Niche Down To Profit Up
How do you go about inventing a one-of-a-kind product? Why is it important to find your niche? How can you utilize crowdfunding to launch your product? And, what does NASA have to do with this product? Elyse Kaye, the Founder/CEO of BloomBras and the Founder of Aha Product Solutions, answers these questions and many more. Elyse Kaye discusses the way she helped build a sustainable factory to manufacture her product in a quality and sustainable way, how NASA scientists were brought in to develop a brand new design, and incredibly valuable information for new inventors and product marketers. You don’t want to miss this one!
About Bloom Bras
Bloom Bras is a patented, one-of-a-kind sports bra invented by Elyse Kaye. Elyse Kaye partnered with NASA, shipping and packaging experts, and a celebrity corset designer to develop this product. It has no underwire, while still lifting rather than squishing which removes pressure on the shoulders and ribs. They are the most body-inclusive line on the market, carrying sizes from 28C to 56L. Bloom Bras have been featured in publications including Huffington Post, Thrive Global, and Elite Daily.
In today’s episode of the Harvest Growth Podcast, we’ll cover:
Check it out at BloomBras.com, and get a 10% discount off your purchase by using promo code “harvestgrowth.”
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Interviewer: My new favorite tagline lift, not squish. In today's interview, I speak with Elyse Kaye, the developer of a new bra for a large, no pun intended, underserved market of millions of women. Welcome back to The Harvest Growth Podcast. I'm really excited today to be interviewing Elyse Kaye. She's the inventor and founder of bloombras.com, B-L-O-O-M-B-R-A-S. Bloombras.com. We're going to talk a bit more about what this product is. It's really shaking up the bra industry, and we're coming up with a new design, which really hasn't been meeting a need that hasn't been met before.
I'm really excited to hear more about the stories, to share with our audience, and to share some learnings along the way, because Elyse has some background. This is not our first time inventing a product. In fact, she's worked with inventors and entrepreneurs for a long time, helping them and in a previous career in the CPG space, working in new products as well. Elyse welcome to the show.
Elyse Kaye: Thank you. I'm so happy to be here.
Interviewer: Can you tell us about Bloom Bras? Tell us a bit about the story, what the product is for those in their audience, who haven't heard of it and haven't been to the website yet if you could describe it. How did you come up with this idea?
Elyse: Absolutely. Bloom Bras is the most body-inclusive line of sports bras on the market, it's designed to lift versus squish and it was solving a personal issue. I wrote the business plan a long, long, long time ago after not being able to find a sports bra that worked for me. When I ran for my first half marathon, I did what a lot of women do, which is I wore an underwire bra under a sports bra and had no skin left from the chafing. I started to do some research and found thousands and thousands and thousands of women complaining about the same issue.
I took a deep dive and I said this really isn't a design challenge. It's an engineering one. I brought in people from NASA, the shipping and packaging industry and a woman who does all the corsetry work for Oprah and Katie Perry and ballet dancers and opera singers around the world. I had them bring my vision to life. It's been a crazy journey, but we now service from sizes 28C to 56L.
Interviewer: Wow. L is not a size I've heard of before. How common are those larger sizes? I think on your website, I read that 70% of women are in, is it C plus? Is that right?
Elyse: Yes. 70% of women are D cup or above in the United States. The average dress size in the US is somewhere between a 14 and a 16, which is a band size of about a 44 or 46. Just to give you an example, Nike, Lululemon, Athleta, none of them go above a 38DD. Some of them are now in the 40 range, so that means that a good portion of the population is actually not even able to walk into a store today and buy a sports bra.
Interviewer: [unintelligible 00:03:11] think about that right because whatever size we are, we can be very active. I can't say we for the bra industry of course, but having the need for it just being a male, but it's amazing that there's an audience that's just not served. Why do you think that is that these big brands have not met the need for women that are above those sizes?
Elyse: Well if you think about it somebody like a Nike, who's been essentially taking two pieces of clots, sewing them together, and creating different prints in different colors has been doing this for years and years and years. Essentially they're printing money. To change it up and to go into the larger sizes, it's, if you think about weight distribution. If we take the word boob out of the equation here, we say you would never use the same mechanism to carry a 3-pound rock as you would a 12-pound rock.
If you think about the mechanism to lift and to hold up weight as well as if you put 10 women who are all, let's just say a 38DDD next to each other, they're going to look different. Their bodies are going to hold different based on their age, their demographic, if they've had children or not. I's just a very different strategy on product, on materials, and of course on marketing.
Interviewer: If I'm hearing you right, it's more than just making a bra that has a bigger band around it. There's so much more to it because you need more support for a very different size that comes with that larger size.
Elyse: Exactly. For me, I looked at it and I said if I could solve for every pain point that I had for sports bras be it would be on the straps, adjusting the cups, instead of putting a product over the head, I wanted it to have all of the adjustments in the front. I wanted wicking because as your body heats up and expands, it's going to change. Our bodies change about 10% a month naturally with fluctuation. If you're a B cup, it's not a big deal, but if you're a DDD, that's actually a full cup size. If you're active, that affects you on a day-to-day basis.
Again, when I started looking at the designs that were out there, they were antiquated and they weren't affecting what most of the women that I knew were going through, which is that our bodies were changing, especially those who've had children. The crazy thing was when I decided I was going to do this, I had no idea what I was doing, but I put a prototype together and put a message out on a Facebook group in the Bay Area, which is where I live, and just said, "Hey, I've got a couple of prototypes, different sizes. I'm looking for women between this size and this size to just come over and give me your opinion."
I had 165 women show up at my door. Then when I launched, I launched on Kickstarter and had 240,000 people come through our page in three weeks time without spending a dollar.
Interviewer: On media without driving. You didn't spend money to be clear. Some of them purchased of course, and that's amazing. Most Kickstarter campaigns, they talk about volume like that. That's easy to do if you're spending tens or hundreds of thousand dollars on media, but the fact that you didn't, it shows that there is demand for this product for sure. If we talk about the design a little bit. You mentioned how you worked with NASA and with one of Oprah's corset makers. Help us understand, how did NASA come into play? How did they help you? What benefit did they bring to the table for you?
Elyse: Materials and seams. The biggest challenge-- When I was setting out to do this I was looking for inspiration in a lot of different places. Whether it be something like looking at the material used in a parachute or a kite, looking at the seams that were used to carry heavy equipment. I love to give the example of, I don't know if you've ever seen the aerial yoga, where they've got the silks where people are doing acrobatics in the air. I went to an aerial yoga class and there was a man who I would say weighed about 300 pounds, who at the end of class, you cocoon and you hang out in the little silk. I was like, "If they can hold this man, why is it that it can't hold a pair of breasts?"
All of those little things I started to pull together. By having access to the folks at NASA, to be able to say what happens in extremes, when your body comes back from being out in outer space, or what happens if something lands heavy. How do we make sure that these materials that are going to be breathable, but aren't going to give too much? Same thing with when I looked at the corset world and working with a costume designer. An opera singer has to utilize their lung space and has to utilize movement in their body. A ballerina, same things.
Looking at what materials are being used to address those different body types was really important. One of the other folks who I had on my advisory board used to be pretty high up at Victoria secret. Having those introductions to factories when I was first starting out was integral. When you look at the design of the product, it's designed to take all of the weight from the front and bring it into the back. Two wider straps connect with the nape of the neck and then distribute all the weight amongst a mesh back that has seams that ride along the edges of the back, that are going to expand or contract with the body.
Then in the front, I kept saying, and I apologize if this is offensive David, but I wanted it to almost work like hands holding me up when I was running. Designing a product that actually encapsulated instead of just smashed was really fundamentally what I wanted to achieve. Then when we started to test on women using real women instead of fit models was really important because again, to see how a product fits on a woman who is a 56L versus a 30GG. In typical fashion products, you have what's called grading. Each size up is going to be a percentage different. For us, we couldn't do that because the body types were so different and we wanted to fit as many body types as possible. A lot of engineering and back and forth went amongst my design team.
Interviewer: I love that you take all of that, and you've done a great job from a marketing perspective and explain it in a super simple headline, lift not squish on your homepage. That brings everything you just explained, that brings it to light and makes a lot of sense very quickly. I can't speak again, by personal experience, but I've talked many times to my wife about this, with the issue with sports bras in general is it just [unintelligible 00:10:45] it's squish. It's not comfortable. It does what it needs to do, sometimes, not for every size, as you're saying, but it can be painful, it can be certainly uncomfortable. What a great solution.
One of the first questions I asked you was, if this is such a great idea, which it is, why haven't other people done it? Why haven't other companies done it? I think you've done a great job explaining, there's so much to it, it's not an easy solution. It took a lot of work and effort and study, really, to find this path to get a solution that works for every size and so often that's the case. I think inventors get asked the question, I'm not sure if you've heard this question before, but it seems easy at the end. They look at your success, like, "Well, yes, I could have done that."
There's so much that goes into it, where it's not just identifying the problem, but it's identifying a solution that's going to work. That's where that real effort comes in between the problem and the solution that I think you've done such a great job of so far.
Elyse: Thank you. I think it is easy to-- I'm sorry. It is, yes, easy to look at something after the fact and say, "Yes, that would be so easy to do," or, "Why hasn't anybody done it," but when you actually delve into it, I probably spoke to 40 to 50 factories, who said no, before I finally found a factory who agreed to work with me. Even with that, when we got down to production, they backed out at the very last minute. I ended up having to build my own factory, which, my background is in manufacturing so most folks probably wouldn't want to take something like that on.
For me, it was a bit of not what I was planning on doing but it was a little bit of a dream because I got to build a sustainable factory in the fashion space. It pushed us back over a year, and it was an expensive venture to get into. When you look at why the other brands are not doing this, why they're not addressing this huge market, you say it doesn't help their bottom line. Factories don't want to manufacture complicated products. Consumers don't want to pay for necessarily complicated products and most important, large-scale brands don't want to have to explain what a product is.
For us, we were running up against a lot of challenges, the beginning with getting the product made, and then keeping up with demand. My forecasts at the beginning were all over the map. I wasn't sure if this was going to resonate more with women who are like me, who are smaller in stature, but busty or if it was going to resonate with new moms or a huge area of community that we work with are breast cancer survivors. That's one in seven women is now a breast cancer survivor, or I'm sorry, is affected by breast cancer and that number continues to escalate. After somebody has had a mastectomy or a non-elective reconstructive surgery, we're one of the key solutions for their recovery time.
Then I think a lot of those women, once they've started to use the product, become loyalists and so we've seen our repeat rates jump through the roof.
Interviewer: I'd like to ask a question about finding a factory and this is a loaded question because I'm sure we could talk for days on the process that you went through. There's a couple of areas I want to address. One is the fact that you have a factory in Sri Lanka, which I imagine most of our listeners could probably not even find on a map. They've heard of it, but they don't know where it is. One is, how do you find a factory that's outside of the normal, let's call it, easy China approach? We're all trying to leave China because of various issues in manufacturing, but they make it so easy in some regards.
The other piece of the question I'd like to ask is, you went through, as you said, 50 different factories at least, to find one that would be a good partner that would work well with you. Would love to walk down that road of, how do you find? What's the process? Finding it in remote corners of the world like Sri Lanka, and finding a factory that will work with you, it can be such a difficult task. How did you do it?
Elyse: Great questions. I'm going to answer the latter part first, and then I'll come back to how we ended up in Sri Lanka. My background is in brand development and marketing and sourcing. I spent the first 20 years of my career building out product lines, predominantly in Asia, so using China and Japan, and Korea, but predominantly China to do a lot of manufacturing. When I set out to do Bloom Bras, I specifically knew I didn't want to work with China for two main reasons.
One was, I had been watching what had been happening over the past decade, with pricing fluctuation and shipping issues. The second one, which was more important, for me, was they couldn't match quality, and there wasn't the efforts of sustainability. Because this is a highly technical product, and we wanted to keep the cost down, there were only certain parts of the world that I could look at that had the technical knowledge [chuckles] but also was an area that they could get the materials I needed, and also that we could grow with as the company scaled.
How I ended up in Sri Lanka was, they have been in the last, I would say, 5 to 10 years, they've become a hub for technical sportswear products. What was fascinating to me about Sri Lanka specifically was that there was such a passion there to actually work with designers like myself, who were in the startup space. When we found the land to build the factory on, we were able to utilize wind power, solar power, water power, and then utilize local labor and feed the local labor from the land.
That was pretty cool to be a part of, and because I had to work on MOQs that would work within my budget and as we were scaling up the company, we had no money at the very beginning. I think most startups when they're getting into specifically a product line, we'll hear a lot of nos. At some point, a lot of people will get frustrated and will just stop right there. For me, that was actually the entry point. The more nos I had, the more passion I had to actually make this thing come to life.
Interviewer: That is a common phrase we hear, it's one I think it's unexpected hearing no, for inventors, and entrepreneurs, if it's their first time with manufacturers or sourcing. You think that's going to be the easy part, like, "Okay, I want to give you my money to make the product." It can be so difficult to find the right one that will say yes, but also be good, be a good partner for you. It does take some work.
Well, I'd like to shift gears a little bit. I think our audience can really see by the short interview we've had so far already, that you clearly know what you're doing. You've been down this road before, this is not your first foray into new products. As you mentioned, a 20-year career before launching out on your own. Alongside Bloom Bras, for our audience's sake, you also run Aha Product Solutions, which is a consulting company, for lack of a better way to say it, to help inventors, entrepreneurs with innovation strategies, go-to-market strategies, et cetera.
Can you talk briefly about that and how you might be able to help, because I imagine there's some people that are listening like, "Hey, this sounds great, but there's no way I could even know how to begin looking for factories overseas or finding the right go-to-market strategy, combining with sustainability, all that you've talked about, from your many years of experience that you offer some of that and helped others." Just talk to us a little bit about your business and how you help inventors?
Elyse: Absolutely. Well, first of all, I think anybody who's passionate enough to decide that they want to start their own business, I can speak for myself, I have drawers and drawers and drawers of ideas, and of business plans and things like that of products that I would love to create. Most of them, when you actually start to delve into the business plan, they haven't been the thing that that drives my every thought. I tell people, if you're going to start a company it has to be the thing that you're that keeps you up at night, it has to be the thing that you're willing to give up everything for. Give up your social life.
For me, I'm self-funded, so financially, put it all on the line, work those 20 plus hour days, as you're moving up the mountain. If you've checked all that off and said, "Yes, I'm in on that," then I think the next thing really is to be able to find mentors so people who can help you along the way. Again, for me, I've been very fortunate that I have a very strong network of people who have stood by me, who have been advisors to me, and who are way smarter than I have, and have done way more than I have, that I can call when I've got very specific questions.
With my consulting business, I've been doing it for a long time. I help, usually, companies that have already gotten funding, or small to mid-range companies, but also I get brought in a lot of times from larger companies who are going into, let's just say a new category. It's really helping them to figure out what that area of opportunity looks like. For me, that's combining what a consumer would actually purchase, what a typical customer would put on a shelf or on a website, and then what a manufacturer could produce.
Once you've got those areas identified, then for me, product development is extremely exciting.
Interviewer: That's fun. I love how you started off by talking about really the combination of passion and hard work. You've got to have passion and the love for what you do because it is hard in the early days. So often my interviews here with successful entrepreneurs like yourself that eventually life gets a little easier and that's what people see is the end result. They don't realize what goes into in the upfront days, weeks, months leading up to that. If you have the passion for it, if you love your product, then it doesn't seem like work most days. It's still hard, it's tough but it makes a big difference.
Elyse: I disagree with that. I think every day I wake up and I say, "I'm so fortunate. I love what I do. I love, love, love my community." Every day I wake up and I say this is what I'm supposed to be doing and I'm excited. There are very few days that you don't run into something that is a challenge. I'll give you an example of something that happened to us during the pandemic and I will omit names, but a very large retailer, we had an agreement with, and we were supposed to be in store with them in June of 2020.
If you backtrack knowing anything about the product you have to order materials six, seven months in advance. We ordered the materials in December, solidified everything with the retailer in January and the product went into production so that it made it onto a boat in March because it's 45 days on the water, which got it here in time to be here somewhere between April and May 1st, which is when it was due in DC. If you backtrack March, I think it's 13th of 2020, the world stopped and to this day that retailer has still not responded to emails, but we're self-funded so that meant I was out of that money.
That inventory, while it is great inventory and we're working through the inventory, that was a really really tough pill to swallow. Then the silver lining of it was because everybody was at home and working out at home and also looking for more comfortable options, our online sales through our own website went through the roof. We were well, well, well above our forecasts there and luckily, we had the inventory from one to ship for the other. I think as an entrepreneur, one of the biggest pieces of advice that I like to share is, you can't get too excited about the highs and you can't get too upset about the lows.
You have to stay the course and celebrate the wins and look at maybe the knot winds as opportunities because they happen day-to-day. Well, yes, it does get easier, the stakes get higher. If I had failed at the very beginning, there was a little bit more leeway, and a little bit less exposure. Again, I think it's a constant journey as an entrepreneur to say, "How do I continue to grow this business? How do I wake up every single day and say, this is my life's passion, this is what I want to do and this isn't work."
Interviewer: Absolutely, that's great advice and great perspective. Thanks for sharing that. I do want to tell our audience, be sure to check out Elyse's website which is bloombras.com. The spelling is B-L-O-O-M-B-R-A-S.com. It's also in the show notes. She's been kind enough to give our audience a 10% discount if you use promo code harvestgrowth for The Harvest Growth Podcast. How creative of us to suggest that. Hopefully that's easy to remember for everybody too. Its just one word, no space between them harvestgrowth.
I do encourage everybody to check out the show notes or to find our website and details if you had the chance to write it down or go to her website, bloombras.com. At least check out the product and see the great designs that she's put together and be able to support her business as well and support further growth. Elyse, I want to thank you so much for joining the show today. This has been a great interview, a lot of fun and I think I've learned a lot and I know our audience has as well.
Elyse: Good. It's been so much fun to be here. Thank you for having me.
[00:27:25] [END OF AUDIO]