Our annual statistical series, which originated when store-related activities occupied a significantly smaller portion of my time, transformed over the years into a process I both love and loathe—love for the satisfaction it affords my inner math geek and analytical personality type who genuinely enjoys pouring through data and abstracting patterns and loathe for the overworked business owner who has to find time for sifting through large quantities of figures. Nevertheless, to even be celebrating five years of business, no matter how much time it tacks onto the analysis, is something of a mini-miracle for our small but ambitious shop. Examining the cumulative data demonstrates how much we have grown, not only in terms of sales figures but also in size and style assortment. Before we delve into the statistics, however, I wanted to make a few preemptive comments in the hopes of lending some perspective to the actual numbers. (Note: If you haven’t already seen our post on the giveaway, do so now as there is still time to enter.)
Kristen Allen contacted me a few months ago about a potential Pop Up Shop at the store for her bust-friendly clothing designs, and I was immediately intrigued by what she hoped to offer customers. Bust-friendly fashion is obviously a subject about which I feel passionately because I have spent the better part of my life struggling to fit into clothing designed for a different body shape than my own. My first properly fitting button-front shirts came from Poland and then Campbell & Kate, and they opened my eyes to not only how sharp a tailored shirt looks but also how confident I felt wearing them. To see another entrepreneur bringing her own perspective to the industry, especially an approach which focuses on Made in the USA products, was fabulous, and I knew immediately I wanted to help however I could. As a result, we’re starting off with an interview where Kristen dishes on her motivations, her mistakes, and how fabulous it is to live in NYC, and then later, I will have a review of one of her classic shirts! Oh, and did I mention that if there is enough interest we’re going to host a Pop Up shop here? If you’re interested in seeing her come to NC, please comment, email, or message me because this is an opportunity I would love to take advantage of for our customers. Stay cool in the heat everyone!
The steamy summer month of July holds a special place in my heart because our little bra shop celebrates its anniversary. A Sophisticated Pair stemmed from my personal desire to find a store which not only offered a range of bra sizes in a wide assortment of colors and styles, but that also offered the kind of quality customer service I found lacking in my own bra shopping experiences. When I was finally fitted properly, I realized the potential for transformation contained in a bra fitting and wanted everyone to feel the same way I did—to look at themselves through the lens of acceptance and confidence. The experience left such an imprint on me that despite being a computer programmer fresh out of grad school, I began researching not only bra fitting techniques but also the fundamentals of owning a small retail business. After two years, I felt comfortable contemplating the idea of a storefront, and I approached my aunt Debbie and my dad Jason with my ideas for improving the bra shopping experience. Together, we sacrificed, worked hard, persevered, and worked harder still so that we could open our doors on July 17, 2011. In a few short days, we will celebrate five years of operation. I have several posts planned about the anniversary (including our annual statistical series) and am looking forward to sharing some of the ups and downs we’ve had with all of our readers. For the meantime though, let’s discuss our annual sale and giveaway!
Fussy Busty and I first internet-met a few years ago when she started her fabulous blog, and she has always been a warm, generous person. In fact, we were part of a secret Santa exchange one year, and she knitted me a coffee cup cover with the store’s iconic pears stitched onto them! Recently, she embarked on a new journey in her life as a work-at-home mom and small business owner. Fussy translated her enjoyment for sewing into a custom-clothing business for children and adults, and her adorable daughter is often found modeling the latest designs. Because so many of us struggle to find properly fitted garments, a business which offers the option of purchasing custom-made clothes at an affordable price is one I am keen to support. Not to mention, all of you know by now that I adore family-owned businesses, made in America products, and anybody willing to do something different in the clothing industry. Naturally, I am loving what Fussy is hoping to achieve here, but I especially loved how candidly she spoke about the trials of working from home and raising a child. Oh, and did I mention she made me a dress? A dress that channels my favorite writer even? It’s en transit now, and I’m totally doing this:
Regardless of your feelings on the issue, I think we can all agree that the modern woman is often encouraged if not outright shamed into not allowing her nipples to show through any clothes. Whether you find an erect nipple obscene or natural is another post entirely, but for today’s purposes, I want to talk about a simple accessory that offers comfortable, long term nipple concealment: the nipple cover! Nipple covers are easy-to-use accessories available in a variety of mediums, sizes, colors, and price points, and all of them (*spoiler alert*) are designed to discreetly hide nipples under clothes. Many times in the shop we hear clients refuse to consider any bras that are not at least lightly padded because of this concern; however, padded bras, especially ones utilizing molded foam, can not only present significant fit challenges but are also unavailable in many sizes. Depending on the nipple, even more forgiving spacer fabric bras can be too thin, leaving customers scrambling to fit into a heavily padded cup all for the sake of their nipples! Wouldn’t it be nice to wear any style of bra you want? Or to purchase bras because they fit and support the best, regardless of the fabric? Most nipple covers range in price from $10 to $40 per pair and are available as either a cloth pad or a silicone gel, but for today, we are focusing on Chippey’s Chips whose gimmicky but playful slogan is “Chips for your nips when you’re in a crunch.”
Flash back to 2002. I was 16, a senior in high school, and on a desperate hunt for dress to wear to my prom that was not neon, a potato sack, or too revealing. Everything I tried in my increasingly self-defeating quest would not zip over my boobs in the size which fit my waist, and after two hours of tedium and disappointment, I nearly cried when I stumbled upon a hidden size 12 dress, out of place and wedged between two spaghetti strap dresses (uh, no). My prom salvation was a sleeveless, A-line dress in an ethereal silver color, and the best part? A corset-style back which laced up as tight as I needed it around the waist without mashing my breast tissue into an unflattering blob. Sold!
Since then, I’ve often wondered why we don’t see more flexible sizing and fit elements incorporated into designs for clothing, whether that means a lace-up back, a tie element, or something else I’m not creative enough to conceive at the moment. Imagine how much easier clothes shopping would be if you had the ability to tighten or loosen certain areas of a garment without resorting to alterations. Patricia of Bolero Beachwear, who has been flush with new ideas the last few moments, tackled this problem and created the Princess Ella Dress, a knee-length A-Line dress with a wide sweetheart neckline and corset back with interchangeable ribbons.
My intention was to post this review about two weeks ago, but if you follow our Facebook page, you’ll remember we spent about a week hanging new fixtures and reorganizing the store. Every time I undertake a new project, I always forget to multiply whatever my initial time estimate is by three, and I distinctly recall thinking while my dad and I plotted out the placement of our new efficient and stylish wall mounts was “Oh, this shouldn’t take more than two hours to hang and maybe another two to put everything up.” Oh how foolish I was!! Even though it is totally unrelated to the review itself, I thought I would share a before and after picture here of our progress:
We now return you to our regularly scheduled review. In my recent reviews of the Freya Fancies bralette and the Fit Fully Yours Kristina, I mentioned how wireless requests have exploded in the last several months, and as part of my scrambling efforts to expand inventory, I began eying the Goddess Sports Bra. One of the challenges of running a lingerie store and planning inventory assortment is determining what to sacrifice carrying on-hand in order to stay open—an agonizing process the result of which customers do not always understand. Sports bras (and to some extent strapless bras) have always been underrepresented because they both are utility pieces, often not purchased until the client needs them. A notable exception to this is the Panache Sports bra which is one of our best-selling bras, and my personal favorite sports bra of all time. As with normal bras, sports bra are available in multiple styles in a range of sizes and fabrics, each designed for different tissue types, breast shapes, and activity levels. Because of this, sports bra could easily have a dedicated department all their own, budget and space constraints notwithstanding.
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.!