Founder & CEO
Today my female entrepreneur is amazing Priya Downes – the founder and CEO of a bespoke lingerie brand Nudea from London, UK.
Uninspired by the uncomfortable and old fashioned bras Priya founded Nudea together with Sohie Morgenthaler in order to modernize bra fitting from getting measured to the final product. Their lingerie brand is fully focused on user experience and customer satisfaction from online bra fitting to delivery.
In this post, she shares on her entrepreneurial journey and how she started. Read below and be inspired as her responses are straight to the point.
PLEASE TELL US ABOUT YOURSELF AND THE BUSINESS YOU STARTED.
My first job after university was as an actuary and although it was a great start for getting comfortable with data and numbers, I knew it wasn’t going to excite me enough to spend my whole life doing it. Eventually, after a few years of finance, I moved into the Luxury Fashion industry which I was much more passionate about.
After 8 years working for the some of the big houses I felt the itch to try something new that married my head for numbers with the love of great product but knew straight away I didn’t want to create yet another fashion brand, it was important for me to create a product that served a need as well as being made with care and passion for the product.
A fortuitous encounter led me to my talented creative director and co-founder, Sophie, one of the world’s most experienced lingerie designers. Together, we’ve been building Nudea to fill a gap in the market: beautifully made lingerie that actually fits.
WHAT DOES YOUR TYPICAL DAY LOOK LIKE AND HOW DO YOU STAY PRODUCTIVE?
I’m usually up early with the kids (mine are still at the age where they are up at the crack of dawn!). I usually start my day with a family breakfast which has become one of the nicest habits formed during lockdown after which I’m ready to start my day around 8 am. My kids also help to keep my day structured, particularly when working at home. I naturally take a break around their meal times and gives me a good distraction to break up work – go for a walk or do an activity with them.
In my working day, I usually spend the first hour looking at sales reports and our orders. In early lockdown, I was single-handed fulfilling orders from my garage as this was the safest way to continue to dispatch orders to our customers. Thankfully now we have a small team helping with this especially as our orders have grown 500% MoM through COVID, if I had continued with it now, it would take up my whole day!
Now most of my morning is taken up with calls that can vary from product planning to marketing or general team catch ups, after which my day is generally spent on emails. Pre-COVID I would have a lot more team catch-ups in person but now I’ve got pretty used to calls/zoom and emails. Hopefully, we can get back into a new norm where we can have a balance of both!
THE JOURNEY SO FAR
PLEASE DESCRIBE THE PROCESS OF LAUNCHING YOUR BUSINESS.
After leaving corporate and deciding to take the plunge to start something on my own, I found myself (very briefly) getting tempted back into interviews for corporate jobs. I’m not quite sure why I even entertained the idea but at the time I thought I could create this vision I had for Nudea in 1 day a week and weekends. After one such interview, I remember my husband shaking his head at me and saying if you want to create a business just do it.
After that I never looked back, I created a business plan, Sophie and I considered different areas of intimates we wanted to start with first, eventually settling on underwear, as the foundations of our wardrobe. We created a beta test of our website to test our fitting techniques and recruited 600 women to finesse our ideas and carry out some in-depth market research. We recruited a branding agency to help come up with a name and create a logo, eventually settling on NUDEA which is the combination of 2 words in Latin Nu (New) and Dea (Goddess). We also loved the fact that NUDE happened to be in the word which is how we wanted women to feel like in our underwear. So comfortable you forget you have anything on.
A web agency helped get our website to launch and we worked with several consultants who helped with marketing and visuals. With Sophie’s knowledge of the lingerie industry and a strong advisory board of experts in the lingerie field, we were able to tap into great manufacturers to get the product off the ground.
We have been founder/family funded from the start, which has helped keep a tight discipline on costs and an eye on a healthy bottom line, this is very important starting out as good economics and practices will always be important as we scale.
WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR BIGGEST ACHIEVEMENT AND YOUR BIGGEST CHALLENGE SINCE YOU STARTED YOUR BUSINESS?
My biggest achievement as an entrepreneur really came from my biggest lesson which was– truly understanding our customers. As an indirect consequence of bringing our fulfillment in house, I personally packed and prepared our customer orders, I wrote little notes (and still do) in every order and got to know many of our customers by name. Through this process, I have learned so much about who our customer is, what they appreciate and love about us. My biggest achievement was seeing our reviews and seeing the difference that small touches made to the customer experience – it was the best decision and best learning I could have had as a founder.
The biggest challenge has been marketing. As a small brand trying to make noise, marketing is everything and yet neither I or Sophie had any experience in this area. Add to this that lingerie marketing has its particular nuances which make it even more difficult. Luckily, we have some great advisors and a team who are experts and very hands-on helping us to grow.
WHAT STRATEGY DID YOU USE TO GROW YOUR BUSINESS? AND HOW?
Marketing (customer acquisition) in a traditional digital way is challenging for a brand lingerie brand. It’s hard to find influencer partners who will wear your product and market it for you as most fashion brands rely on. In addition, Facebook screens ads and content for nudity which makes it hard to showcase our products.
Instead our growth and brand awareness has come from PR and organic influencer connections who genuinely love our product and want to spread the word of fitting and better fitting underwear for all. Our attention to personal customer service and the fitting experience has created great reviews and word of mouth for us which has been brilliant for leveraging brand awareness in a lost cost way.
In today’s environment, it’s even more important for brands to have strong values, an honest and transparent approach to building customer bases and connections. We have held this close to us from the start when we created our first group of 600 women to test our fitting process who have remained loyal to us from the start because of our values. It’s important to be more than just the products you sell, and this has helped us create a truly engaged and loyal customer base.
WHAT IS YOUR VISION FOR THE FUTURE OF BUSINESS?
Our business growth has been exponential during Covid-19 lockdown due to our core mission being on the pulse to what women needed at that time – a way to safely get fitted at home and also purchase a product that genuinely serviced the need for comfort in the new work for home culture. As lockdown eases, we are getting used to a new norm and we all need to assess our own risks in a new way, including getting physically fitted. Nudea helps women find their fit at home which not only suits a physically distant norm but is genuinely more convenient, less intimidating, and makes it more likely you’ll do it more often. There is a reason why 80% of us are wearing the wrong bra size at any given time – it’s because we aren’t getting fitted often enough and women change size all the time!
Imagine if you could have your dental check-ups at home, with the help of virtual tools and self-checking tips, I am sure we would all have better teeth and would never miss our 6-month routine check-ups. Of course, dental examinations are much more complicated but bra fitting doesn’t need to be, we want to empower women to have the tools and knowledge to do it themselves.
We now offer virtual fitting services both to help women get sized up as well as aftercare to help you wear your bra correctly, both services that we accelerated during lockdown. We also added face masks to our range of essentials, a reusable face-covering made from natural materials which comes with its own bag. Like everything we do, we wanted to make an essential item just a bit better. That’s exactly what our vision is for our brand – Essentials, just done better.
We have plans to expand our product offering into loungewear, sleepwear all the time inventing ways to make it better. Our next product range which we are very excited about will be sustainable, either made from recycled yarns or natural materials that are sustainably sourced. We are also expanding our size offering from 27 to 43 sizes.
RECOMMENDATIONS & FINAL THOUGHTS
ARE THERE ANY RESOURCES OR TOOLS YOU WOULD LIKE TO SHARE WITH OTHERS THAT HAVE HELPED YOU RUN YOUR BUSINESS?
I would highly recommend using Shopify as an eCommerce platform. It’s cheap, reliable and you can bolt on any system such as inventory management, accounting and marketing tools to it. Don’t be tempted to go with a bespoke solution, Shopify is easy to maintain and it has made creating a website so easy. For a start-up retail DTC brand it’s perfect.
WHAT OR WHO HAS BEEN YOUR GREATEST INFLUENCE IN BUSINESS AND WHY?
Business leaders, as they have shown me what’s possible and that actually nothing is impossible if you have a great vision. Elon Musk is the classic example, his visions of reusable rockets and high-speed trains running in a vacuum sounded so pie-in-the-sky 10 years ago but he did achieve it and more.
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO OTHER WOMEN WHO WANT TO START THEIR OWN BUSINESS?
Just do it! So many people and particularly women find excuses not to. The biggest challenge that any entrepreneur faces is resilience and women are genetically wired with more than our fair share, it’s tough and it’s a long road but so rewarding. As long as you have resilience and love challenges you’re already 80% there, so what are you waiting for??
WHAT BUSINESS IDEA DO YOU HAVE THAT YOU ARE WILLING TO SHARE WITH OTHERS?
Covid-19 has changed our lives forever and all businesses are going to have to adapt in order to survive and even when we get a vaccine I believe that some customer habits will be changed permanently. There is a renewed focus on the environment, health, well being and our household (both from a family and house/garden point of view). I personally am looking out for companies that can offer me ways to source lovely pieces of art or sculpture for my house or garden.
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Welcome to the Biz Ladies interview series!
If you’re new to these series, I interview women entrepreneurs on how they started their business, what was the idea behind it, how they got where they are, the struggles, the reality and more.
By sharing their stories, we want to inspire other women to get started.
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