The Shadow Bra Industry: Uplifting the Girls with Lisa Cole

Today I continue my Shadow Bra Industry series with the final of four women that I interviewed who are forging separate paths to help women find their perfect fit. Earlier I introduced you to two New Yorkers, Jessica and Anina, one Chicagoan, Adrienne McGill, and two direct sales companies, Peach and Essential Body Wear. Today you get to meet Lisa Cole.

Each of the women in this series has taken a separate path to storeless fitting. Lisa Cole began with the biggest store of them all–Nordstrom. She started in their lingerie department in 1993 with seven other women. By the end of her first year, she was the only one remaining. Everyone else had either quit or transferred to a less challenging department. As Lisa explained, lingerie is hard work because there is so much detail involved. You have to be passionate about helping women find the right bra. Otherwise, all the details will scare you away.

Lisa has stuck with the details for 23 years and is still going strong. Today she delivers motivational speeches to women’s groups and helps new store owners find their way. She also continues to work with individual clients who find her through events and referrals. Although based in Los Angeles, she can meet with clients in any city where she has a speaking engagement, which is how I met her in New York City six years ago when she put me into the Panache Tango.

I now prefer other bra shapes and styles, but my experience of being perfectly fitted into the Tango is one reason I know I can trust Lisa to take care of others. After my fitting , I would flash my Tango at every female lingerie store owner that I met, and they’d always be impressed. The other reason for my trust is that Lisa told me, “It is imperative that women feel good about themselves. That’s my bottom line.” Good fit alone isn’t enough. If a client’s response to a bra is, “I guess I can live with this,” Lisa makes sure she doesn’t have to.

Lisa’s typical client is the woman who has been to ten different fitters and stores, has shopped online, and is exhausted. Lisa works with every demographic–she wants the Walmart customer and the Nieman customer. She also works with every niche, including weight gain and loss (she recently helped a client who had dropped from a size 18 to 8 and needed swimwear for a Hawaii vacation), pregnancy, nursing, cancer, breast augmentations, and reductions. Many of Lisa’s clients work 60-hour weeks, and they appreciate that Lisa can have them in and out in an hour with everything from bras to swimwear and everything in between.

If you send your friend to Lisa, what type of experience can she expect? First, the private consultation can take place in your friend’s own home or at a store. Lisa’s approach is consultative because her goal is to help each client into a space where she says, “Oh, OK, I feel good around her.” To determine your friend’s size, Lisa brings a set of bras with her in every size. Afterwards, she shows your friend what she has with her (a curated set based on customer favorites) and what can be ordered in over 100 brands. In-home consultations are great because Lisa can help a client with solutions for what is actually in her closet. On the other hand, she also offers fun group sessions that cost a lot less.

Lisa has watched a lot of changes in the bra fit industry and has been a pioneer as a private fitter. However, her biggest love is simply helping women. As she put it, she may be a speaker, expert and authority on women’s intimate apparel, but lingerie just happens to be her teaching platform to help women see themselves differently through shaping their bodies.

 

The Shadow Bra Industry: Adrienne McGill in Chicagoland

Today I continue my Shadow Bra Industry series with the third of four women that I interviewed who are forging separate paths to help women find their perfect fit. Earlier I introduced you to two New Yorkers, Jessica and Anina, and two direct sales companies, Peach and Essential Body Wear. Today I want you to meet Adrienne Mcgill.

Most of us are happy just to find a bra fitter who wants to put us in the right bra, but Adrienne McGill is a like a bra fitting life coach! I feel ready to take on the world after only a few minutes with her, so imagine how her clients must feel.

The women who work with Adrienne are usually experts in their fields who value others’ expertise and are willing to pay for it. Adrienne spends time developing relationships with each client and visits Curve with each one’s specific preferences in mind. She’ll tell a husband who wants to buy his wife some lingerie, “Truthfully, this is the bra she wants, and it’s coming out early next year, so it’s worth waiting for.”

Advice like that makes me want to refer my Chicago friends to her.  Adrienne has spent over ten years honing her skills. As she puts it, “I’m in the business to help women feel good about themselves. It’s important to me that I leave a woman better than I found her.

If you’re referring a friend who isn’t certain about the financial commitment of working with Adrienne, have her inquire about Adrienne’s once-a-month, entry level, no-fee events. At those events, she usually runs two fitting rooms at a time and spends 20-30 minutes with each client.

Here is what your friend can expect from a fit session with Adrienne:

  • no tape measure (“It’s only a guideline anyway”)
  • encouragement not to worry about size, only fit
  • a separate changing room with a closed door . . . no undressing in front of Adrienne unless she chooses to, and Adrienne will always ask permission before entering the room
  • no touching–especially since she needs to learn how to put her bra on properly at home–but Adrienne will ask permission before adjusting the straps

Adrienne carries bands from 30-44, and cups from European E-H. For women outside this range, she can special order or find someone to help them.

Once Adrienne and the client have worked out sizing, they’ll move on to wardrobing. Adrienne finds the interplay between wardrobing and fit to be very personal and consultative. The key question that guides everything is: What are we trying to accomplish? Although Adrienne may show her client that a cut and sew bra provides a better fit, she won’t sell it to her if she isn’t going to wear it. If her client has been wearing the same bra for 10 years, Adrienne probably won’t start her in the tightest band. If a client is on a tight budget, in transition with her weight, or expecting a baby, Adrienne will recommend just three bras–one to wash, one to wear, and a spare. She’ll find out what shades and colors are in the rest of her client’s wardrobe, whether she prefers smooth or textured bras, and what her lifestyle is like. For example, if she’s a young mom running after kids all day, Adrienne won’t recommend a demi cup.

According to Adrienne, the average woman only returns to a bra store every 3-5 years, so a retailer will try to sell as much as possible in each visit. Adrienne’s business model focuses more on helping her clients than on simply turning product, which explains why they schedule regular sessions with her. If her client’s face doesn’t light up at a bra, then Adrienne can’t get excited about selling it to her.

 

 

The Shadow Bra Industry: Brazen Lingerie

Today I continue my Shadow Bra Industry series with the second of four women that I interviewed who are forging separate paths to help women find their perfect fit. Earlier I introduced you to Jessica, and before that to two direct sales companies, Peach and Essential Body Wear. Now I’d like you to meet another New Yorker ready to meet women where they are.

She does so much more than maternity, but whenever I hear a mom-to-be worrying about nursing bras, the first person I want her to meet is Anina Young of Brazen Lingerie. When I first wrote about Anina, she worked from her brick and mortar store in Inwood on the northern tip of Manhattan. Since then, she’s changed her business model. Now instead of trekking up to her, for a fee (unless you’re a mastectomy client, then it’s free) she’ll trek to you–an especially welcome change for women who are about to give, or have just given, birth. Just ask the new mother who gave birth to twins that Anina went to meet in the neonatal intensive care unit!

If you ask Anina why she is so passionate about maternity and nursing, she’ll respond, “Have you ever held a one-day-old baby?” Personally, no. But I have shadowed Anina at Curve and listened to her very specific questions to maternity and mastectomy bra vendors that indicate a deep understanding of her client’s needs. For anyone in the NYC vicinity facing motherhood or breast surgery, Anina needs to be at the top of her to-do list.

Anina also needs to be at the top of the to-do list for anyone who

  • doesn’t like bra shopping
  • has had a bad bra shopping experience in the past
  • has neck problems or other physical issues
  • can’t find her size
  • simply doesn’t want to go to a store

These are the types of friends that Anina told me to refer to her. Like Jessica, the friends we send to Anina shouldn’t be in browse-mode. Instead, they should be in “take care of herself mode”.

When I asked why we should trust our friends to Anina, she answered, “Because you know me. You know I’ll take care of them. You know that I know what I’m doing, I’m not going to scam them, and I’m going to do the right thing.” And it’s true. Any time I’ve eavesdropped on Anina as she’s fit other women, I’ve learned something new. She’s worked with so many different body types that she has solutions for situations that would completely stump a bra fit dilettante like me.

If you’re ready to refer a friend to Anina, here’s what you can tell her to expect. First, Anina will ask a few questions ahead of their meeting to narrow the range of sizes to bring with her. Anina carries over 60 sizes, from 28D to HH and 32 (and higher) A to K (British). So far she has always had at least one bra in each customer’s size.

Once they meet, she’ll educate your friend about fit. Typically, customers buy half a dozen bras and rarely all in the same size. Anina can easily spend at least an hour with your friend, so she’ll tell her to be sure to block out 1.5 to 2 hours for her appointment. (Anina also offers parties that can take 2-2.5 hours.)

Once they’ve whittled the selection down to your friend’s favorites (including at least one boring basic and one “Saturday night hot special”), Anina will work through the prices with her. She’ll go through what’s on sale, what’s fashion and therefore will be gone soon, and what can be special ordered any time. Anina is used to working with a variety of income levels, helping her customers get the most out of the budgets they have right now and planning for what to add later.

The Shadow Bra Industry: Jessica Fits to a J Cup

Today I continue my Shadow Bra Industry series with the first of four women that I interviewed who are forging separate paths to help women find their perfect fit. My earlier posts covered the direct sales model and my experience with two companies, Peach and Essential Body Wear.

As you know from my first post on the subject, this series was sparked by the dreaded question: “Where should I go to get fitted for a bra?” I always feel like I should have a one-size-fits-all answer for a one-size-doesn’t-fit-all question! Now, instead of a single answer, my research for this series has given me multiple choices.

If one of these women offers services in your area, I encourage you to reach out to her. And if you know other D+ fitters in the Shadow Bra Industry or are a shadow fitter yourself, please let me know so that I can update my new Big Bust Bra Fitters resource page.

Before I proceed, here are some of the questions that I asked each of the women that I interviewed:

  • Why can I trust you to take care of a friend that I send to you?
  • What type of friend should I send to you? Or, what are your customers like?
  • What experience can I tell the friend to expect?

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Jessica has a story that a lot of us can relate to. She skipped an A cup growing up and jumped right into a B for her first bra. To her mom’s credit, she took Jessica to specialty bra stores from the very beginning. Even so, Jessica wore “grandma bras” all through college until her magical first experience with Bravissimo when she was 22. That’s when she discovered her true size of 32F and that it came in pretty styles and colors.

It’s also when she discovered her passion for bra fitting. When asked why we can trust her with our friends, she told me, “Because it’s personal.” She wants other D+ women to have the same experience that changed her life.

Jessica is the only fitter that I interviewed who doesn’t charge a fee. As she puts it, “My goal is client satisfaction. My main focus is not on the bottom line right now.” That’s saying a lot for a fitter whose day job is as an accountant!

Her ideal customer is a serious shopper who wants a proper fit, rather than someone who is only browsing, and Jessica would much rather sell two bras to her every six months than eight every two years.

Here is what the New York friends that you refer to Jessica can expect from the process. As they’re setting up an appointment date over the phone, Jessica will ask your friend what bra she’s currently wearing to figure out where she might be in the D-J cup range and the 30-38 band range (Jessica also carries some 40 and 42 bands for a specific customer). Once they meet, Jessica usually identifies the correct size within three try-ons.

Next, she’ll give your friend everything she has in her size, beginning with a tee shirt bra and moving on to non-molded cups if she’s interested. If a non-molded bra fits best, she’ll try to encourage your friend to choose that one. Finally, she’ll introduce sexier styles into the mix. As Jessica tells her clients, “There’s a technical need for a bra, so it might as well be pretty!” Jessica offers bras from Simone Perele (her favorite), Panache, Addiction and Parfait, as well as shapewear from Yummie Tummie and BodyWrap.