Free Reign Co-founder Liz Cook
Why Start a Brand for Smaller-Busted Women?
An age-old adage sums it up: Necessity is the mother of invention.
As a small-busted woman, I never felt a need to wear a bra. For years, I would buy and wear clothing that wouldn’t reveal I was braless. This might be layers, dark fabrics or a shirt with two pockets. Since I didn’t need the support, it felt crazy to wear an uncomfortable bra, and most bras were either too thin to provide coverage or too “push-up” for me. The biggest insult of all was the rigid underwire bra, an overly constructed scaffolding for my dainty A-cups.
But necessity is not the same as having the motivation to start a business, and I remember the moment that pushed me over the edge.
I was riding the metro to my office in Washington, DC, and I ran into a dear friend on her way to work at the Design Center. Dale is known for her sense of style, so when she complimented my suit and asked why I was so dressed up, I was tickled she noticed my outfit. I shared that I was going to a Board meeting for the sustainability organization where I worked and there would be several dignitaries attending, including the former Vice President of the United States. Alarmed, she turned to me and said, “you can’t go to a meeting with Al Gore without wearing a bra!”
In the stops remaining, I tried to explain to her how hard it was to find a bra for a small-cup woman, and she convinced me to let her take me to a store where she was certain I could be fitted for a bra I would like. We made a date for the following Saturday as I slipped out the metro doors.
The Struggle to Find a Bra that Fits
The trip to the Dor-ne Corset Shoppe, founded in 1932 in Silver Spring, Maryland, was humiliating. Turns out this beloved community institution caters to larger-busted women. Bra-stuffed racks abounded, but an A-cup or AA-cup bra was nowhere to be found. When we finally got the manager’s attention, she foraged deep into one of their storage drawers and surfaced two bras for me to try on. Neither was a perfect fit, but I took one home, and it’s had a lonely existence in the tangle of only-once- used bras jammed into my dresser.
I continued my bra search as I realized that a little shape would make some of my clothing fit better. Yet, store after store would have racks of bras but only a few choices in small-cup sizes. When I shared my experience with other women my size and the women who sold bras, I learned this story was not uncommon. Big brands viewed small sizes as a small market and largely overlooked our needs.
One person who also experienced this frustrating market void is my childhood friend and co-founder Gigi Kitei. We set out to develop a line of bras and tops that would be comfortable to wear and provide just the right amount of contour and coverage for our body type. Along the way, a few similarly-minded businesses expanded offerings to the small-cup bra market – The Little Bra Company, Lulalu, and Wear Pepper – and we turned our attention to re-inventing the bra-top – a great idea, but traditionally a horrible design.
In business for 88 years and stocking bras sizes to 56N
The Perfect Bra-top Design
We saw an opportunity to take what we were seeing developing in seamless activewear tops and apply that to everyday wear with soft fabrics, an innovative inner bra and a modern look. What if the perfect tank top for layering under that Board meeting suit — or simply for wearing with a pair of jeans — could seamlessly integrate a comfortable bra designed specifically for the needs of smaller busted women?
Out of necessity and with the help of many midwives – from designers and manufacturers to encouraging friends and wear testers – Free Reign’s Everyday Tank was born.