When Elyse Kaye discovered that more than half of active, adult females like herself were not being served by the athletic wear industry, she decided to build a better mousetrap, or in her case, a better sports bra.
“Being in the bra world is not what I set out to do,” says Kaye, a fitness instructor and marketing professional based in San Francisco. “I set out to solve a problem.”
And here is the problem — really, problems: To begin with, research shows that 80 percent of women experience back pain from wearing the wrong size bra. Add to that an average bra size that has increased from a 34B to a 34DD, with 70 percent of women measuring closer to DD+. Then add to that, female body changes during the month due to hormones and other fluctuations that can add a full cup size to the equation. Finally, there is an industry that adheres to a European standard of 34C as the average bra size.
The sum total is that bra cups that are supposed to comfortably contain women’s breasts, clearly runneth over.
That’s exactly why Kaye says she took breasts out of the equation. Rather than design a new sports bra, the Michigan native literally engineered one with pros from NASA; shipping and packing experts; and celebrity corset designer, Camilla Huey, couturier to Oprah Winfrey, Adele, and Cate Blanchett, among other A-list personalities.
Named after her grandmother Frances, who Kaye credits with passing along a love of food, travel, and the DNA that generated her own ample chest, Bloom Bras is the convergence of science, technology, and fashion.
“The sports bra has gone unchanged since it was introduced 40 years ago,” Kaye notes, adding that the original version was two jock straps sewn together.
Learning that 1 in 3 well-endowed women don’t rigorously work out because it is just too painful, the athlete’s real aha moment came after running a half marathon while wearing two sports bras that she thought would support her. Left with severe chafing and red marks from hooks digging into her back, she wondered why there was material that could hold up an entire person, as in aerial silk used in yoga, but there was nothing available to hold up two large breasts.
“I kept saying that I want something like my hands holding me up, but not squishing me,” she explains. “Lifting me, but not up at my chin and not at my belly button.”
With a career in innovative product development, Kaye took her own advice and “looked between the nuances of what a customer wants and want a manufacturer can produce.” She began sketching what would eventually become patented and adjustable straps, a cup adjuster that works like a corset, compression materials that replace uncomfortable underwire, a mesh back that allows the skin to breathe, an adjustable zipper front, and a divot control system that evenly distributes weight, taking the pressure off a woman’s shoulders.
First testing the prototype on her own body, the accidental inventor then posted the bra’s availability on her social media, asking women who ranged from a 22DD to 44K to give their opinion on her product.
“One hundred sixty women showed up at my door within a couple of hours,” she declares, still shocked at the response. “That validated that I was moving in the right direction.”
So did news from her aunt that her great-grandmother Bloom was actually in the corset business.
“I’m a big believer in destiny and that everything happens for a reason,” Kaye says. “We create our own destiny, but something out there is guiding us. If I had any question in my mind about the direction I was headed, that solidified it.”
A Kickstarter campaign followed and Kaye raised $20,000 in 82 hours (ultimately reaching $50,000), thanks, in large part, to the response from her Jewish community. She later received a business loan from Hebrew Free Loan in San Francisco. A video the marketer made in her kitchen, showing women of different body sizes squeezing fruits and vegetables to show that not all shapes are symmetrical and that all body sizes are not created equal, went viral, garnering 240,000 views.
That first Kickstarter order of 500 bras in November 2017 sold out, as did her first official shipment in March. Bloom Bras are now in mass production, and are sold online and in specialty boutiques. Several new lines are in the works, including one for breast cancer survivors, an homage to Grandma Frances who passed away from the disease. The company also donates bras to women who are recovering from non-elective reconstructive surgery.
“Not a day goes by when I don’t think this is the best thing I’ve ever done,” Kaye says about dusting off the business plan that she wrote 15 years earlier. “I was approaching my 40th birthday. Some people buy an expensive car or take a trip around the world. I decided to follow my dream.”
This story "Sports Bra Makers Ignored Large-Breasted Women. Until Elyse Kaye Came Along." was written by Elissa Einhorn.