Getting to the start line of launching a business
It’s been three years since I quit full-time work, and focused my energy into delivering a new era of sports bras.
Launching a company can feel like riding a rollercoaster, add innovation to the mix and it’s felt like there is only a loose safety barrier to keep me strapped in.
As we get ready to launch pre-orders in January, now seems like a good time to pause and reflect on the journey it took to get to the start line - what went well and what hasn’t. As a glass half-full character, I will always start with the positive …
"our prototype reduced breast movement by 85%"
We set out with the aim of re-engineering the sports bra to be sleek and supportive. After learning the rule book, we quickly threw most of it out the window. It was important to not just tweak but fundamentally think outside of the box if we were going to overhaul one of (if not the) most technical items of clothing out there.
After two years of crude trial and error, biomechanics testing found that our v1.0 Impact prototype reduced breast movement by 85%. This was big, having hard evidence that we had nailed the supportive element of the prototype was magic.
"we had outperformed a market leading sports bra"
Committed to continued innovation
Our prototype went through six major development stages but with roughly 30 design iterations in total. This got us to the v1.0 Impact sports bra, which was user and lab tested, and we are launching later in January.
As a business dedicated to providing supportive and sleek active underwear for busty women, we will not rest on our laurels, nor will we ignore the feedback from the wonderful women who are here to support. Innovation will continue to be at the heart of our products, and will be made clear in our product names as we develop / tweak based on our learnings from you. I would hope that by 2022 we are offering you v2.0.
Sustainability will also continue to be a key focus for us. We have pushed hard to source sustainable materials for our sports bra, this includes recycled fabric; labels and hangtags with soy ink printing. Our garment bags are magic too - biodegradable, recyclable and soluble in warm or hot water, non-toxic and marine safe!
There is a lot that could have gone better but I believe failures/ challenges/ headwinds (call them what you like) are an essential part of any journey. They always teach you a lesson and they make you grateful for the good times.
"It was worth putting my finances at risk, if it meant you could all enjoy feeling liberated when exercising"
Timings, costings and COVID
You have to have a huge dash of optimism to start a company. I am a hopeless optimist but this has meant I have come up short on when I was able to launch and how much it would cost me to get there. Lesson learned, at least double your expected deadlines and costs to achieve.
Yes, innovation is costly. I used a significant portion of my own (self-earned) savings to get the prototype launch-ready. This meant I then needed to raise finance in the midst of a global pandemic for production costs. I felt 2020 was the wrong time to crowdfund when businesses and charities in crisis needed the funds more, so I applied for and was granted a start-up loan. I believe in this concept and product so much, that I figured it was worth putting my finances at risk, if it means you can all enjoy feeling liberated when exercising, by wearing a peBe sports bras.
"patience has paid off and enabled us to find a manufacturing partner with exceptional ethical standards"
COVID has meant that we are launching with a smaller size range (putting the development of our GG+ size range on hold) and launching six months later than planned (due to reduced capacity at our factory). All supplier and manufacturer relationships have been developed virtually, as we deemed our travel unnecessary in the current climate. I cannot wait to visit our factory and other key suppliers when it is safe to do so.
I’m forever late thanks to my optimism on timings but this one was big. I remember joining Clemmie and Vickie on a run in Peckham Rye and telling them all about my new sports bra business that would be launching "later that year" … lol. That was January 2019. “When are you going to launch?” became an increasingly uncomfortable question to answer thanks to the delays in finding a manufacturing partner and coping with the development delays as a result of COVID. The patience has paid off and enabled us to find a manufacturing partner with exceptional ethical standards, who can deliver at scale but is up for the challenge of working with a small start-up.
The most important lesson I have learned since starting out is …
Only listen to those who have got skin in the game or stood in your shoes
Everyone will want to give you advice when you start out. Always meant with the best intent but it's largely only worth listening to if they have either got skin in the game or if they have "been there, done it, got the badge". I took this nugget from James Watt, one of the co-founders of Brewdog, when listening to one of my favourite podcasts, Secret Leaders.