For Week 12 of Female Founders Weekly, we interviewed Bella Trang Ngo of Brarista. Bella is a professional bra fitter (who fits by sight) plus MSc graduate in Tech Entrepreneurship - Bella is combining everything she knows about bras to make bra-shopping a more pleasant experience. This interview was led by FFW co-author and Wear My Freedom founder, Alexandra Pluthero. Enjoy!
Alexandra: Congratulations on recently raising £20k! It’s no mean feat. First, tell us what motivated you to start Brarista?
Bella: Thanks! It was an exciting call for us - entirely motivated by the positive reactions we saw from our co-creators. Thanks to the crowdfunding success, it gave us a lot more confidence and credibility to win other grants.
It was when I was doing my Masters in Tech Entrepreneurship. While doing some quick research for the womenswear space, I came across the statistics of 80% of women wearing the wrong bra size. At first, I was sceptical. At the same, I felt uncomfortable wearing what I was wearing, but somehow I thought bras were meant to feel that way because of the way my body is structured. I didn’t think much of it until I set up a meeting with a professional bra-fitter (who fitted only by eyesight) for market research, who made me realised that I was wearing a bra size way off my correct fit (36B -> 34DD).
Her expertise got me thinking of surely there must be a way to bring her service to the women I know and beyond using technology.
Alexandra: Tell us a little bit more about the technology, how does it work?
Bella: I collaborate with professional bra-fitters, and award-winning computer vision scientists to bring together a piece of software that can tell one’s correct bra fit from a few (non-naked) photos.
It’s exciting to be involved in such state-of-the-art R&D that can solve one of the biggest problems when it comes to women’s well-being.
Alexandra: Let’s talk about fitting, what do you think are the main reasons that so many women wear the wrong bra size?
Bella: I think it starts with the in-store bra-fitting services. It’s not easy to train and retain expert bra-fitters who can fit properly. Unfortunately, being a bra-fitter is often a popular short-lived endeavour for many, and therefore retailers and brands have opted for very basic fitting training. This arrangement, in turns, kept the outdated method of fitting by tape-measures in popularity. This method, however, has been proven to have a 70% inaccuracy rate.
Take my experience; for instance, I was getting a bra-fitting on the high-street on almost a yearly basis, and yet, I was wearing the wrong fit for most of my life.
Alexandra: Besides fit, what other problems do you see in the underwear industry today?
Bella: If I were to run my own lingerie brand, I would definitely bring more diversity in voices and visual representations to the brands. I wish brands could use their campaigns to shine on how their customers (of any sexual orientations) are doing with the world wearing their products- much more than just ‘looking pretty’ and ‘feeling comfortable.’ I’m not saying those narratives have to go. I’m saying we should include more other narratives.
Alexandra: What have been some of your biggest challenges so far, and what motivated you to keep going?
Bella: Many - but one of the biggest challenges has been evaluating my opportunity costs by exploring other career options. The second biggest challenge has been being an immigrant founder. Besides having to establish my network and balance my emotional well-being living far from my family, I struggled quite a bit at the beginning of figuring out my identity and motivation.
What has kept me going has been my team, and Brarista’s co-creators. Every day, I get messages from people from literally all around the world, asking about Brarista’s progress and whether there’s anything they could do to be a part of the R&D. It’s been genuinely surreal.
Alexandra: Did you rely on any previous business expertise to help you get started?
Bella: If anything, it’s been my business instincts and resilience. I have always been proud of myself for being a self-starter and not shy away from learning new domains.
For Brarista, I took six months to work part-time as a bra-fitter to learn the industry from the shop floor.
Alexandra: How do you manage work-life balance? How do you spend your time when you’re not working?
Bella: Work-life balance is when I feel balanced, whatever that ratio looks like.
When I don’t work, I like to paint - it’s a new hobby that has kept me calm while allowing me to exercise my observation skills and patience.
And of course, I’d be lying if Netflix is not mentioned here.
Alexandra: What’s your best piece of advice to other women starting a business?
Bella: Educate yourself, challenge your thoughts, and stick to it. Great things (i.e., A sustainable business) typically don’t happen overnight. Oh, and try to see a lesson in every up and down too.