Elyse Kaye had spent her entire career in product development and marketing and knew how difficult it was to bring a product from idea to fruition. She’d seen the sleepless nights and headaches that being an entrepreneur can bring, and thought she’d never take that step herself.
Until, that is, her active lifestyle and body type brought a particular problem into focus.
Kaye is “overly blessed,” as she euphemistically calls it; her breast size is larger than many, and no matter how hard she tried, she couldn’t find a sports bra to her satisfaction.
Living in the Bay Area, where she runs, dances, and does yoga, she’d seen many other business ideas succeed. “It was enough for me to decide to take this challenge on,” she said.
Introducing Bloom Bras, a startup that intends to reinvent the traditional sports bra, specifically for larger breasted women. With her motto, “lift not squish,” her design aims to support and separate breasts, unlike the “uni-boob” look created by most sports bras.
Kaye, 41, grew up in a Reform home in West Bloomfield, Michigan, and before moving to San Francisco six years ago, lived in Chicago.
The name Bloom comes from her late paternal grandmother, Frances Bloom Kaye Tartar, with whom she was close. Tartar died of breast cancer, and Kaye says she got her love of food and travel — as well as her figure — from her. (She later learned that her great-grandmother Bloom sold corsets.)
Kaye said she would often be privy to the conversations other large-breasted woman had about their difficulties in finding the right clothing.
She also knew, both from personal experience and market research, that American women’s bodies were changing.
“The average bra size has risen from a 34B to a 34 DD in 20 years,” she said. “The average dress size is now 16. Bodies are changing, and the industry hasn’t kept up.”
But even with new technological advances, she felt that clothing manufacturers weren’t always taking the changes into account. Finally, after doubling up on sports bras to run a half marathon, which hurt and didn’t work as intended, she decided it was time to take this problem on.
“It’s not a design flaw, it’s an engineering challenge,” she noted.
Kaye said she brought in people from the shipping and packaging industry, someone from NASA, and a woman who does corset work for ballerinas and celebrities like Aretha Franklin and Katy Perry, to figure out how to create “something that is comfortable no matter what your shape and size is.”
Kaye noted that many women end up with a red mark beneath their breasts at the end of a long day of bra-wearing because the weight is carried there.
Not so with her creation. “All of the weight in a Bloom Bra is pulled back and distributed elsewhere, into a mesh panel in the back and the sides, that expand and contract with your body,” she said.
Her bra has no underwire and a patented lifting strap and cinching cup to adhere to a woman’s body throughout the month.
Bloom Bras come in nine sizes (they are called 1-9) and will fit a woman from traditional bra sizes 28D to 50K.
Kaye started with a Kickstarter campaign in 2016, asking for $20,000 in seed money.
“It was crazy because I didn’t necessarily know what I was doing,” she said. “I knew about the platform because I had supported a few friends’ companies. We raised our first $20,000 and sold out of product in 82 hours.”
Thus far, Kaye hasn’t spent a dime on advertising or P.R.; it’s all been word of mouth and social media. For now, she is selling them online out of her San Francisco apartment.
“Everyone tagging and posting and sharing has proven to me that we were on the right track,” she said. “Our reviews have been phenomenal and gave me the push I needed to keep moving forward.”
Kaye says the Jewish community has been instrumental in getting her to where she is today.
“I grew up in a very close-knit community, so when I did my Kickstarter [campaign], my friends and family, my sorority sisters, the people I went to summer camp with, everyone rallied behind me,” she said. Articles about Bloom Bras in the Detroit Jewish News and the website Kveller also helped, though by now she’s also gotten plenty of mainstream press as well.
Support from the Jewish community has also come from Hebrew Free Loan, which provided the latest round of funding.
She approached the organization when she needed to fulfill her third set of orders. Working with them was “a great experience,” she said, adding that they wrote her a check on the spot after hearing her pitch.
“That was one more time where the Jewish community has come together and been incredibly supportive,” she said.
While Kaye won’t say how many units she has sold, she said the product has sold out of inventory each run, and she’s now mass-producing the Bloom Bra.
Sustainability values have factored in to the manufacturing process. She chose a factory in Sri Lanka over China and uses sustainable materials. She also donates bras to women who may need them after reconstructive surgery post-breast cancer. Next up in her product line are specially-designed bras for women in that situation, as well as a maternity and post-maternity line and one for older women. “All of those women have similar challenges to busty and curvy ladies,” says Kaye.
Kaye attributes her success to several factors: the way women have been spreading the word is one, and her moxie is another. “I’ll talk to anyone who will talk to me,” she said.
And while there’s definitely been a steep learning curve as an entrepreneur, the fact that she once fulfilled 300 orders in a single day means she’s onto something. She now feels an obligation to help her fellow well-endowed women.
“At this point,” she said, “walking away is not an option” — and she wouldn’t want to.