Entrepreneurial Lessons: Fleurette Mulcahy and Alice Holden, Founders of Attollo Lingerie

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Attollo Lingerie was born out of a frustration that lasted for over 10 years! Founders Fleurette and Alice grew up knowing that D+ bra cup sizes were either hard to find or very “grannyish” looking. So, during their second year at university, they decided to defy the market norm and created Attollo, which means “I lift up, I raise, I excite”. Here they talk about how the lack of training can be a blessing and a challenge, how to cultivate resilience and the importance of surrounding yourself with like-minded people.

Project M: What motivated you to launch the brand?
Fleurette & Alice: Our boobs! Both of us have been D+ since our early teens and neither of us had ever owned lingerie in our size that actually made us feel confident, uplifted, stylish and comfortable. We founded Attollo when we were 20 years old because at that point – we couldn’t believe our womanhood would be underpinned by dreadful pieces of underwear when all we craved was a stylish lingerie wardrobe!

At the time, both of us were studying at Uni and quite literally had nothing to lose so we felt there was no better time to start a business (when we had a fresh student loan) – we had no dependable, no mortgage and at the time were rent-free. Plus, we had never had a salary so were ignorant to how challenging that could be to give up which is a challenge so many other founders face – we felt lucky! Living off porridge and £1 egg sandwiches was nothing new to us! Little did we know that would continue for 4 years, however!

Project M: What are the biggest challenges you have faced so far?
Fleurette & Alice: The three biggest challenges have been lack of experience/training in the industry, the constant need to fund product development and the endurance test of setting up a product business! Neither of us came into this business as a trained lingerie designer with an understanding of the supply chain/manufacturing/complexity of designing bras, especially designing D+ lingerie which is a whole different ballpark to smaller cup sizes! We’ve had to do a lot of learning on the job, trial and error and surrounding ourselves with a team of amazing individuals that can teach us along the way!

Funding is a constant battle for all businesses, especially early stage startups. The product development for lingerie is not a cheap task and it’s been a huge challenge to find investors that want to take the risk at investing in a business model where so much of your funds is tied up in stock. In the early days, it was a constant chicken and egg battle to get the first bit of funding as everyone wanted proof of concept, but we needed money to get that proof of concept!

The endurance test was our greatest hurdle – it took us 4 years to build a team, raise the finance and launch our debut collection! 4 years of living pennilessly and feeling frustrated that we were still a startup and not a launched business. For us, our boobs and need for our own product kept us going as we knew if we failed and packed it in, we’d have to wear dowdy, utilitarian bras for the rest of our lives and that reminder kept us pushing every obstacle until finally we were able to launch with a very small collection in September 2017.

Project M: What advice would you share with those thinking about creating a business?
Fleurette & Alice: Never be afraid to ask for help.

Be prepared for more bad days than good days in the beginning.

Surround yourself with people that understand what it takes to set up a business from scratch (otherwise it can be a lonely existence).

Ask people to be critical – your business won’t be its best if all you do is listen to compliments

Network, network, network.

Treat your customers like you would treat friends in your own home – be kind, be understanding, be thoughtful, be creative and celebrate their successes – social media has changed how we can now interact with our customers.

Be prepared that everything will take 3 times as long as you predict and may cost 3 times as much as you’re quoted.

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