UP CLOSE IN MALDON: How hard work, passion and brave women led to a business success story

  Posted: 22.11.20 at 08:00 by The Editor

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Maldon Nub News aims to be supportive to EVERY element of the community from business and shops to people and charities and clubs and sports organisations.

Everyone is finding it tough at the moment and wants life to get back to normal.

We will be profiling some of these local businesses and groups regularly over coming weeks in a feature called UP CLOSE IN MALDON in the hope that we can be a supportive springboard for your full return to business as usual.

Today we talk to Julie Blanche and Kayleigh Smith of The Bra Consultancy in Edwards Walk, Maldon High Street. During an in-depth Q and A session the pair reveal why they work so hard for the women of Maldon and beyond, as well as what they love about the town’s community and their gratitude for its support during the current crisis.

It was a “light bulb moment” that helped Julie Blanche find her true vocation in life – when she realised she was wearing an ill-fitting bra.

The revelation came when Julie was suffering from a bad back and a physiotherapist told her that her choice of lingerie could be making it worse.

The Bra Consultancy in Edwards Walk, Maldon

“I thought ‘I know that’,” says Julie, “and that was when it clicked. When I thought about how I’d always wanted to run my own business, it just made sense.”

This was because the fitting of bras was nothing new to this hard-working and enterprising woman, who had spent years working for plastic surgeons and sourcing the right underwear for women undergoing breast reconstruction after cancer surgery. Over the course of time, Julie had moved from admin duties to finding and ordering exactly what each customer needed using her own initiative. She had seen then that women were suffering the consequences of not having the correct post-surgery bras.

The surgeons were impressed with the business she set up and built up for them through this service and so, when Julie realised that she herself was suffering from the consequences of wearing the wrong bra it was suddenly obvious to her that she should go into the lingerie business herself.

“I realised I could sell underwear that fitted all women,” Julie says.

Hard work saw the fledgling business grow

And after six months of extra training, Julie started her own business working from home in 2015. Her success was such that she soon wanted a shop, but her husband wasn’t keen on the idea at first.

“So we came to a compromise,” Julie laughs, “which is something I don’t do very often.”

The compromise was to convert a shipping container to a shop at the White Elm Garden Centre site in Bicknacre, opened in October, 2017. It was such a success that the business had outgrown it in nine months.

As Julie and Kayleigh Smith, who works alongside her in the business, searched in different towns it was by chance that a Facebook post about the vacant shop in Edwards walk came up.
When they came to view the premises they knew straight away that Maldon was the right setting for the boutique’s future.

They praise shopping arcade landlord Giles Ford for all the help and support he has given them in getting the boutique how they want it. There are screens outside showing pictures and videos of the variety of ranges stocked there – a technological enhancement brought about by Julie’s husband. Julie wanted “clean lines, not clutter” inside the shop and when the doors were finally opened to customers it was after a tireless amount of work.

The business has two parts, with the first catering for women during or following breast cancer treatment, with Julie and Kayleigh both specialists in the fitting of breast prostheses and post-surgery lingerie.

The second part to the business caters for women buying mainstream lingerie, but especially those who struggle to find good-fitting underwear on the High Street. The boutique has lingerie available in sizes 28-52 AA-K and cup sized swimwear, as well as teen, sports and maternity and nursing bras.

The date of the new Bra Consultancy shop opening was 1 February, 2020.

The shock of lockdown

Julie says: “When lockdown came, it was very emotional. We had been pretty much living at the shop to get it up and running and we were doing so well. To know that we were shutting the doors because of something beyond our control, not a failure of the business or anything we could stop – that was strange and very hard to deal with.”

Kayleigh adds: “I think locking that door and walking away was one of the hardest moments. It was awful.”

When the doors opened again in the early summer, the customers flooded back and the shop was busier than ever.

How a part-time job for student cash turned into a career for life

Kayleigh, who is also Julie’s daughter-in-law-to-be, was at law school when she started working for the business in 2017 to earn some extra cash. The experience changed the course of her career and now Kayleigh knows it’s what she wants to do for life.
She says: “I just fell in love with the job straight away. One of my first customers was the bravest woman I had ever met and I have met so many brave women since.”

“It’s amazing to see the way what we do here helps women and when they leave here how they leave holding their heads a little bit higher.”

Both women tell how they love helping all their customers and inclusivity is a priority, with catering to every woman’s needs an absolute priority.

Plans for the future in a community they have found so welcoming

They have women bringing their teenage daughters to the shop, showing them how important well-fitting underwear is for women and encouraging those who may feel self-conscious about going into a lingerie shop that it’s anything but a scary experience. This has led them to plans to work with girls and young women in schools in the future to help give them the confidence and knowledge to source the right underwear, including for sportswear. They also hope to extend their range even further.

Lockdown two, while another blow, has left the pair feeling lifted by the support of the Maldon community around them, too.

Julie says: “It’s like a family – everyone looks out for each other. The customers are amazing. When we’re sitting here in the shop now doing paperwork with the doors closed, women will come up and tap on the glass as they walk past and tell us they can’t wait until we’re open again so they can come in and get another bra.”

Customers walking past also get the chance to wave at Teddy, the cockapoo who is a frequent visitor to the shop and has become something of a mascot, too.

And of course a huge consolation in lockdown has been winning the The Stars Underlines Special Care Recognition Award 2020, sponsored by lingerie manufacturer Anita, for the care the business provides for women recovering from breast cancer surgery.

Like everyone else, these two dedicated women want the world to return to something more like normal. When it does, their success is sure to continue.

You can visit The Bra Consultancy website for more details of the services the shop offers here.

• The Bra Consultancy also runs the Against Breast Cancer - Bra Recycling Scheme where women can donate their unwanted bras for a good cause. The scheme will be open again when national restrictions are lifted. Please remember to wrap donated bras in bags for Covid safety reasons.
Against Breast Cancer’s bra recycling scheme takes unwanted or unloved bras and raises vital funds for pioneering breast cancer research. The same bras also help to support small businesses in Africa. Together with Against Breast Cancer’s recycling partners, prevents bras from going into landfill, giving them a new lease of life in developing countries such as Togo, Ghana and Kenya, where bras still remain too expensive to produce locally. This venture keeps many families in developing countries out of poverty, as well as providing employment for people at home in the UK. Any bras that are genuinely beyond redemption are dismantled and disposed of properly. For every tonne of bras collected, Against Breast Cancer receives £700 to fund their research.

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