“The business and you are separate entities! I spent years where my mood was almost entirely linked to the company’s performance. Not healthy.” Emily Bendell, Founder of Bluebella
The Bluebella world is one where enchanting, inclusive lingerie reigns, elegant hosiery – crafted in Italy – frolics joyfully and chic (but comfortable) nightwear beckons. It’s a world where, as founder Emily Bendell so eloquently puts it, “we design for spirited women that buy lingerie to please themselves.” Whether you love the edgier vibe of their Cora Mesh Set (perfect for every day) or have had your heart stolen by the pure elegance of their Irena Bra and matching briefs in white – which are part of the luxury lingerie label’s Bridal Collection – for your wedding day (for me Irena’s delicate embroidery reminds me of meandering waves or coral dancing on the seabed) there’s such a lot to discover at Bluebella. I managed to catch up with Emily herself to talk about her business journey so far and her version of Taking The Plunge, including the highs, the lows, the first jobs, the worst jobs and the tech she can’t live without…
#1 In a nutshell, describe your business/brand – what do you offer?
“Bluebella’s mission is to Redefine Sensuality. Our core brand principles are Strength, Fashion, Modernity and Inclusivity. We design for spirited women that buy lingerie to please themselves.”
#2 What’s your career background? Has it always been in the wedding industry?
“After graduating from university I worked as a journalist so I had zero training or experience in the fashion industry. I have learned everything ‘on the job’.”
#3 What planted the seed of your business idea? Did it strike you suddenly?
“I have always loved lingerie and just couldn’t find what my friends and I wanted. Back then the lingerie industry was very binary – underwear was presented as either boring and functional or ‘sexy’ to be dressed up in for someone else. I found this focus on the ‘male gaze’ to be deeply troubling. I wanted lingerie that reflected my personal style, that was fashion forward, but inclusive and accessible. Hence the idea for Bluebella was born.”
#4 Describe the moment you decided to TAKE THE PLUNGE (what did this involve? Handing in your notice?)
“The renewal on my flat was coming up and I knew if I signed up for another year, I would need to stay in my day job as a journalist. I handed my notice in the next day and moved back in with my dad to cut my outgoings and got started on the business full time. I thought I would give it a year as a test and then decide whether to carry on. That was over 10 years ago!”
#5 Describe how the first day of building your own business felt:
“It was nerve racking but exhilarating. I was lucky to not yet have kids or a mortgage to think about, I think it may have been much harder if I did.”
#6 The highs – what have they been so far?
“I am really proud of the many ‘firsts’ we have achieved in the industry – from being the first brand to have a trans woman to front a lingerie campaign (Munroe Bergdorf) to being the first brand to introduce a plus size model into the windows of Victoria’s Secrets.”
#7 The lows – how did you move past them? What did you learn?
“Most of the lows have been around fundraising for the business – the investment community is frustratingly very male dominated, and we have serious issues in this country with the gender investment gap. It was disheartening having to pitch my business to so many people who inherently didn’t understand it. I began actively searching for female investors and found a newly formed group of women investor angels, the first group of its kind in the UK and we were their first investment. I learned that there is always a way around every obstacle and not to become disheartened by negative feedback.”
#8 If you could tell yourself three things when you first started the business – what would they be?
No.1 “The business and you are separate entities! I spent years where my mood was almost entirely linked to the company’s performance. Not healthy.”
No.2 “Trust your gut. Your instinct is not always right but it usually is and there is nothing more infuriating than going against your gut and things not working out.”
No.3 “Be confident. It took me a long time to have the self-belief to stand up to more experienced people who I disagreed with.”
#9 Your tips for those dreaded lying-awake-at-3am times? (Counting sheep? Glass of water? Get
up? Meditate? Read?)
“Write it all down. It takes it out of your mind and helps you process the issue. I have been an avid diary writer my entire life.”
#10 Your top organisational tip?
“A shared google doc with your partner where you agree a split on domestic jobs. As a woman I believe you need constant vigilance in a relationship to not end up carrying the weight of domestic life.”
#11 Who inspired you? Or inspires you in business?
“My mum who was Danish and is sadly no longer with us gave me such an empowered and natural view of sensuality and sexuality. She is a big inspiration behind what I do.”
#12 An app/piece of tech you now couldn’t live without for your business:
“I know this is really low-fi but I use the Snipping Tool about 1000 times a day to illustrate my points. We of course have clever tech but the snipping tool is something I genuinely couldn’t live without!”
#13 Your first ever job was…
“My first employed job was as a Saturday girl in a clothes store when I was 16. But I had lots of ‘businesses’ prior to that from running an undercover tuck shop at school to reselling jewellery from Camden market traders.”
#14 Your top social media tip?
“Stay true to yourself and your brand. We sometimes post content that some consider controversial and that loses us followers, but I believe it is important to be authentic and that will make those who are aligned with your brand more loyal.”
#15 The brand you’d love to collaborate with and why…
“We would love to collaborate with Madonna, the original provocateur with so much amazing underwear as outerwear inspo! I also love what she is doing to challenge sexist ‘norms’ around age and female sensuality.”
#16 Name a business/social media account(s) – that have helped/inspired you with your business?
“My most recent obsession is singer/song writer and chief feminist rule breaker Rebecca Lucy Taylor, aka @selfesteemselfesteem. I was beyond delighted to have Rebecca front our recent Valentine’s Day campaign.”
#17 Your fav social media tool: (Pinterest? Instagram? LinkTree? Etc.)
“Instagram is my fave social channel.”
#18 Your advice to those looking to TAKE THE PLUNGE:
“Don’t be afraid of mistakes, they are an important part of the entrepreneurial journey and help you to learn and improve. Better to try things and learn than not take any risks.”
RAPID FIRE QUESTIONS | BLUEBELLA
#1 Most inspirational book you’ve read:
#2 You’re in Starbucks, what do you order?
“Errr, nothing. I live in Hackney and am therefore a coffee snob.”
#3 Instagram feed crush:
“@fkatwigs is mesmerising.”
#4 Your worst job was…
“Working on a breakfast show as a production journalist: 9pm to 9am every night, brutal!”
#5 If you didn’t do what you do…what would you do?
“I don’t know, I thought about being a Barrister for a while. I would hope in some small way I would be working on the advancement of women.”
#6 Work day pick-me-up:
“Any snack with a wasabi kick.”