Festival of Female Entrepreneurs: how Priya Downes co-founded Nudea, the lingerie brand taking the industry by storm

Festival of Female Entrepreneurs: how Priya Downes co-founded Nudea, the lingerie brand taking the industry by storm
Angelica Malin
Angelica MalinAbout Time Magazine

Posted: Thu 30th Sep 2021

Priya Downes is the CEO and Co-Founder of Nudea - a new British lingerie brand, which she co-founded with Sophie Morgenthaler in 2018. Beautifully crafted and engineered to fit, Nudea is changing the way you feel in your underwear - one hook at a time.

Priya will be taking part in our Festival of Female Entrepreneurs on Friday 22 October 2021, so we sat down ahead of the Festival to hear more about Priya’s entrepreneurial journey:

Priya, tell me about Nudea, the company you left a career in luxury fashion to launch...

"I founded Nudea in 2018 with Sophie, who is our creative designer - we met working together in luxury fashion and really hit it off. We saw a massive gap in the market in creating really beautiful lingerie, which was actually fit for purpose, that women could wear everyday, comfortable and doesn’t cost the earth.

"Marks and Spencer still has around 30% of the market share for underwear - the high street options are pretty limited. We wanted to create really good, premium lingerie that’s designed for everyday in mind - but something that has a little bit of design, thought and creativity gone into it. Sophie was ex-Head of Innovation at Victoria’s Secret, so we have a great skill set together. We’re a match made in heaven.

"We embarked on this journey in the middle of 2018 - we wanted to make sure that whatever we put to market was considered, so we spent about 18 months working on the concept. We did focus groups with around 600 women, running workshops, and looking at the product itself, but also asking how we can make the customer experience better. We wanted to know what inspires them a little bit as opposed to just being a transaction.

"We also wanted to bring in applications to help fit women better, so we brought tools for women to get fitted in as well, and what we ended up launching with was a 60-second fit quiz, which is a very quick way to get your size effectively. But you know, it's nothing revolutionary. A lot of make-up and cosmetic companies do quizzes - but it was unique for a lingerie brand to do it.

"Our USP I would say is our tech tape. We created our own fit tape to make it really easy for women to size up at home. It does away with conversions. And in all honesty, it was one of those things where I said “Well, why is this so undemocratic?” Like, why is it that to get your bra size, you have to go to a fitting room, you have to get somebody else to measure you. It's a little bit of a black box, because it's tailor's tape. And the whole bra measuring system is still based on a Victorian-era sizing curve."

Tell me more about the tape…

"Well, there are so many conversions needed, and the fitter will always hold the tape a certain way and I think that’s so undemocratic. Like, why shouldn't women be empowered to do it themselves? And so what we created was a fit tape, which we trademarked, which allows women to get their size at home by themselves in a really easy way. We do away with conversions. And actually that's been one of our biggest hooks, particularly going into the pandemic.

"We've got a lot of press from the fact that people who just found it really easy to use: ‘here's a nice little physical tool that we can interact with, it gives us a first introduction to the brand’. It's very accurate. And it's something different to what other brands are offering.

"We actually found that a lot of people that did the fit quiz bought the tech tape anyway. So there's something around the trustability of a physical tool - and it does come down to education. If somebody asks you how your bra fits, you genuinely don't know. You're just going to say it's fine, right? What we find actually is that the tape offers a huge amount of accuracy, and it just ended up being the kind of thing that really worked for us. We had a very stellar first year off the back of it."

What a great success story. I've read that 80% of women are wearing things that are not the right size for them. Have people just accepted things that don't fit? Or is it a case that they don’t realise what they’re wearing doesn’t fit?

"I think a bit of both. Because of the inconvenience of having to go physically and get a fitting, you just sort of stick with what you know. I think people don't realise that actually you should be getting fitted at least once a year, that you know, just a tiny bit of weight gain, a tiny bit of weight loss, children, having babies, pregnancy, menopause, all these things, even down to kind of, time of the month, can affect your bra size.

"The average woman has six bra sizes in their life - chances are you probably need to get a different size, as you go through different life stages, and maybe next year, you'll be a different size. But don't put up with wearing the wrong size, because you don't need to.

"It's a hygiene thing. It's a bit like going to the dentist, it's all fitted, make sure you're wearing something that actually fits you. And you know, at the end of the day, a bra is something that you wear every day, so you shouldn’t need to replace it often, and when you do - buy well."

What about sustainability?

"Sustainability is important for us - and we’re on the path to being more sustainable. It’s very hard for recycled fabrics, and recycled componentry to perform the same way as virgin componentry in terms of fit. But we've worked really hard to kind of find sustainable materials that actually work, and still perform.

"We’re not 100% there, but we’re a long way there. The biggest thing you can do is buy a bra that fits - something premium with good quality materials, that you’re not going to throw out. We also educate our customers and aftercare, like how do you wash your bra? How do you dry it? How do you make sure you take care of it once you get it, because it isn't a frequently washed item, it's a frequently worn item.

"So, you should care for it just as much as you put the effort into buying it. All our bras, for example, come with wash bags as standard because we feel like that's something that is important for you."

You're speaking at our Festival of Female Entrepreneurs in October. I wondered if you had any top tips for female entrepreneurs who might have a really good idea, but might not know how to take the next step...

"I honestly think you should surround yourself with good mentors - they give you the confidence to go for something when you have an idea. I think women are worse than men about this - women often find a million reasons not to do something, because they need that really strong conviction to do it.

"When you don't need loads of reasons, by the way, you should just do it. I feel like, by surrounding yourself with mentors from the start, not only do they give you the encouragement to just go for it, they also give you that reassurance. But also, you know, I found that the best mentors have now become my advisers and have really helped me grow as a leader, as a founder, and really have my own interests and the business’ interests at heart, and I think that's really important.

"Surround yourself with people that are going to be your biggest champions, because that's what's really going to help drive you, give you the confidence to do something, but also as you go through your journey, and you deal with challenges that are there for you.

"Because doing this by yourself is hard enough as it is. But getting people that really support you and can champion you is already a good start. I think it's important to really sit down and think, who inspires you? Who do you think will really motivate you and who will really champion you? Get them on board! Reach out to them!"

Secure your tickets for the Festival of Female Entrepreneurs 2021 on Friday 22 October, for a full-day agenda of networking, business support and more stories of wonderful female enterprise alongside Priya's.

Angelica Malin
Angelica MalinAbout Time Magazine
Editor-in-Chief at About Time Magazine

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