Attollo is a brand for women, founded by women. Started by two friends who were frustrated at the lack of options out there for D+ lingerie, they decided to take matters into their own hands and work with their target audience to create stylish, comfortable bras that tick all the boxes. It's an approach that's seen them featured in Vogue, gather thousands of pre-orders and a lot of love on social media and the press - and they've not even officially launched yet (but soon!) We spoke to founders Fleurette and Alice about their amazing business journey. Follow them on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.
How and why we started
Attollo is a lingerie startup founded to give D+ the choice to love their lingerie. The story behind Attollo started 10 years ago, when we, the founders, became D+ for the first time, at age 14. We grew up learning that lingerie was segmented into A-D and D+ cup sizes, with the latter lacking in availability, style and uplift. The experience of growing up with the embarrassment of wearing bras that were either plain and grannyish, or pretty but the wrong size, gave us an insatiable motivation to transform the lingerie experience for other D+ women.
Aged 20, exploring every new brand and finding that none provided the beautiful and well-fitting bras that we needed, we realised no-one was going to sort out the D+ lingerie market unless we did. In April 2013, during our Second Year at university reading Geography, we decided to take the plunge and found Attollo. Attollo means 'I lift up, I raise, I excite' and is everything we want our bras to do, that current bras don't. Our goal with Attollo is to transform the lingerie-buying journey.
How did you establish demand and do your initial market research?
Both of us are customers of our market - at 28FF and 30GG, we’ve both been D+ for 10 years each. Attollo was founded out of a personal need. The women in both of our families are also D+, therefore we grew up hearing their thoughts about the lingerie in this market and their ideas about how it could be improved.
We knew it’d be foolish to start a company based solely on us and our family’s opinions, so we conducted three rounds of market research, each of over 100 women. This confirmed that D+ women en masse felt as we did; 81% of D+ really didn’t and don’t like the lingerie available in their size. From this, we saw that our niche would be the small band, large cup sizes.
It became obvious what women wanted and it’s a simple request; they want to love their lingerie and want to be able to choose what lingerie they buy. They want a brand that listens to what they would like, and a brand that understands what it’s like to wear lingerie in their size, everyday. So our mission became simple - we always listen to the customer and design lingerie that is stylish, beautiful, flattering, and that is practical for everyday wear under a variety of different clothing. Our research concluded that our target market wanted 16 key changes to the design of lingerie that was currently available for D+ women. We have incorporated 14 of those requests, with the other two following in our second range. Given that one third of UK women are D+, it’s definitely a market worth listening to.
Have you encountered any frustrations as female entrepreneurs?
We’ve found that it has been a challenge communicating the demand for our product, and the need women have for amazing lingerie, to a largely male-dominated investment scene. The advantages we have found as women, however, is that when looking for investment we stand out as a startup that’s solely female-founded.
How has the community you’ve built up around your product shaped your business?
We co-designed our lingerie with the help of 100 fellow D+ women, so Attollo is a customer-designed and built business - they have entirely shaped our business!
The customers and our old colleagues at our bra-fitting part-time jobs have shaped Attollo more than they know. For seven months we listened to customer feedback, and used that to better Attollo’s offering. This influenced our design, the technical functions of our bra components, and gave us the idea to be the first D+ lingerie brand to offer bra-fitting parties.
We co-founded Attollo while studying our Geography degrees at King’s College London. With neither of us having any business/corporate experience, we networked three or four nights a week at university to create our own network and community. Each of the individuals we met along the way, some who we continue to learn from and some who we still work with, have hugely shaped Attollo and have taught the pair of us many invaluable skills that we wouldn’t have otherwise learned.
Have you made use of any female entrepreneur groups / communities, and if so which?
We have contact with the Blooming Founders founder, Lu Li, and a private women’s dinner club set up by a friend of ours and fellow IoD 99-er! We also have contact with the Women in Business Network which are based all over London. Part of our business model is bra fit parties therefore we constantly look for female groups, communities and networks for us to host a party for!
What was a big turning point for you?
There have been a few. The first was when we both met up for a catch up coffee as friends at our university SU bar. We decided to stop moaning about lingerie that we hated, and start making and designing lingerie that we love; the eureka moment when we began Attollo.
A second was when our Virgin Startup loan ran out! We had met the milestones which the loan was intended to finance, and we were receiving investment offers, but the fit of the investors wasn’t quite right for Attollo, so regretfully we had to decline. At this point we had to urgently find part-time jobs to repay our loans.
So we both became bra fitters at two retailers where we hope to one day stock Attollo. As a result, we’re both trained bra fitters, we both gained invaluable insights into our competitors, how retailers work with lingerie brands, and have a greater understanding of D+ women and how customers approach lingerie shopping. Once we signed our first investment deal we resumed working on Attollo full-time, but those 7 months of bra fitting were our greatest turning point. We both had to decide if Attollo was what we really wanted to pursue, and we both had to reflect if the reason behind why we couldn’t source the investment was something integral within our market. What was very exciting for us was that our experience bra fitting demonstrated that the market was desperate for Attollo.
Any tips for other women who want to start a business?
Most investors are men. If you are looking for investors to back a female-consumer orientated business, needing to get them excited over a product that they don’t necessarily understand, you must find ways for the problem you are solving to be relatable. After finding that men weren’t resonating with the exasperation most D+ women feel towards existing lingerie, we knew we had to get them to ‘feel’ women’s emotional pain.
We had a meeting arranged with a male contact at an investment fund. We asked his PA what his shoe size was and bought some shoes two sizes too small. We asked him to wear them for the entire two hour meeting we had scheduled. The meeting ended with him begging to remove the shoes as he couldn’t feel his toes, and at the end of the day we had accepted our first investment deal!
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