Lingerie prototyping, easy, right?

Back in June, millie lingerie was still a bit of a twinkle in my eye. I’d quit my job and decided to find out if my idea really had legs, and joined the Next Business Generation Programme at BioCity in Nottingham.

So what have I been up to in the past 3 months?

To begin, I had to really strip my idea apart and look at the assumptions I’d made about why I thought turning my dissatisfaction and frustration when buying lingerie was a good business proposition. Women need more lingerie choices following breast cancer. It had almost become a fact. But was it true?

So it was time to research. I’ve discovered that many women experience ongoing pain years after their surgery and treatment ends. Women at all stages of their journey, from a few months, to many years after, state that they experience ongoing pain.

For me, pain is a regular occurrence, and something I accommodate by choosing my activities and lingerie according to how I’m experiencing it on any given day. A ‘Sloppy Joe’ bra for a day when I’m uncomfortable, a more structured, possibly even underwired bra for an occasion when I want more shape and a better contour.

During conversations with like-minded women and group discussions on Facebook, I found reassurance that I’m not the only one, many of us struggle to combine comfort, shape AND style. Women who wore underwired bras before their treatment now find it almost impossible, and without a wire, for some, that can mean a loss of shape and contour, and that’s before you even take into account the need to accommodate a prosthesis.

A bra alone is not a solution for this pain, but wearing the right one can ease the experience of it, leaving the wearer feeling a little more secure, and comfortable.

In the UK we spend an average of £20-£30, me included (usually). I’ve experimented with higher priced bras, and though I feel more comfortable and secure, I’m still not quite satisfied.

When I started to consider all of the components that go into a bra, 30+ usually, and the additional needs for softness, strength, and containment of a prosthesis, it stacks up to a more expensive finished product if it’s done well and fit for purpose.

Looking at some of the more ‘reasonably’ priced post surgical bras on the market, you’ll soon spot that they’re remarkably similar to other styles such as maternity bras, which are also ‘soft’. Hmmm… soft doesn’t mean it’s the right solution, even before you consider the awkwardness of being sold a maternity bra when you’ve had breast cancer.

So why does this happen? My research suggests that established lingerie brands are quite risk averse to developing products outside their area of expertise, remember Victoria’s Secret being challenged by a petition with over 100,000 signatures?

Add to that, brands work on incredibly tight margins to achieve high sales volume and price points that we’re happier to pay. Bra components are priced to 3 decimal places, which means that anything specific or ‘special’ can take it outside of the usual rigid costing structure. It certainly explains how you end up with doubled up designs for post surgical and maternity.

So the question is, readers, and women who’ve faced breast cancer, would you be willing to pay more than you usually do for a bra that better meets your needs? Imagine a bra that supports you breast, doesn’t irritate your skin, holds you prosthesis comfortably in place (assuming you wear one), AND looks great.

That’s what millie is working on; fully meeting the ‘functional’ needs, going the extra mile to provide better support and shape, AND designing lingerie that includes women in the fashion world, not leaves them behind feeling left behind and left out.

Our first prototype is being developed; it’s not a speedy process, but it will be worth the wait I promise. millie has a ‘virtual’ team working to create our first commercialisation drawings, an experienced and inspiring lingerie designer researching construction and materials, and a technical expert who is going to help us to develop a project plan and early costings.

We all deserve beautiful lingerie. millie is committed to this belief.