It was nearly six years ago Helena Crumpton decided something needed to be done about her messy bra drawer. When shaped or molded bras are shoved into a drawer and squashed they get damaged.
“Some bras can pop back into shape but a lot of them don't,” Crumpton says. “You can be left with a dent or the material becomes saggy and it ruins the smoothness or contour of the cup.”
Initially Crumpton bought a CD rack and thought that would be a perfect way to hang bras and flick through them. That didn’t work so well so she designed a bra box with the help of a friend.
“It was only by chance that I showed some girlfriends and they thought it had potential as something that could be sold,” she says. “Initially it was just something I designed for myself.”
Crumpton had some drawings made up and flew to Melbourne to meet a number of buyers at major stores to gauge their response. Feedback was positive, so Crumpton decided to commit to production. Bra-Voe, which launches on 3 April, comprises four shaped moulds for placing bras onto.
“My husband Greg and I weren’t in a great financial position and we poured a fortune into getting it made,” she says. “We spent $300,000, including getting it patented but it was taking a long time to complete the moulds. I kept remortgaging my house until the mortgage was too high to jump over.”
Crumpton says at this point, despite her friends helping where they could with small loans and food parcels, she reached a very low point. Her husband was working two jobs to keep the money coming in and their two sons were often going without so she could fund further development.
In October 2007, Crumpton was told by the bank if couldn’t meet her mortgage repayments she was going to lose her house by Christmas.
“At the same time, my patent attorney told me he had carried out an international search and there was nothing like my product anywhere in the world,” she says. “I had total blanket acceptance but I needed to register my patent for each country, which was extremely expensive and needed to be done within a particular time frame.”
Not knowing what else to do, she sent a text to 100 people saying she was in trouble and asking if anyone could offer help.
“It was the most humbling day of my life,” she says. “The phone starting buzzing immediately with offers of money, food, contacts. But the first response was from an old friend, Craig Catterick, who not only helped out with money but told me to contact Glenn Duncan, the managing director of Pirtek, which makes hoses and fittings as they might be interested in investing.”
She and her husband met with Duncan that week. “I didn’t think he was interested but apparently when Glenn told his father Peter, [who founded Pirtek] that he was having a meeting with a woman who’d designed a solution for bra storage, he told him it may be an idea worth considering.”
Crumpton said at the same time her patent attorney was pressing her about the need to lodge her patents. “On the very last day I was able to register them was the day that Pirtek agreed to back me as equity investors,” she says.
There are now four directors: Crumpton and her husband, Glenn Duncan and Peter Duncan.
After the financial stress was lifted, Crumpton could focus on the product and despite the initial interest from retailers, she says she decided to go it alone. “I thought if I aligned myself with one group another might ignore my product so initially I will market the product online only,” she says.
Crumpton has no idea of what her sales figures will be. She has 50,000 Bra-Voes ready for the launch, which she says is a huge number but not when you consider how many people wear bras.
“I've always believed Bra-Voe will bring on an increase in bra sales,” Crumpton says. “Last year I sent out 100 Bra-Voes to be tested by different women and around 90 per cent said they now have their bras organised and felt the need to update their lingerie. I would be very excited to think that Bra-Voe might help women spoil themselves with nice lingerie.”