Most women would shudder at the thought of being known by their bra size. But for lifelong friends Carly Warson and Stephanie Korn, being known as 10E and 10DD respectively is on brand and good for business.
In fact, their dimensions are the very foundation of their new enterprise, The Fold, a swimwear label catering to women with fuller breasts. Sizes begin at a D-cup and head upwards.
“The average Australian woman is somewhere around a 12D, yet we are excluded from the swimwear market… it’s like we are an afterthought. Swimwear labels design for smaller sizes, so for us D+ women, there’s no variety or options,” Stephanie explains.
The pair have their own war stories when it comes to swimwear shopping, from buying size 16 bikinis, narrowing the back and tossing the bottoms, to crying in fitting rooms and sitting half-naked and vulnerable on the beach in hideous designs.
It was on one such occasion, sitting by a pool back in 2014, that the pair hit tipping point. Struck by how at odds their “daggy, ill-fitting and unsupportive” swimwear was with their general design and fashion aesthetic, the idea for The Fold emerged.
“We’d walk around in these beautiful kaftans and outfits, but underneath was outdated floral harnesses that were unsupportive and uncomfortable,” Carly says.
“We couldn’t understand why we were segmented into this really small and uninspiring market, so we decided, ‘Who better to design swimwear for women with bigger breasts than us?’”
Like most great ideas, implementation was no mean feat. It took three years of research and an average of 20 samples for each style before the pair felt they were ready to launch.
These women are now ending their dislike for their curves and the beach, and rather feeling supported and empowered.
Kicking off last November, their collection (comprising separate bottoms and tops and a one-piece, made from premium Italian fabric in neutral tones of black, light grey, teal and an artist-designed print) nearly sold out within two months. More popular sizes, such as the size 12Fs, 12Es and 8Es sold out before their e-store even went live.
They describe their offering as “pared back and minimalistic” basics. They are currently working on their second collection, whilst busily restocking collection one to service a long waitlist.
“We are excited and overwhelmed by the response. The market is bigger than we could have ever imagined,” Stephanie says.
“We knew the market was out there, but we can’t believe how thankful people have been. Shopping for swimwear is an emotional experience, so to be able to help people in a vulnerable situation is really rewarding,” Carly adds.
The pair turned to lingerie design experts to craft their wares, conscious that a single misplaced stitch could turn a perfectly rounded breast into a saggy, unsupported tear drop.
Along the way, the pair discovered a niche within their niche: women with big busts and small backs.
“There is a misconception in the market that because you have a larger cup size, you have a larger body, which segments you into the plus-sized market. We go up to a back size 16 and an F cup-size, but our niche is women who are smaller around the back with larger breasts,” Stephanie says.
To allay customers’ concerns about a solely online offering, Carly and Stephanie have designed a flawless customer experience replete with in-depth size and fit guides, free shipping and a simple return and refund policy. The swimsuits are modelled by real women with large busts that accurately reflect the fit of the item.
With backgrounds in product development, business management and marketing, the pair has promotional strategies at the ready, but has scarcely had to delve into its marketing plan. A few well-placed magazine articles and a smattering of social media was all it took to spread the word.
“Why put budget into marketing when it’s already happening organically?” Stephanie asks.
The feel-good aspect of their business extends to their Italian fabric, 78 per cent of which is recycled from consumer waste, the recycled packaging that houses their product and the fact that they have committed $1 from every sale to the National Breast Cancer Foundation.
The partners are also content with the knowledge that they are inviting long-excluded women back into the swimwear market, with the bonus that their customers are now embracing their curves.
“We’ve received hundreds of brave and exposed emails from women recounting their years of struggling with their curves, normally exacerbated by the empty Australian D+ swimwear industry. These women are now ending their dislike for their curves and the beach, and rather feeling supported and empowered,” Stephanie says.
3 business lessons from The Fold
Carly and Stephanie share their most valuable learnings with aspiring entrepreneurs.
Find a mentor
“We found a mentor in the lingerie industry who helped us set up our systems and source the best factory and pattern makers to make our product… we really relied on their expert advice,” Carly says.
Take your time and be patient
“In 2014, we thought, ‘Next summer we will have product on the market’ and then every year after that we thought the same. In hindsight, taking three years to develop our product was the best thing that ever happened because we could refine every single detail,” says Stephanie.
Have a clear vision of your brand identity
Having a clear vision and mission is really important… every decision we make we refer back to our mission and ask ourselves if it is in line with what we’ve set out to do,” Carly says.
“We think of the brand as the third person in our relationship,” Stephanie adds.