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Tampa startup stakes claim as ‘the most inclusive bra company in the world’

Margie Manning

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Danielle Rushton (left) is founder and designer, and Ellery Linder is CEO of Fruutfull.

Two veterans of HSN Inc. are out to disrupt the $14 billion lingerie market.

Danielle Rushton and Ellery Linder have launched Fruutfull, a Tampa company with a unique design that allows women to personalize their  brassiere size.

“When we talk about Fruutfull in a room full of men, they don’t get it. They say ‘Why bras, is there really something wrong with bras?’” Linder, CEO, said. “But most bras just aren’t that great.”

Bra design has changed little over the years, Linder said. There are currently about 165 different combinations of bra sizes, but 80 percent of women are wearing the wrong size, she said.

Rushton, founder and designer, came up with a proprietary sizing system that simplifies the shopping experience by providing 18 size variations that capture a total of 178 sizes. That makes Fruutfull “the most inclusive bra company in the world,” according to an executive summary the co-founders developed.

Linder and Rushton self-funded their startup, which incorporated earlier this year. The company joined the University of Tampa’s Spartan Incubator earlier this month. They’ve got a provisional patent on their design and are looking for a manufacturer for their prototype bra.

Differentiating factors

Rushton, who was a category manager and social media specialist at HSN, is a Tampa native who always loved clothes and taught herself to sew. She was doodling ideas for swimming suits and backless tops when she had a lightbulb moment about bra design.

Rushton quit her job at HSN in May to work on Fruutfull full time. Linder, a Lakeland native who worked at Food Network magazine in New York before joining HSN’s ecommerce and brand management teams, left HSN in September to join Rushton at Fruutfull.

There has been an uptick in bra start-ups, such as ThirdLove, True & Co. and Lively, that also focus on more inclusive sizes, according to BusinessInsider.

Linder and Rushton are confident that Fruutfull can stand out from the crowd.

“There are many things that differentiate us, the overall design, the sizing system Danielle created, and ultimately how we want to approach bra shopping in general,” Linder said. “I can’t think of anything I would rather do less than go bra shopping … but your bra is one of the first things you put on in the morning and it’s the basis for how you start your day, and if you don’t feel confident with the first layer you put on, it can be very difficult for you to feel confident in anything you do.”

Most bras are sold based on a sex appeal or comfort that’s not necessarily attractive, Linder said. She called Fruutfull’s branding bright, cheeky and approachable.

“The way we approached Fruutfull was to make it fun and appealing, and we wanted to take away some of the dreadfulness of sizing, not knowing your sizing or feeling badly about yourself,” she said.

The company’s initial product is a strapless bra. Unlike the standard strapless bra that only provides a single, sloping back band, Fruutfull’s dual back band system allows customers to tighten the band at the top of the bust and the bottom. It uses a sliding function rather than a traditional hook and eye closure, so the wearer can adjust the band exactly as she needs it to fit, the executive summary said.

“We want personalized clothing that feels unique and is designed like it’s specially made for us, and that’s exactly what this design will do,” Linder said.

Manufacturing hurdle

Fruutfull plans to sell bras direct to consumers, but first has to get over the hurdle of finding a manufacturer for its products.

Pinellas County has a lot of manufacturing companies but much of what is manufactured locally is industrial products.

“I think it will be hard for us to grow the manufacturing space. A lot of folks are trying hard to do it, build on and leverage some of the strong manufacturers in this region, but it’s a challenge,” said J.P. DuBuque, president of the St. Petersburg Area Economic Development Corp., in responding to a question from Linder at a recent USF Connect panel discussion on entrepreneurship.

Fruutfull is finding resources at the UT Spartan Incubator, designed to help startup founders hone their entrepreneurial skillset while building robust companies, said Rebecca White, UT professor of entrepreneurship and director of the John P. Lowth Center for Entrepreneurship.

“We will have access to contacts within our industry, within retail, within manufacturing, marketing, 3D printing,” Linder said. “I think being part of this program opens a new world to us in terms of being able to make these connections and get the product out there.”

While they are working to get their young company off the ground, they are also bringing a new element to the Tampa startup community, which is dominated by technology firms.

“We are so humbled by how helpful everyone in the Tampa entrepreneurial community is,” Rushton said, citing a series of events earlier this month for Global Entrepreneurship Week. “Everyone we met was so excited about the idea of bringing fashion to Tampa … and rounding out our ecosystem as a startup community.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

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