She’s turned a shopping nightmare into an entrepreneurial dream. Star reporter Rachael Clegg met Sheffield budding lingerie designer Sara Barrett.
SARA Barrett remembers vividly her bra shopping experiences as a teenager.
“I hated it,” she shudders. “I was always distraught and disillusioned because nothing ever fitted me and I always thought I had the wrong bosoms.”
The feelings would never leave her. But in fact they inspired Sara to start something that would become her lifelong passion.
Seven years after finishing her business degree at Sheffield Hallam University, Sara decided that she would - after all these years - finally put paid to those disastrous shopping trips and design her own range of bras.
So, last year, she got stuck in, sketching designs and consulting every women she knew about their bra experiences.
“I had the ideas for the bras and then I went to the MADE festival for Sheffield’s entrepreneurs last summer and that’s what really got me going,” she said. “It gave me the inspiration to really go for it.”
Sara is now based in the Hatchery, a business-start up complex for budding entrepreneurs set up by Sheffield Hallam University.
Being based at the Hatchery has helped Sara form her business.
“It is hard work and there’s a lot to think about. You have to be really disciplined. But I love it, it’s exciting and you are living off your wits and adrenaline,” she said.
Sara’s bra design is in the process of being patented, something she has to be guarded about.
“It’s so difficult - I want to take the idea to some big players but I’ve been advised not to do anything until it is patented.”
She will have a prototype ready in a matter of months but it will cost £5,000 just to protect the patent.
“The trouble is that I am 31 and there is virtually no help once you are above the age of 30. I have no idea why they have that cut-off point. Why is a 31-year-old less eligible than a 30-year-old?”
It costs a huge amount of money to get a product from the drawing board to marketplace, and indeed to manufacture a product in the UK as opposed to China, but Sara is keen to have her product made in this country.
“Ideally I want to have it made in Sheffield,” she says.
Sara gets some financial support from Sheffield Hallam Hatchery and Sheffield Hallam Enterprise Centre, but really, it’s thanks to her family, friends and boyfriend that she’s been able to continue with her project.
“My family have been incredibly supportive and my partner is brilliant. If I have to go and look at samples in London he will come with me and he’s more than happy to get stuck in.
“He’s also been really helpful with the design process - he’s an engineer so he’s used to taking things from concept to production so he’s been brilliant as far as establishing a work-structure is concerned.”
Sara’s business venture is no girly whim. She’s set up focus-groups, she’s spoken with mentors, advisors, and designers, and even went to the Queen’s own brassiere-makers - Rigby and Peller - to see what makes them so special.
“Rigby and Peller make bras for the Queen and, to be honest, when you walk in, the bras on display are just like ones you’d see in a normal lingerie shop,” said Sara.
“But the service is amazing, they only have to look at your bust with clothes on to know what size you are. I discovered I had been wearing the wrong bra size for years!”
Sara’s ethos when designing her bras is to ‘make the most of what you have’, as she explains.
“There’s this idea that there’s a standard of beauty - and that includes bust size - and that if you don’t meet that standard you’re inadequate but actually anyone can have a beautiful bust with the right bra. It’s about making the most of what you have.”
And though it’s hard, and often stressful, work Sara thrives off the challenges of being her own boss.
“It’s totally liberating and you have the freedom to work when you want. And it’s very exciting seeing your ideas come to fruition.”