I’ve been reading a lot more bra-making posts in my blog reader of late. It seems that more and more of you are making your own bras! Though I still haven’t ventured into that area of sewing, I hope the fact that it’s of interest to so many of you will mean that you are as excited about this post as I am. It’s part review (of a new lining fabric that sticks without being sticky), part interview (about the founder and CEO of Kellie K Apparel‘s experiences going from idea to pattern to fabric to product), and part discount (for those of you who are in the market for a better strapless bra).
A little over a year ago I wrote about a Kickstarter campaign started by a guy I went to graduate school with that was all about creating a revolutionary new strapless bra. Well, his campaign was a massive success and ended up raising over $21,000! I ordered a bra in the Kickstarter, but my size has not yet made it into production, so I can’t yet tell you my thoughts on the bra (many other sizes have been made though, including 32C, D, DD and 34B, C, D, DD and 36C, D!). However, I have been able to play with a little bit of the fancy GeckTeckTM lining.
Here is the small bit of GeckTeckTM lining I received from Kellie K Apparel. The magic is in the pink. And by magic, I mean chemistry.
When you press the pink side against your skin (or your sewing machine, or your window, or countless other things…), it sticks. Even better – it doesn’t feel sticky! In fact, it doesn’t feel like much other than maybe a really soft, really pliable rubber. It’s silicone-based, so think of silicone-based cooking materials you might have in your kitchen.
Though it’s being used in the Kellie K strapless bras as a lining, it is much thicker than typical lining fabrics. When I was waiting for my bit of lining to arrive in the mail, I was dreaming about sewing it into my wrap dress to keep the neckline in place, but now that I’ve seen it, I’m not sure I’d want to sew through it. I could imagine sewing through the backing if the GeckTeckTM were made in just the right shape… You’ll see in the interview below that I tried asking how Kellie K Apparel sews it in, but they wouldn’t share many details – it’s top secret!
See, despite the thickness, this stuff is really pliable. I am definitely a fan, and I am more excited than ever to get my bra. I even hope that one day GeckTeckTM lining will be available for us home sewers to add into all of our garments. Now that I’ve had a chance to see what it’s like, I’m imagining a thin strip of GeckTeckTM on bias binding. It would make an amazing facing for daring V-necks… One can dream, right?!
Okay, now back to the Kickstarter campaign and the successful launching of Kellie K Apparel. I was really curious what it was like to take an idea – such as making a strapless bra with a unique lining that would stick to skin without being sticky – and turn it into a product. As sewers, we dream up new garments almost every day. Some of us even dream up new patterns. But, how many of us end up producing our own line of garments for sale? Creating the patterns, sourcing the fabric… My mind boggles at just the idea of it! Anthony Roy, the founder and CEO of Kellie K Apparel, had to not only figure out how to make a strapless bra pattern and get it produced, but he also had to create an entirely new kind of fabric in order to truly bring his idea to life. If you’re as curious as I was as to what that was like, read on! Oh, and by the way, if you are in the market for a strapless bra, you can get 10% off by using the code SEWWELL10 at Kellie K Apparel. That coupon code will be good until February 1, 2015. If you’re still not yet convinced that GeckTeckTM really works, just read their testimonials!
Okay, on to the interview!
Hi Tony, thanks for taking the time to talk with me about your experiences creating Kellie K Apparel and its innovative line of strapless bras. While my readers all have a common interest in sewing, they have wildly different backgrounds. Why don’t we start the interview with you telling my readers a bit about your background. When did you decide you wanted to make a line of strapless bras?
While my wife and I were planning on going out one evening, she complained about how hard it is to find a strapless bra that stays up; so much so that it often influenced what she would wear. I knew about gecko-inspired, wall crawling robots from my graduate PhD work, and it didn’t seem like much of a leap to attach a Gecko-like material to fix the problem my wife shared with me.
I made the first Kellie K prototype for my wife and it was… rough. But even this very first iteration stayed in place and kept her 38DD bust secure. I knew I had the makings of a successful business when the next time she needed to wear a strapless bra, she grabbed the rough prototype instead of one of her expensive, but ultimately inadequate, store-bought bras.
What exactly is GeckTeckTM?
GeckTeckTM is the patent-pending silicone-based lining that is the core technology that keeps our Kellie K Apparel Strapless Bras secure. Like a gecko’s foot, the lining is softer in the normal direction and stiffer in the transverse direction. The softness allows the lining to adhere to the skin via microscopic Van Der Waals forces, while the stiffness spreads the micro-adhesion phenomenon to a macro scale. This is called anisotropic compliance, and we’ve optimized this balance for adhesion to human skin. What we have is a soft, skin-safe, residue-free lining that can be reused thousands of times and even works in moisture!
[Watch this video if you want to learn more about the science!]
I understand that your prototype was made by refashioning one of your wife’s store-bought strapless bras. Most of my readers are familiar with refashioning, taking an old or unworn garment and making it into something new and wearable. But, they probably also know how different refashioning can be from making a garment from scratch. Then add to that making a mass quantity of garments for sale! When you decided to make your own line of strapless bras, what was it like planning their design and production from start to finish?
The short answer is it was hard, and required a lot of trial and error. My engineering background made the mechanical design of making an apparatus able to adequately support a load pretty easy. Making said apparatus a comfortable, durable, attractive garment, and making it in a cost efficient manner was an entirely different story! I quickly realized I needed help, and was fortunate I lived in a city that is a hub of the fashion industry. But, I soon discovered how true the saying “Good help is hard to find” really is. Many people are more than willing to take advantage of a budding entrepreneur, and I still keep the TERRIBLE first bra that was made from scratch as a reminder of this.
Eventually, I was able to find a network of people I could trust, many of whom had their own network of people who they trust. Through this network, I was able to find help with bra design, fit, patternmaking, and manufacturing. Most importantly, I was able to learn how to communicate my needs and expectations, and know when someone wasn’t quite the right fit.
Even after finding a good team, it took several iterations to help transform the rough prototype into a bra we at Kellie K can be proud of. There really is no short cut to making a completely novel bra and it takes a willingness to make and learn from mistakes.
You were crowd funded through a Kickstarter campaign – reaching a total pledge of over $20,000! During your campaign I remember you talking about drafting patterns, sourcing fabric from the LA fashion district, and working with people who’ve been making lingerie for decades. Let’s start with drafting patterns. Though I haven’t yet ventured into the land of bra making, I bet many of my readers have – some from a pre-made pattern, some from a pattern they made using their favorite bra, and some from their own self-drafted pattern. How did you go about drafting the pattern for your strapless bras?
I was able to make an original sketch of the bra based on mechanical principles. Then, one of the aforementioned team members was able to turn that into a pattern suitable for making samples. That sample pattern then evolved as the fit of the bra was improved. It was at this point that I learned an important lesson about production; Pre-made patterns meant for home use are a LOT different that patterns for mass-production! The process had to be simplified to the point to where a person with little to no sewing experience, e.g. me, could sew it. I eventually found a manufacturer who was also able to create production level patterns, but this step took a lot longer than I originally anticipated.
I could imagine there are a lot of differences in bra shaping depending on the cup size. Do you use the same style of pattern for every bra size?
In order to lower the degree of difficulty for our first rodeo the decision was made to use the same style for every size. However, we soon realized that this decision meant we could not promise a functional bra to a key demographic of our desired customer, namely women with small waists and large breasts. One of our first priorities for future lines will be to offer various styles for various body types, which will make the best strapless bras available even better. But for now, yes, we did use the same style of pattern for every bra.
Okay, now let’s get into the fabrics. Back when I lived near LA, I never used my sewing machine so I never made it down to the LA fashion district. Shopping in the LA fashion district sounds fun… but it also sounds like it could be overwhelming. What was it like for you, and how did you know when you found the right fabric?
Compared to finding the right people, finding the fabrics was easy! I knew from conversations with various women that they would want a heavier, softer fabric for the shell. And I could also use my engineering know how to find the right amount of stretch. Fortunately, I started just in time for the bi-annual LA textile show, so I just spent a few afternoons getting to know the people, their products, and eventually deciding on fabric. Finding the rest of the bra parts required a similar experience for online stores. I knew I had the right combination based on feedback about the sample bra.
How do you work the GeckTeck TM lining into the bras? In the prototype I remember from the Kickstarter campaign, it looked like it was sewn in to the band in stripes. Is it sewn in like a regular fabric?
Because this is part of Kellie K Apparel’s scientific mojo, I can’t go into too much detail. What I can say is a surprising amount of work has been done so it can be sewn in like a regular fabric, and we are still working on ways to improve integration into production level bras.
Okay, now on to the people. I really like that your bras are locally made. How did you go about finding the right people to work with?
Honestly, it’s pretty much like dating. You talk to a lot a people and discover very quickly it won’t work with most of them. It really is just a lot of trial and error, and determining which relationships work and which ones don’t. Two tactics that proved surprisingly useful were: Makers Row Website and walking around the LA’s Fashion district.
There’s a lot of talk in the sewing blogging community about slow fashion, the idea of moving away from the mass consumption of quickly-made and quickly-degraded garments. When it comes to scaling up production, what kind of balance did you find was right for your company between handmade and mass produced?
One thing I was surprised to find out is that even mass-produced bras are still handmade! Production garment manufacturing may use industrial cutting and sewing machines, but it’s still a human doing the work. As I mentioned before, it’s having a foolproof pattern that makes mass production feasible. Fortunately for us, the people who did our production patterns also agreed to make a medium size run of bras. It worked because they are also newer and it has been a learning experience for us both.
Finally, I’ve seen a lot of small businesses start up in the sewing blogging community – from independent pattern makers, to fabric store owners, to seamstresses who teach and sew for others. I always like it when they talk about what their dreams and goals are and where they want to be in five to ten years. So, I’m curious, what’s your vision for the future of your company? Where would you like to see it go?
I started this company because I really do want to help solve a problem a lot of women have, and I really don’t think anyone should have to choose between wearing a strapless bra and being comfortable. The first thing I’d like to do is get the word out so as many women as possible know about our truly revolutionary product. Then, I’d expand our strapless bra line to include women who are often neglected when it comes to standard sizing. After that, I see us expanding to other clothing, such as swimsuits and dresses. Most importantly, I want to accomplish all this with a level of honesty and transparency rarely seen in apparel companies.
[Watch this video if you want to learn even more about Kellie K Apparel!]
Thank you, Tony, for such an awesome interview! From idea to pattern to fabric to product – being able to find the right team seems like a universal truth for successful businesses. I’m also intrigued by the differences between a home-sewing bra pattern and a mass-produced bra pattern – who knew?! (Though, maybe some of you out there already did!) I can’t wait to see what’s next for this company, and I especially can’t wait to get my very own Kellie K Apparel bra. For those of you out there who might want one, too, remember to take advantage of the 10% discount code SEWWELL10 between now and February 1, 2015 at Kellie K Apparel.
Kellie K Apparel sent me the small patch of GeckTechTM lining for review. All opinions are my own. I also supported the Kellie K Apparel Kickstarter campaign of my own free will because I thought the idea was great and because I like seeing companies like this one succeed!