, Clara spent part of her quarantine studying for the SAT—but unlike them, she spent her spare time co-launching a company. 

“The struggles were unreal,” Clara said to me over the phone. “But honestly, Siren doesn’t feel like a chore. It’s not an extra job or activity I have to do. It’s more like a lifestyle. It just feels like after school, I go back to my life in Siren. My world is Siren, and I love that.” 

Through building a company together, the sisters have found their relationship tested and strengthened in ways they couldn’t imagine. Clara joked to me that 95% of her conversations with Brenda are regarding Siren, and the other 5% are them bickering. 

Brenda explains their relationship to me as the traditional yin and yang concept of duality, which they highlight on their website. Brenda is in charge of creative direction, while Clara is in control of deadlines and organization. Through Siren, Clara tells me she’s found the perfect balance between her affinity for logistics and a need to create. 

“For me, it’s hard to think linearly, like my thoughts are collages,” Brenda joked to me. “Clara is able to take those elements and piece them together and say, ‘I understand what you’re getting at, and this is how we’re going to make it work.’ A really good example is that Clara loves to bake. She loves all of the tedious measurements. And I like to cook—mostly because it’s less structured, you don’t have to really follow recipes.”

Siren Basics’ second collection, which is being released over the coming weeks, was designed entirely after the onset of the pandemic. In a year of uncertainty, the sisters were able to lean on both one another and Siren, giving them a deep sense of appreciation for the brand. Small details like font sizing on the tags, a shade of green on their logo, or the size of their packaging have become labors of love. 

“Our personal journeys in quarantine were also tremendous,” Brenda said through a smile. “I see it in Clara, I know my family sees it in me. We really went through the thick of it and learned a lot about ourselves this year. Whatever I learned from my personal journey during quarantine, I applied to Siren.”

Disclaimer: Brenda Liang, the CEO of Siren Basics, and I have been good friends since 2017.