Attollo Lingerie: Lifting Women Up
Updated: Mar 12, 2020
I have a not-so-secret confession. I have big boobs. In fact, I've been "full chested" since the age of 12. Although my bust is large, my frame... is not. Big bust + small band = bra shopping nightmare.
As someone with a love for fashion, I've struggled with finding "under armour" (warrior, that I am) that would suit both my style inclinations and my requirement for support and lift.
Enter: Attollo Lingerie. I learned about Attollo a little over a year ago, and immediately started following the company's social media channels, eagerly anticipating the launch of its first line.
Started by two girlbosses, Alice Holden + Fleurette Mulcahy, who are also customers, they saw a "big bust, small band" pain point in the market and decided to fill it.
I recently jumped on a Skype call with Alice, one half of the dynamic duo, who brought me up to speed on Attollo's history, developments and what's next for this exciting start-up...
COMPANY: Attollo Lingerie
SHE-EO(S): Alice Holden + Fleurette Mulcahy
LOCATION: London, UK
WEBSITE & SOCIAL MEDIA:
Fleurette + Alice
(Attollo's dynamic "SHE-EO" duo)
Describe yourself in three words.
Energetic. Loyal. Conscientious.
Describe the brand in three words.
Uplifting. Confident. Beautiful Design.
What is Attollo?
Attollo means, “I lift up. I raise. I excite.” in Latin. We do exactly what it means. We tend to uplift women, not only physically, in amazing, uplifting design, but also in terms of their self-confidence and how they feel, because, if you’ve got amazing lingerie underneath, you can really smash the world. If you give a girl Attollo lingerie, she can conquer the world!
We are a brand founded by women and by two customers. We co-design all of our products with our customers, so that they always have input on what we’re putting out there. We basically are just trying to transform women’s lives through amazing lingerie that is designed with bespoke materials that we source from all around the world, and then turn into beautiful lingerie that uplifts, that makes you feel confident. It has everyday practicality, and it has to be comfortable, affordable and make you feel amazing.
When we started Attollo, we found that bras for our size were: a) overpriced, so we couldn’t afford them; or b) they showed through our clothes, so we couldn’t wear them under our everyday clothing; or c) the matching knickers were frumpy, so we created mix and match lingerie so that women could choose the bra that suits them best and their favourite knickers style that suits their bum shape. All together, you’ve got a much more confident lady than what you have in just one set of matching knickers.
That’s basically Attollo.
When and how did this all start?
Fleurette and I met during freshers’ week (the first week of university) at King’s College London, became friends instantly and, as girlfriends do, you converse about your lingerie, your accessories, your confidence, where you like to go shopping, everything.
And we very quickly got onto this topic of boobs. I said, “I’m a 30GG, and I find it very difficult,” and Fleurette goes, “I’m a 28FF. I find it really difficult!” BOOM. Every conversation and every catch-up now was all about lingerie. “There’s a new brand. Have you tried it?” “Oh no, the quality isn't great. Don’t go there.”
All our conversations gradually became a reviewing of all the lingerie that existed in our size, which was very minimal. There were few brands, few available options.
Then, come to end of second year, we were having a celebratory drink at school. Second year is now done, and we’re on summer holidays. And we said, "Look. All other brands are succeeding at making us feel self-conscious in our lingerie, and these are the companies who are supposed to be the 'experts'," but we’ve still never loved anything that they’ve designed. Every other D+ woman we knew seemed to share our sentiment. So how can the people who are supposed to be the best at it be doing such a bad job?
We thought, why don’t customers unite and basically tackle it and, if all you do is base your design on what customers say they want to wear, surely that’s a good starting point.
So that became our ethos, our mantra: co-design with customers and, if we listen to what customers want, we can’t go wrong.
We spent our third year at school finishing our degrees, incorporating the company and making sure we had branded our name, learning about business, about fashion and all about lingerie design, and really trying to educate ourselves in what we call our “second degree”, which was Attollo.
In the beginning, we didn’t have a clue. We were completely clueless. We didn’t have a business upbringing at home so our parents couldn’t really help us. So it was networking four, five nights a week, listening to experts in the field, amazing business owners of famous & successful brands and it was listening to people who owned global empire businesses that were brands that we loved as consumers, and we learned from them. We asked them about their failures, about their success, about their tips, and we thought if we can learn from all these great people, then we have a good business foundation. If we invest in good legal, in good accounting, then we can’t really go wrong. And, at this point, because we’d never really had a salary, so we didn’t know what giving up a salary could be, and we didn’t have any dependents or any money in our bank accounts, we thought, “We have literally nothing to lose! Let’s do it!”
That was really the start. We were 20 years old, and completely with the world at our feet, but also with ambitions the size of the universe, passion as big as we could imagine, and just this massive energy to get lingerie that we felt comfortable and confident in, and that other women also did.
So then, once we graduated, we went full-time into Attollo. We got a start-up loan from Virgin that gave us our samples, and that meant we could start going for investment.
But we ran out of money. We had no money to pay back our loans, so we had to get part-time jobs. We became bra fitters to learn about the technical side, to be amongst women all day long, to learn, to really absorb what these ladies were telling us, about their issues and their problems, and that changed the design angle of our products. We listened to what they said, and incorporated their feedback into the design.
This also gave us the idea of bra fit parties. We’d be the first D+ brand in the United Kingdom to do them as part of our business model.
Tell us about the production process behind Attollo. How and where do you make your lingerie?
It took about 18 months to decide where we’d manufacture, and we had a list of the most important things to us, which was that, firstly, they had to be ethical. This included being ethical to their workforce.
Secondly, they had to have experience with D+, having the technical knowledge of how you manufacture and build a D+ bra. They also had to have experience with small band, large cup sizes because what we found, when we went to Poland to see a factory, was that they completely disregarded our patterns, the technical work of our products, saying they couldn’t work with us. We said, “Ok. Please explain what your reasons are.” They said, “Look how big the cup is. The band of the bra is tiny. This doesn’t work.” We said, “That’s the whole fundamentals of our business: small band, large cup. That is a legit bra. That is a size that exists. This fits her. That fits me.” And they said, “No, no, no, it’s wrong.” And we said, “No, no, no. It’s exactly… right. Do not change it. Do not touch it.” They couldn’t understand having these massive cups with these small frames. They just couldn’t get it. And we’re like, “Okay, we’re not working with you because you fundamentally don’t have a concept of what we’re doing.” Situations like that are an example of when people say they could do D+, but they didn’t have the speciality to do our niche, small band, large cup sizes.
The third factor was whether they had experience with lace and satin, because, although we won’t always be lace and satin, our current range uses all lace and satin materials and the combination of the two materials, so they have to have experience with using the two.
And, finally, it was the question of: Do they speak good English? Are we going to have language barriers? It is always a challenge dealing with people who speak a different language, in a different time zone. Fundamentally, they needed to be able to write good English over e-mail, and have conversations with us.
People can sell you a brilliant dream, but unless they can actually execute it, it’s just that: a dream.
How has it been to do this in an international city like London?
It’s been incredible. We always credit London and London’s network and London’s connections and reputation. And, because we were at a London university, that has worldwide accolade, everybody was immediately like, “Ok, good. You have enough credibility, just from that university.”
Because we were both living and studying in London meant that we had access to all these companies, events and networks so that, when we were networking four nights a week at university, it was because we were in London. We went to some brilliant events, and really took advantage of the fact that London is a city of vibrancy, of excitability, there’s so much happening and so many other businesses starting up.
We would not have the same network that we have without intrinsically being a London brand. And we’re very proud of being a London brand. The footer on our website is a very traditional London street. We want to make sure that London remains in our roots. It’s an honour, really, to be a London businesses and it’s something we hope will always be at the heart of what we do.
What has the response been like, both in the UK and internationally? Any good stories?
We had one lady e-mail us, before we launched, to say, “I’ve been in Selfridges all day trying to find lingerie for my wedding day. However, I couldn’t find anything. They didn’t have anything in my size, but the Selfridges’ girls knew of your brand, and they recommended I get in touch.” That’s where I used to work when I was bra fitting. And I was like, “Wow. That’s somebody at Selfridges, they didn’t have anything there, and they’ve actually referred us.” So that was a lovely thing for us.
In terms of peoples’ feedback, we’ve had girls who’ve literally said, “My world has changed, because I now have a bra that fits and looks amazing and I’m confident.” When you get customers like that, it makes all the hard days worthwhile, and it makes everything that you’re doing worth it, because that’s the ultimate thing, making these customers happy and transforming their experience and giving them choice.
Internationally we’ve had lots of interest from mostly Australia, the US, Canada and little pockets of places in Europe, and we’ve actually spoken to a lady in Canada who wants to do bra fittings with Attollo being one of her brands on offer.
So the international feedback has been brilliant, and now there’s a demand for international shipping, because we currently only ship within the UK. We get lots of e-mails saying, “I want you to ship out”, and we’re like, “We’re so sorry, we will do it in the future, keep in touch.” But, at the moment, we can’t. We wanted to do worldwide when we launched, but it was one more thing than we could cope with, so we capped at the UK for now, but we'll do it.
Tell us a little about your story of friends turned business partners.
It’s been something that neither of us had ever experienced, and we always say that, when you have a business partner, you’re in a marriage. We are married to each other, and we have been now for four years, and it is like no other relationship that either of us has ever experienced, and neither of us have anything similar to it in our lives. It’s incredibly rewarding because the workload is shared, the trials and tribulations are shared, the experiences are shared and, because we started this when we were so young, having never had careers at that point, we really needed each other.
We could not have prepared ourselves for the really intense meetings or the difficult decisions that you have in business, and few of our friends had been through similar things and were able to relate. Because Fleurette and I were in a unique situation, we could relate to each other in a special way that we couldn’t with our other friends, which really bonds you and ties you.
You have a relationship to manage and you also have a relationship that can be stressful at times. It has its ups, it has its downs and it sometimes needs a bit of counselling. You have to take a step back, have those clashes and then make up.
It’s a shared journey, we’ve always been 50/50 partners and, gradually, as we’ve grown up with Attollo, we’ve modified our roles. I do this, Fleurette does that, and we have a little more separation. It’s been an honour to have a business partner, because it’s someone who shares your vision and creativity, someone you can bounce ideas off of, and it’s a bit of a sanity check.
You started your Attollo journey at 20. What has the experience been like, for you, starting your company at such a young age?
We don’t think we’d ever change the age we were. We think the pros are, which was a big argument we put to our parents, we’ve got zero liabilities, we’ve got nothing to lose, no one is reliant on us; therefore, quite literally, for perhaps the only time in our lives, this is the most sensible and the most savvy time to do it. So there was nothing that anybody could take, which was comforting because you become vulnerable once you’ve got things in your life to lose. And that was where we were when we were students. We had the whole world at our feet, and all the ambitions and all the energy and all the passion, and these ideas. Because we were untrained in the business, we could challenge the status quo constantly, seeing it with fresh eyes. We would see the problem and see a solution that wasn’t the standard solution, but we could see a new and equally as good solution because we could view it from a different angle, which is incredibly valuable.
And, because we were young, the response from networks and people we would speak to and get advice from was phenomenal. They would take us under their wing, advise us, take us to their family home and basically into their family and be like, “We’re going to teach you, we’re going to mentor you, we’re going to help you and guide you,” to the point where we have, what we call, two “business dads” who have been with us for years now, one for four years, one for three years, and they’ve watched us grow up with Attollo.
We don’t think we would have had that level of support, and the number of people that do that for us, if we were not so young and if this had maybe been our second career. So being so young, we can only credit it, and it was a brilliant thing. Yes, there were downsides. People would try to take advantage of you, they would try to manipulate you based on how young you were, and some investors would say, “We’re a bit worried. You’ve got no track record or experience.” And those were valid arguments, as well. However, we would counteract the inexperience by surrounding ourselves with incredibly experienced, brilliant human beings who would put us on the straight and narrow if we were to ever veer off of it.
We think anyone can start a business at any age, and they will smash it if they’ve got the right passion and the right idea. For us, being young is an asset, because hopefully we can get Attollo up and running long before we have families of our own, which would be great. We’d both love to be working mothers, but also strike a good work and family balance.
What's the best thing about working on Attollo, and what's been, perhaps, the greatest challenge?
The best thing is experiencing happy customers, and the transformation that women can feel from lingerie. It’s ridiculously rewarding. That’s why we get up and go to work.
The greatest challenge is funding and securing investors. Everything’s reliant on money. You can’t build products without money. You can’t build a production line without money. We don’t have a cap on ambitions, but our ambitions, and what we can do at set points, are dictated by funds. We would have loved to launch with more than eight products. Money is just the constant battle. It’s getting enough money that will allow us to fund new developments.
How do you think you'll know that you've "made it"?
When teenage girls don’t feel self-conscious in lingerie, and don’t realize that lingerie used to make women feel self-conscious. When D+ teenagers never have to think, “Is it me? Is it my body? What’s wrong with me? Why aren’t there bras available to fit me like the rest of my friends?” If they never have to question that, then we’ve done our job. Because we were that age, feeling like that, and that was why the business was started.
What advice would you offer someone beginning her entrepreneurial journey?
Be fearless. If you don’t ask or do, you don’t get. If you don’t speak, you don’t get heard. We can all live easily with lots of regrets. With having your own business, you’ve really got to go for it, not feel timid, not feel embarrassed. The worst people can do is say “no”.
We asked the Mulberry founder, as he was walking out the door, “Do you fancy investing in bras and panties?” He goes, “No. But thank you.” But all he could do was… he could have said “yes” or he could have said “no”, but there’s really no bad thing that can happen. You’ve got to shed any inhibitions and go for it.
What advice would you offer friends who want to go into business together?
Be prepared for that relationship to be a different one than what it used to be, because it’s unlikely that it will stay exactly the same. We joke that our relationship is now a marriage! It will become a more professional relationship with the majority of it spent problem-solving and working, and little time is left for other activities.
Although it can be hugely successful, we also know lots of horror stories, and we have a mentor who guides us so that our relationship will hopefully never fall apart. We also strongly recommend getting a 'founders agreement' written up by lawyers.
We take a lot of effort to ensure that our relationship will stay intact. Our recommendation would be to have a mentor that works on your relationship as a team, and helps you bring out the best in each other and be the best professional versions of yourselves that you can be. We’ve learned to play to each other’s strengths and, when it comes to work, divide and conquer!
New products! We’re expanding sizes and product line. We’ve got exciting products in development that we’re working on, so continue to watch the space.
What advice do you wish you'd given your 20-year-old self?
don't have any fears.
What do you know for sure?
give a girl the right lingerie, and she can conquer the world.
What have you learned?
so much. too much. lots.
What will you never learn?
To stop learning.
Best piece of advice?
no idea is a bad idea.
Did it work?
yes. but it doesn't mean every idea is good for now. timing is everything with ideas.
The moment that changed everything?
fleurette & i meeting.
love. and great lingerie. ;)
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