It’s not often that pregnancy is the catalyst for launching a multi-million pound business, but that’s exactly what happened to the founder of Bravissimo, Sarah Tremellen
If you’ve experienced Birmingham’s shiny new Bravissimo store you’ll know how celebratory the place is with uplifting mantras dotted around the walls affirming the brand’s ethos that ‘every woman deserves to feel amazing’. Birmingham is Bravissimo’s 26th store with many more in the pipeline, but who’s behind the plucky Midlands based brand? Meet Sarah Tremellen – the Cambridge graduate turned lingerie supremo who has changed the way we dress big boobs. When faced with going from a C cup to a DD during pregnancy and a G cup while breastfeeding, Sarah was appalled by the poor availability of bras in larger sizes. In fact, she was told not to expect to find something pretty. To add to the frustration, a friend preparing for her impending nuptials struggled to get a decent, attractive bra in an E cup to suit her dress. This set Sarah and her friend on a mission to fill the obvious gap in the market, so they hatched a plan and Bravissimo was born. Twenty-one years later the multi-million pound business has made The Times Top 100 Companies to Work For for the past 10 years, has a workforce of more than 600 and grand plans to go global.
Knowing nothing about the lingerie business other than they wanted to change the status quo, Sarah set up a home office with one phone line in her front room and with her friend they set about launching a mail order business in the days before e-commerce. They attended lingerie fairs and talked to editors of women’s magazines to get a handle on the industry. Sarah recalls: “We had no experience of the bra industry or anything really. We did whatever people wanted.” The idea that they just wanted women to feel good about themselves was reflected in the mail order catalogues which felt more like glossy magazines with celebratory features as well as products. Sarah’s naivety was a help rather than a hindrance allowing her to be free to do what she felt was right without being restricted by rules or established models. She listened to customers and responded positively. Boosted by some well-placed press coverage, the business grew more quickly than they predicted and they took 1,000 calls in three days after the Daily Mail ran a piece on Bravissimo and it became obvious that the initial 5,000 mail order catalogues was nowhere near enough and perhaps it was time to move out of the front room! Bravissimo responded well to a move to e-commerce when the time was right and took the natural next step of entering the high street retail space five years after launching. Sarah explains: “It made sense. One of the drawbacks of mail order and online is that we couldn’t fit effectively, so the retail element allowed us to better serve our customers.”
Originally launched in the south, Sarah struggled to find decent customer services staff in London and once the company had launched its first physical store outside of the South East in Manchester she realised there was a wealth of excellent staff away from the capital. A decision was made to move the business and although numerous locations were mooted, the Midlands got the nod. An advert in the local paper yielded a bundle of brilliant applications – enough to have filled the positions many times over. Staffing is important and Sarah is proud of the family vibe at the firm and feels that ‘it’s just a nice place to work’. Sarah has always listened to feedback from customers, so when people said it’s all well and good to have a gorgeous bra that fits, but we haven’t got any clothes to wear, she responded. “We wrote to our customers inviting them into the office to be measured, so that we could work out a sizing structure that would work for everyone. We started with a white shirt in three different bust sizes.” Working outside of standard pattern cutting sizes meant the company was starting from scratch. Prototypes were made and then Sarah invited the customers back in for a fitting. The products fitted really well and a wider range has been slowly developed. It’s been a whirlwind two decades, but there’s no sign of Sarah slowing down. A new website is under construction which will get Bravissimo’s ‘spirit out there’ along with more shop openings in the UK and abroad.