Lincoln Bra Lady, a lingerie boutique based in North Hykeham, was launched almost serendipitously. Founder Claire Woodall was working as massage therapist when she noticed a wave of back, neck and shoulder problems among large-busted women in the local community. Realising these problems were often caused by ill-fitting bras, she saw a business opportunity that quickly became her passion.
As an industry, we all know about the health problems that an ill-fitting bra can bring, but Claire Woodall witnessed this first-hand when working as a remedial therapist almost four years ago.
She was treating ladies with neck, back and shoulder conditions, which were often caused by insufficient breast support.
“It seemed to be that the bra was pulling them forward and weighing them down because they weren’t correctly supported,” she explains.
Eager to try and resolve this issue, Woodall attended the Lindsey Brown fitting course in Leicester to find out how a bra should fit and passed the feedback onto her clients.
Armed with this new-found information, her clients went away, only to find there were no lingerie fitters in the Lincoln area.
“I thought, ‘that’s interesting, clearly there’s a gap in the market’,” Woodall reflects.
“So in order to fill that gap, I approached a few manufacturers and I asked them how they felt about me doing fittings from my clinic, by appointment only, and some of them agreed.”
Woodall started fitting larger-cup ladies, with a size F cup and above, and word soon spread among the local community about her reputable service.
“People kept saying, ‘you want to go and see the bra lady’. So that’s how it came about that I was the Lincoln Bra Lady,” she explains.
“It was easier for people to come and see me than it was for them to go into a department store, where it can be a little bit intimidating.”
Setting up shop
During the first year of business, Woodall gradually increased her stock holding of lingerie and took on more brands. But by the end of 2012, she began to run out of space.
“It got to the point where I had eight mannequins in my bedroom because I couldn’t have them in my clinic when I was massaging,” Woodall reflects with a laugh.
“I had to store them somewhere and my bedroom was the next best thing, but my husband said it was getting a bit creepy!”
Woodall moved her small business to a retail premises in the town of North Hykeham in 2013 – a move that was never intended, but somehow meant to be.
“Across the road from where I live, there was a giftware shop on the corner and I knew that they had shop floor and separate room. I thought it would make a perfect bra shop and in the months when I was working from home, I decided that if I was ever to open a bra shop, that would be it,” she says.
“I went into buy a birthday card one day and the girls were putting in a ‘closing down sale’ sign in the window. So I inquired about it and they gave me the number for the landlord. I then took over the business and had it refitted. It was as quick and as simple as that.”
This move was a rather large leap of faith for Woodall; before she knew it, she had changed careers and was investing into the unknown. But in the end, she knew was following the right path.
“It was never my intention to go into lingerie retailing – I was quite happy doing massage and doing the bra fittings as a small business – and the decision was made quite quickly,” she says.
“I had embarked on several bra fitting courses, including specialist fitting. My knowledge had become enriched and my skill set for fitting bras and helping ladies find the right bra had become more than just a job, it was a passion.
“Now, I am fully immersed and shrouded in a whole world of lingerie!”
Evolving the business
Since its inception, Lincoln Bra Lady has continued to grow month-on-month. It now carries more brands in cup sizes A-K, after witnessing a demand for smaller sizes, and has taken on three members of staff to fit ladies in Lincoln and beyond.
“The business changes constantly,” says Woodall. “It is continually moving and developing to keep up with our ever-changing and growing customer base.”
When it comes to deciding which brands to stock, Woodall’s two main criteria are quality and fit.
“For me, it’s always been about fit because of my background. So if I get something in and it doesn’t fit, it will go straight back to the manufacturer. We don’t think ‘oh, we can flog that’ it’s not what we’re about,” she explains.
“We wear test the large cup products too when we take on a new brand – one of my girls is a GG cup and another is a DD/E. I’ve also got a couple of older ladies who wear test products for us if it’s a non-wired product. They’ll wear it, wash it and put it through the test of whether it’s going to stand up to the job,” she continues.
In the last few months, Woodall has launched and ecommerce site under Clairewoodall.com.
She made the decision to expand online based on her customers’ needs for greater convenience.
“The world we live in today means that ladies want to be able to buy their favourite bra at whatever time of day and night they choose to,” the founder explains.
Lincoln Bra Lady will remain under its original name to maintain its local appeal, while the new site represents the expertise Woodall has gained by working with quality brands, from Chantelle to Wacoal.
“We have a great reputation locally, and we are collectively recognised in and out of store as ‘the bra ladies’. My little team and I are proud of our titles and want to keep them,” Woodall explains.
Her aim is for the online boutique to reflect the in-store shopping experience as much as possible.
“The site will only stock tried-and-tested lingerie and if we don’t think it makes the grade, it won’t make the site,” she insists.
“My aim is to try and make the site a place where you can find the best lingerie and swimwear, at the best prices, all gift wrapped and lovely. We will be on hand to guide the customer through the maze of lingerie, with online support via the website and regular updates from our social media channels.”
Claire Woodall’s future plans for the business are simple; to build on the trust that her business has gained in her local community and further afield.
“We welcome ladies with open arms, a welcoming smile and make them feel wonderful when they leave. We give them the best quality product, and they know that we go to the shows and we go on
the courses, so it’s about maintaining that standard.”