Today we’d like to introduce you to Erica Yngve.
Erica, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
Almost two years go now, I was beginning to look at ways I could re-enter the workforce when my youngest child started attending Kindergarten. I had been a mostly stay-at-home mom the past seven years raising my three children. I had started an importing company part-time with a business partner five years ago, which I had just left and was looking at the next stage in my life. You know the one where you suddenly have all this free time when your children all finally attend school? (note: this is not what happens at all!) I did not want to go back into the corporate world where I had experience in a variety of things including purchasing, property management and not-for-profit management experience. I wanted to perhaps start my own company, but I had no idea what that would be.
That summer, we visited New England, and on an especially humid day at a lake, I couldn’t bear the thought of putting on my bra. It just seemed like one more unnecessary layer of suffocating fabric on my skin. After going without one a few days, I started realizing how freeing and wonderful it felt. Due to comfort, I never slept with a bra at night, so why did I wear one during the day? Here came the deep self-reflecting moment: Was it a self-conscience thing that made me want to not draw attention to myself? Would I be viewed as an indecent woman, someone ‘loose’ or unkept? Was it a vanity thing where I wanted to look a certain way, have my boobs be certain height and shape, or be ‘supported’? Was it a cultural thing where “That’s just what you wear as a woman”, or because it is a rite of passage for all adolescent young women? The simple answer was actually a little bit of all of these reasons. If so much about wearing a bra was about how other people perceived and labeled me, what was I doing? I would just go braless all the time from then on!
It took quite a while to get used to not wearing a bra, especially after almost 30 years of doing so. It felt awkward, a bit too jiggly, and I was constantly looking to see if other people noticed my bralessness when I went out in public. Even though I relished the freedom, I was still too self-conscious to make it obvious. I looked for shirts to wear that were darker in color or had busy prints, or drapey pieces attached. I read blogs about going braless and how to wear your clothes in layers or use accessories to cover up. I began thinking that there was a problem here to solve. Many women wanted to go braless, but there were very few options that allowed both the freedom/comfort as well as the modesty. Hence, Bralessly was born!
I began prototyping shirt designs and very fortunately found a fashion incubator called F.A.B.R.I.C. (Fashion and Business Innovation Center) in Tempe, AZ whose mission was to help emerging fashion brands in Arizona get off the ground. They offered everything from consulting, to sketch and design help, to pattern-making, grading, sample sewing and then no minimum production cut-and-sew. I learned enough from the two co-founders to get me headed on the right track. I produced my first line with them in 2019.
During the summer of 2019, I applied to a pitch competition for local Arizona start-ups through the organization I was working with, Startup Tucson. The prize was $25,000 if you made the winning pitch at the TenWest Festival’s Idea Funding main stage pitch competition. My incentive was not only the award money but the opportunity to kickstart my business into high gear. The competition forced me to refine my business plan, determine a marketing and sales strategy, and realize the exposure I needed to scale this business idea into a reality. The competition had over 60 initial applicants, which was whittled down over a few elimination rounds, resulting in 5 startups appearing on a main stage in October. I was one of those five. After preparing for weeks, I nailed the pitch and walked away the proud co-winner of that $25,000 prize. I was ready to launch. Within a few more weeks, I was selling online. Due to the time constraints I still had with my kids and the driving back and forth to Tempe from Tucson, I started looking for a manufacturer in the Tucson area. I finally landed on a small woman-owned business that was able to provide me with everything I was looking for in my own backyard. I began producing my shirts in Tucson and felt I had a lot more time and control over the quality of my product. And when the pandemic struck, I was able to pivot. I offered discounted prices and changed my marketing to those women who were working at home, who didn’t feel all the pressure of having to wear a bra anymore. It couldn’t have been better timing. I’m continuing to sell online, and I look forward to when most retail clothing shops are opened again. I’m hoping to get my Bralessly line into some boutiques in the southern Arizona and Phoenix metro area soon.
Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
I don’t think any entrepreneurial startup goes smoothly. My biggest challenge was trying to define my target market. I did over 300 surveys, focus groups and personal interviews to get an idea of the ideal customer. It continued to change, however, as I started selling and getting feedback on who actually bought my product and why. This was difficult as I wanted to commit to some real marketing and advertising, but if I still wasn’t concrete on my ideal customer, I would be wasting both my time and my money. I believe I am very close now to my ideal customer profile. I am also more readily adaptable when my feedback tells me otherwise.
Another challenge I had was finding the correct resources and understanding the industry, as I did not have a degree in fashion or design. I knew my product was more about function than form, however, I did not know where to start. F.A.B.R.I.C. helped me with a lot of the connections I needed, in terms of fabric sourcing and design process. I feel super blessed to have found their organization right at the start.
Alright – so let’s talk business. Tell us about Bralessly – what should we know?
I design and sell stylish and functional tops for women who want to be comfortably braless and still be modest. Currently, I have basic Tshirts, tanks and long sleeves in a few colorways each. I’m in the process of designing a light and casual dress and other tops for this Fall. I use fabrics that are eco-friendly like Bamboo and Modal (made from Beechwood) and I make the garments right here in Arizona. My clothing is unique in that it does not lift, shape or constricts the bosom in any way (there are no hidden shelves, elastics or bands underneath). It allows for the complete freedom of your breasts while maintaining your modesty and confidence.
I’m most proud of being able to solve a problem that is woman specific. Clothing seemed almost too easy of a business idea, but being able to help all types of women feel good about what they wear and feel confident in their own bodies is such a reward. I hope I can help more women as I grow this business, not only in terms of my customers but also by hiring women and utilizing women contractors, women-owned suppliers, etc. I also love that I manufacture right here in the U.S.A. and am striving to be more ‘green’ all the time, not only in my fabric but in the way I design and produce the clothing.
Is there a characteristic or quality that you feel is essential to success?
The quality I feel is most important to my success is perseverance or grit. I just need to keep moving forward, even if it seems as if it is just a fraction of a step. Learning new things and making bad decisions is time-consuming, however, it is well worth the time and effort. Some sort of failure is a given, but if I get back up and still move forward, I will move past others who gave up and I will become successful in my own right.
Where do you see your industry going over the next 5-10 years? Any big shifts, changes, trends, etc?
The trends I see happening in the clothing industry are already becoming more apparent as this pandemic progresses. According to the UN, the fashion industry consumes more energy than the aviation and shipping industries combined. So, I see an emphasis on more sustainable and quality clothing, less production waste and less inventory waste. I see more and more ideas popping up that solve problems like having no inventory (made to demand) or no sizes (custom clothing) that will start to make an even bigger environmental impact. That means paying more for clothing than we have gotten used to, but on the flip side, it will last longer. I also hope to see more manufacturing done in the US, both because the dependence on other countries for so many industries’ entire supply chains is outdated and also because we are way behind in our own innovation.
- Classic TShirts – $54
- Simple Tanks – $49
- Longe Sleeve Ruched Shirts – $59
- Website: www.Bralessly.com
- Phone: 520-576-2646
- Email: email@example.com
- Instagram: #bralessly
- Facebook: @doitbralessly
Julie Franklin Photography, Vanessa Miller Photography