The Tale of a Factory
I often get asked the question of how did I decide on a manufacturer for Bloom Bras. When I sit down with Oprah to tell her my trials and tribulations as I went down the road to production, this will all be a part of my story. A factory is a partnership similar to a marriage. You start out by listing out the qualities you are looking for in a mate ruling out the masses. My values of quality, sustainability, excellence in communication and a vast knowledge of the world of technical sports bras were imperative. I was approaching this more as a consumer with big boobs and an even larger problem I was trying to solve for. There is a reason why it is difficult to get technical sports bra made for the D+ market. I spoke with 40 or more factories around the globe on our path to finding our partner. Similar to dating, it is easy to rule some out after just a few conversations. You end up with a smaller pool. If only there were an app for this!!
I got connected through a colleague’s friend with a factory that was like a dream with a large development team and we were off to the races. We spent nine months prototyping, experimenting with materials and testing on hundreds of women. If you put ten women who are 38DDD next to each other, they look very different. A fit model – which is standard for most brands in the space to use – would not have given me the data points and confidence that the bra would function properly. I posted on social media asking for women who are between a 28D and a 44K to come by to give feedback and had over 160 responses within hours. The sample in each of the sizes was approved.
I ordered goods in November, paid for the order in December. Three nights before the product was set to ship in March, I got a call from the owner of the factory explaining that there was a problem. They would not be producing my order. As a matter of fact, they had not even ordered the approved materials and never had any intention of moving forward. It turns out that larger orders came in and I was shoved aside. I was floored and had three options:
Scream, shout and breakdown into tears
Abandon my dream
Go back to the drawing board essentially starting from scratch
While the first two would have been justifiable, I was on a plane two days later. A good majority of factories will not work with start-ups no matter how great the idea may be. I have so many stories of “bad dates”. Manufacturers misrepresenting their abilities making false promises. Companies wanted to charge extra for using more materials on larger sizes or were refusing to them at all. Samples were coming back nowhere close to the quality I demanded. Some had questionable values. I was at a loss.
As if I had manifested (thank you vision boards and sleepless nights) my dream factory, it appeared. A group of industry experts were establishing a new facility on a mountain in Sri Lanka – one of the most beautiful countries and cultures. The workforce would come from the neighboring village. Housing would be provided for those who had to travel. Fresh spring mountain water from the rushing river that ran behind the property would help to power the factory and employees could be fed by the abundance of fruits, vegetables and rice grown on the front lawn. We spent days walking through every detail meticulously because they understood that I would not put a product out that I was not 150% proud of. My community of ladies had waited this long – I would not falter at this point. The owners and I discussed what our expectations of one another would be and agreed that open lines of communication were the only way we were both going to succeed. This was not without hiccups but no production plan ever is.
Selecting the proper materials had been the most difficult part of the design process. Each detail from the seams riding along the bone structure in the back to my insistence that any material that touches the body be soft, comfortable and free of certain nasty chemicals was non-negotiable. Because I was a start-up, I would not get the same pricing or lead times. As a preemptive strike, I went directly to the vendor of each of the materials and purchased well above what I would ever need. PS – we sold out of our first orders within hours and still have trouble keeping certain sizes in stock.
Seeing the Bloom Bra on women across the globe gives me such a sense of pride. We are starting to work on the next lines of goods now that we are up and running. I hope that this is the beginning of a long history. We are setting out to disrupt an industry. People often ask if I would manufacture in the US. My answer is I would absolutely LOVE to. Costing came back from the over 20 factories across our country at four to five times our current costs. The product is a complex one to produce.
Elyse Kaye spent 20 years helping companies to build product through her company Aha Product Solutions. She is a fitness enthusiast and instructor with a passion for yoga, hiking, and running, dancing, travel and female entrepreneurship.