13 things we've learned from 10 years in the bra business!

Its a decade since Mum and I created Brava, and what a 10 years it's been. Armed with many, many years of negative bra shopping experiences and a determination to find a better way, we took the plunge and opened our first store in High Street, Prahran in 2006.  On reflection it was very brave and a little crazy. We had no business experience, never worked in retail, had never fitted a bra and neither of us even liked shopping!

But this wasn't our driver. Our driver was the desire to help women feel better about their bodies, and we knew that a well-fitting bra and a positive bra shopping experience could have that impact. We spent one year mystery shopping, talking with women about bras, exploring the current market and travelled overseas to see how it could be done. Being the only D+ store in Australia, we knew it was a risk; people questioned if there was a market, but we felt so confident we could deliver a better experience.

We would love to share with you some of the things we have learnt along the way:

  • Tape measures don't always tell the truth! We were taught the 'bra fitting with a tape measure' method by every brand. Within months we threw them away, because we quickly discovered that for women above a D cup they just didn't work! Opening with limited bra fitting experience was a blessing in disguise, forcing us to take a fresh look at a very old and outdated approach. We fit by eye so our bra fitters usually know your size before they fit you and its testament to our holistic approach to bra fitting. It's the Brava way.
  • Listening, listening, listening. We learnt that to build a business without our customer's insight was fruitless. We are not our customers. If we stocked the store with just what I wore, it would be full of black bras. We have learnt the art of extracting quality information from our staff and our customers to continually fine-tune not only our products but also our service. If you visit a Brava store, our staff will encourage you to email us directly with your feedback. This we love, as it allows us to pass on positive comments and suggestions to our amazing staff and to look at areas that need improvement.
  • Supporting women to live active lives is so important. As a teenager I didn't play sport due to my discomfort and embarrassment from bouncing boobs, and unfortunately this is still an issue for many adolescent girls. However, there are much better options now for all women with Shock Absorber, Freya Active and Elomi going up to an H & J cup. Supportive enough for our new breed of soccer and rugby players. Because we are so passionate about helping women to be active, we have installed treadmills in our changing rooms at our Highpoint and Melbourne stores to assess the support and bounce. It's a world first.
  • Cup-sized swimwear in D+ cup sizes is better and better. No such thing as cup-sized swimwear when I was a young adult! Back in 2006, our year of opening, both Panache and Freya offered a small range. Since then we have seen swimwear to J cup sizes in Freya, Fantasie and Panache and the designs are continually improving. We are especially thrilled with Prima Donna's new swimwear ranges and are looking forward to developments from other designers.
  • We are the experts in D Cup & Up. We cannot rely on lingerie manufacturers for comprehensive information because they are not fitting fuller-busted women on a daily basis and sitting in a sales conference is very different to actually fitting on real women. We don't rely on glossy imagery, we always test styles on our very willing staff before committing to a new range.
  • Your voice can make a difference. Together we can impact on the decisions made by lingerie manufacturers by passing on customer and staff feedback. When you email us, or you tell your fitter your likes and dislikes, this is compiled and fed through to our suppliers.
  • Our staff help us stand apart; we're truly not like any other lingerie store. A good bra fitter has empathy, warmth and an understanding of different shapes, ages, sizes and needs. How our staff connect with women is just as important as their bra fitting skills; bra fitting can be taught, but being a positive and warm human can not. We often hear new staff commenting how different the fitting training is at Brava, it's extremely detailed and holistic.
  • You (yes, you!) are beautiful. We have learnt that our customers are often not nice to themselves (we wrote a blog recently about what we witness in the fitting rooms called 'Those little digs'). Most of our customers do not seem to be happy with their bodies, in fact many cannot look at themselves in the mirror without feeling upset. What we see are beautiful, curvy women with beautiful smiles, gorgeous legs and round, shapely bottoms and love handles that many partners would adore. Yet, women still manage to look at the parts they don't like.
  • Passion can't be faked. Our amazing staff are dedicated to finding bras to help women feel comfortable and beautiful. When particularly busy and short-staffed due to illness, some customers may feel frustrated. But our staff work their butts off, on their feet all day, continually focused on ensuring our customers are looked after. We are very proud of them.
  • A little kindness goes a long way. We have learnt that when a customer visits us and seems upset or irritated, she is often dealing with issues outside of our store. Although rudeness to our staff is unacceptable, being kind and offering support sometimes leads to tears in the fitting room. Women juggle so many life aspects that a bit of kindness can go a long way.
  • We need to do so much more to educate Australian women. Over 90% of new customers to Brava are in the wrong bra. The letter on the bra, whether D cup or  J cup, is irrelevant as long as the fit is good and it is supportive.
  • Breast reduction surgery can be prevented with a properly fitted bra. It's true, this is a strong statement and obviously this is not the case for all women, but for some a bra fitting is life changing.
  • We're excited by the evolution of imagery photographed by brands we stock. From size 8-10 mannequin-like physiques, to curvy size 16's, we're thrilled to see a broader, more inclusive range of models' being used in lingerie & swimwear imagery. It's not about eliminating thinner models because they do represent a significant section of our customers, but about showing a full range of sizes as a realistic representation. Just check Elomi and Ewa Michalak imagery to see how far we have come.

To all of our customers who have shopped with us in-store or online over the past ten years - thank you for your support! It makes us smile to think of the many women who have discovered a new sense of confidence after a bra fitting. We can't wait to see what the next ten years holds in store. If you'd like to share your Brava experience, comment below or email us at linandmaxine@bravalingerie.com.au - we'd love to hear it!