In the last five years, I have reviewed over one hundred products on the blog, including bras, undies, dresses, tops, accessories, and even a salad spinner. With our anniversary a few months away, I have become increasingly introspective on the experiences of small business ownership, retail management, and blogging. When I first entertained the idea of writing product reviews on our blog, my intention was to describe the fit and shape of the products we stocked using professional but approachable language. Basically, I thought it would be an inexpensive marketing tool for a cash strapped business desperately trying to keep the doors open. During the summer and fall of 2011 when I began writing, “bra blogging” was taking off in a big way. Cora Harrington had already become a leading expert through her blog The Lingerie Addict, and Georgina Horne of Fuller Figure Fuller Bust, Cheryl of Invest in Your Chest, and Becky of Busts for Justice were not only posting fabulous bra reviews while modelling the products but also wrote insightful commentary on the fuller-bust market and bra fitting in general. Their courage inspired me to begin writing my own reviews and articles. As with any endeavor, I have received both criticism and praise for the blog, and while being somewhat prolific in writing reviews, I realized that I never discussed the process itself, how my motivations have changed over time, and what I hope our readers get out of reading them.
In conjunction with the bralette trend sweeping the lingerie world, many retailers are fielding more and more requests for normal wireless bras. During our first two years of operation, the stock of wireless bras in the shop was abysmally, embarrassingly low because demand was non-existent when compared against traditional wired options. However, in the last year, we have seen tremendous growth in the need for wireless bras, leaving me scrambling for a strategy to expand successfully. Comparatively, wireless customers still occupy a lower percentage of sales, and even factoring in the demand we are presently unable to meet, I estimate that at most wireless requests would only occupy approximately 15% of cumulative bra sales. Despite the lowness, the aspect worth noting is that before last year, wireless accounted for less than 2% of bra sales, meaning the increase itself is phenomenal. However, the inherent challenge for me as a retailer is to manage our budget for stocking more wireless options, knowing that for every dollar I spend on this market, I am taking away from a wired style which may sell better or faster. Furthermore, like underwire bras, there are multiple sizes which need to be represented as well as different breast tissue types, colors, and budgets. As if the challenge did not seem insurmountable as it is (so much so that I have questioned whether I even want to tackle it all), there is the added issue of finding quality, affordable wireless bras that fit well and meet the demands of our customers.
As someone who is still struggling to build my shop, I have adopted a very strong “pay it forward attitude” toward other small businesses, and when my friend Patricia of Bolero put me in touch with P.D. Roche and her brainchild “Hot Women Clothing,” I was not only intrigued by the concept but also wanted to help P.D. gain exposure for her brand. Like many people living in the south, especially those suffering from the dreaded hot flashes, P.D. tried everything to beat the heat but felt the heavy use of synthetic fabrics, particularly in lounge and nightwear, were at odds with keeping her cool. She wanted to upgrade her favorite worn in tee shirt into something just as breathable and relaxed but with a little more color and style. When I spoke with P.D., I thought the products were a natural fit for our store, not only for menopausal women but for anyone needing cotton sleepwear. Furthermore, many of our lounge pieces, even the cotton ones, are only available in Small to X-Large, with a max size range of 0 to 14. Our wonderful inbetweenies and plus-size customers felt neglected, but Hot Women Clothing specifically caters to fuller-figures. Don’t let the use of Medium to X-Large terminology confuse you. All of the Hot Women Clothing pieces are over-sized, meaning her mediums cater to size 12-18 depending on how relaxed you prefer her fit. In fact, the gorgeous zebra robe has a 60″ circumference to accommodate a range of sizes. Finally, Hot Women Clothing is another “Made in the USA” product, and we all know how I feel about that! We are currently stocking an assortment in the shop right now and will be adding them to the online portal soon. All her products are made from 100% cotton (and not that cheap thin stuff you can see through either), and are priced between $52 and $65. Enough of my gabbing, let’s talk with P.D.!
Earlier this week, I reviewed the fabulous Samanta Mintaka A925 bra, and today, I am following through with my promise to review the other bra gifted to me by Sweet Nothings: The Hana A111. If you have not already done so, I recommend reading the Prelude to a Product Review post I wrote before continuing forward as I discuss Samanta’s sizing, pricing, and brand strategy in depth—all of which I will not rehash here. Also, please check out the original review written by Sweet Nothings on both the Mintaka and Hana as she has additional insights and photos you may enjoy.
When launching a new product or brand in the store, I prefer if I can see samples to determine quality, fit, and materials, especially if those samples are in a size I can try myself. However, given my current size of UK 32H, my ability to try before buying is somewhat limited, but Polish manufacturer Samanta—in addition to molded cups, push-ups, and delightful vertical seam half-cups—makes a few bras designed to fit larger sizes. Since shipping from Poland can be pricey, I was thrilled when Sweet Nothings sent me two of the Samanta bras she reviewed on her blog as gifts. Since we’re size twinsies, it was a fabulous, risk-free way to determine if the designs and products met my exacting standards. As a result, today I will be reviewing the A925 model from the Mintaka collection with a second review of the A111 coming later this week. (Note: If you have not already done so, I highly recommend you read the Prelude to a Product Review post I wrote last week as it covers information on Samanta’s brand strategy, sizing, and pricing that I will not be covering in today’s review.)
Slowly and steadily, I am chipping away at a (still growing) backlog of bra reviews, but I am extremely excited to finally reach the two Samanta lingerie reviews I planned. As long time readers know by now, I am a fan of Polish lingerie design and appreciate their unique approach to both bra fit and aesthetic. As a result, when Marzena of Samanta contacted me back in December about potentially carrying the brand in the store, I was excited but reserved. I had never tried Samanta before and was going to order a style or two direct from her as samples to test the fit and quality. Enter the amazing Sweet Nothings! A while back, she reviewed three of Samanta’s popular designs on her blog and was gracious enough to give me her A925 Mintaka and her A111 Hana Claret because she’s totally awesome like that. Since we’re in the same size range, I was excited to see how this brand compared to the other UK and Polish companies I tried in the past. Initially, this post began as a review of the A925, complete with video review and pictures, but my penchant for detailed explanations turned a “brief” discussion of the Samanta brand, their model numbers, and sizing system into a 1500+ word epic better suited for a post of its own. As a result, before delving into the product reviews, I am taking today to provide some background on Samanta for anyone not familiar with the brand.
When bloggers, retailers, and industry professionals talk lingerie trends, the discussion includes multiple elements like color, print, embroidery, unique detailing, and even popular styles, and lately bralettes have been red hot from the fires of demand, leaving many manufacturers scurrying to release multiple versions in exciting colors and using a variety of fabrics ranging from silk to two-ply modal to soft lace. However, the bralette world has largely targeted the 32-38 AA-C cup crowd with the occasional style able to accommodate a D or DD. Most bralettes do not feature an underwire and either use X-Small to X-Large terminology or a band size only, e.g., 30, 32, 34, for sizing, and the designs themselves tend to rely on triangle shaped cups as well as deeper v-necklines for a lighter, comfortable appearance. For the fuller-bust and/or 38+ band customer, these limitations pose unique fit challenges, particularly in terms of coverage, support, and shape. Freya hopes to address the deficit in the market place by offering a new alternative: the Fancies Bralette!
Back in December (or was it November?), Dixie of Rixie Clip contacted me about her amazing product, and I snagged some for the store in January (note to self: buy more Rixie Clips) with the intention of writing a review that same month. So, yeah. Welcome to Review 1 of the 20 or so in my backlog!
Oftentimes when I do product reviews on the blog, they are usually bras, underwear, or bust-friendly clothing, and I realize I have done my readers a disservice in largely ignoring the wonderful world of bra accessories. Bra accessories are typically designed to solve common bra problems in an easy, no fuss way and range from silicone nipple covers to bra extenders to low back converters. In some cases, these nifty products can even salvage an unwearable bra, giving you more time with a favorite piece.
My recent collaboration with Bluestockings Boutique on small business ownership inspired me to explore one of the core elements of our discussion: the price of lingerie and how consumers perceive it. Do a quick search on Google (or your search engine of choice) for core bra styles from major lingerie brands like Panache, Natori, and Affinitas, and you may be surprised at how challenging it is to find discount pricing anymore. If the bra is black, beige, white, or a newly released fashion color, it is probably listed at full price, and if it’s not, wait a few days. Eventually, someone will report the infraction, and the item will quickly return to its original Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price (MSRP). But why have retailers all across the US finally agreed to uphold the same pricing schema despite years of competing for consumer dollars based on low cost? Simple. Manufacturers have grown tired of watching their carefully designed, high quality products be associated with low prices and discounts. Unlike many avenues of retail, intimate apparel remains fairly exempt from what’s known as inflationary pricing—a practice where the retailers and/or manufacturers inflate the price of a product beyond its true worth to allow for constant discounting and price-based competition. As a result, the suggested retail price on most items has been determined by the manufacturer to be a fair evaluation of the design process, fabrics, manufacturing, and associated retail expenses like rent, utilities, and the cost of a professional fitter. In short, there’s no wiggle room for lowering that price and maintaining a successful profit, particularly for boutique retailers. Enter the advent of MAP Agreements.
My beloved blog has been rather silent this year, not for my lack of wanting to write new content, and today I want to briefly update here why posting has been irregular. Last year was not a good year. Between chronic illness and then my brother’s attack in September, the store truly suffered from closures, inconsistent hours, and order delays. We managed to keep our doors open and to even eek out a minuscule growth rate, but there were many times I questioned my decision to continue forward with A Sophisticated Pair. This year, however, has really seen an explosion for us. It feels like we are back on track with our customers and with our plans for expansion, and I cannot be happier. However, busy days, last minute appointments, and all the added responsibilities involved in strengthening our business have tested my time management skills to the limit. Blogging, despite being an outlet for my writing passion, was continually bumped to the bottom of my ever-expanding “To Do” list, along with posting updates on Facebook and Instagram, developing a new fit tool, dying my hair, and cleaning out my shed.