CMU innovators build a better bra
There’s some uplifting news coming out of a collaborative workspace in East Liberty, thanks to the efforts of two young Carnegie Mellon University industrial design grads who are building a better bra.
Backed by $50,000 in seed funding from AlphaLab Gear — a startup accelerator program that helps innovative companies launch quickly and successfully — Pittsburgh-born Sophia Berman and her partner, Laura West, are well on their way to changing the foundation of women’s fashion by creating a product they say currently does not exist: a bra that is both comfortable and fashionable and that can truly support the weight of large busts.
The pair saw an opportunity after conducting some market research that confirmed that about eight out of 10 women wear bras that do not fit properly and that as a result, many women have discomfort issues with bras that include poking wires, straps digging into their shoulders and resulting backaches. These problems, Berman said, are augmented for women with larger cup sizes.
Berman was raised in Irvine, Calif., but her father, Arthur Berman, still lives in Pittsburgh. She has been sewing since she was a child; although she worked for a few years in architecture after her 2007 graduation from CMU, she ultimately recognized that her heart was really in product design, specifically “wearable products,” she said. She and West, who also has been a lifelong seamstress and graduated from CMU in 2013, decided to start a company together in April 2014.
“We wanted to do something meaningful for us,” Berman said. “So we decided to build a better bra.”
Berman, who wears a size 30E brassiere, knows firsthand the challenges of finding the right fit, as does her business partner, who wears a 32H.
Women with larger cup sizes, Berman said, are mostly unable to buy bras off the rack at major retailers. Cup sizes larger than a DD are hard to find. Women requiring larger sizes must shop at specialty boutiques or buy their bras online.
“There’s a lot of trial and error,” Berman said. “And there is a lot of pain caused because of ill-fitting bras.”
Current bra design, Berman said, is the same as when it was first introduced, with breast support coming from the garment’s straps, which puts an undue strain on shoulders, particularly for large-breasted women. But, using engineering principles, she and West created a bra that provides support from beneath the breasts instead. Their design, which they will sell under the Trusst Lingerie brand, is patent-pending.
“We’ve created an entirely new structure,” Berman said. “There are no wires or metal in our bras, but they support 80 percent of breast weight.”
They intend to launch a strapless bra as one of the first in their line, Berman said, but added that because all support is coming from beneath the bust, “in essence, all our bras will be strapless because the straps won’t be necessary. Women will feel freer because there will be nothing bearing down on their shoulders.”
Berman and West hope to sell their product through independent boutiques, their own website and eventually high-end mass retailers. In addition to the strapless version, they will also launch a T-shirt bra, with the goal of eventually adding lines of regular bras, sports bras, swimsuits and nursing bras. Bras for women with smaller busts may be marketed down the road, she said.
“We are starting with the larger-size market, because that needs the most attention,” Berman said. “We want to cater to hard to find sizes.”
There are an estimated 50 million women in the United States who are Trusst’s target demographic, Berman said.
Trusst will launch with sizes ranging from 30E to 48L or N, with a focus on style as well as support.
“There are other bras in the market that are beautiful and sexy, but those don’t go up to big sizes,” Berman noted. “We want to create those for larger busts.”
The Trusst team is aiming to have its initial product out by the fall. They are currently in their development/test-phase, Berman said, and “welcome any larger busted women in Pittsburgh who would like to help out.”
“We have had great feedback,” she added. “We’ve had a lot of women offering to help, sharing their stories and wanting to be testers.”
Interested testers with cup sizes F, G or H, can email email@example.com for more info.
Toby Tabachnick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.