Featured Founder: Danielle Rushton of Wherewithal, Formerly Fruutfull
Welcome to our Featured Founder series, where you’ll meet startup founders from Tampa-St. Petersburg who are building and scaling their ventures to solve some of the world’s greatest challenges. We interviewed Danielle Rushton, Co-Founder and Co-CEO of Fruutfull, a technology-enabled startup with a unique design that allows women to personalize their brassiere size.
What were you doing previously and what inspired you to launch your company?
Prior to pursuing Fruutfull full-time, I spent my career in the fashion industry at the Home Shopping Network, specifically in the intimates category. Building a career on the intersection of retail, marketing and technology, I was able to gain experience through my roles on both the eCommerce and social media marketing teams. This experience provided me with more tools than I realized at the time, and has been integral as I apply those learnings towards launching a digitally native consumer packaged goods company. When I think back to what led me to start a bra company, originally it had nothing to do with bras at all and everything to do with what I thought was inadequate and inconsistent sizing standards across the retail industry. Once I grew out of my tomboy phase, I quickly developed an affinity for the creative, personal expression that can be represented through the clothes we choose to wear daily. This form of expression does not come without limitations and there is a subtle theme in fashion; as size goes up, the style tends to go down. The catalyst for me was when I purchased a bathing suit top in my “standard” size that was so small it had to have been - quite literally - made for ants.
I remember thinking, this style would be fine if they would just add more fabric to the design. I decided to make this idea a reality and purchased my first sewing machine, watched about 100 hours of YouTube tutorials, and “they” became “me” as I started learning how to sew.
It started with bathing suits, then blouses and an attempt at dresses. There was a point when I noticed each garment I was making had a supportive, bra-like feature about it. I reached an epiphany when I realized individual apparel pieces shouldn’t require a supportive bra-like feature, our bras should be designed differently in order to be the supportive feature all on its own. I was inspired and grabbed all of my bras from my drawer, threw them on my sewing table, cutting off pieces from each and reconfiguring to create our V1 - which I still wear today and is so accurately dubbed the “Frankenbra.”
But what really inspired me to start isn’t exactly what inspired me to launch this company. I didn’t realize how many women were suffering in silence along with me because as women, we don’t talk about our bras. Since there hadn’t been much innovation in terms of design, functionality or personalization in the way our bras can be adjusted to fit and feel, I solved for what I thought was a personal issue at first, but it wasn’t until I began speaking with other women that I realized this was a problem much bigger than my own.
A Facebook post that generated over 300 comments and likes of women sharing their insecurities that have been anchored by ill-fitting bras, ultimately became my “why.” But as my co-founder, Ellery Linder, and I talk to more women who have felt the same way, bringing this to the world for everyone who has ever felt insecure, uncomfortable or limited because of their bra is the driving force through all the challenges and what inspires us daily to continue building this company.
What pain point is your company solving? What gets you excited to go to work every day?
Fruutfull is a direct-to-consumer (D2C) company that has taken a modern approach to the bra industry and will offer an entirely new sizing system for personalized bras. The problem with bras today, at its core, comes from an antiquated design and a complicated sizing system, leaving more than 80% of women wearing the wrong size bra.
A bra is a garment most women wear almost daily for the majority of our lives after adolescence - so when more than 80% of women are not wearing the right bra size, that’s a pretty huge indicator that the issue isn’t the consumer - rather a telling indicator that the bra industry has changes to make
There are are over 120 different bra size combinations offered today and with so many sizes, retailers choose to carry a limited amount of options. For example, the market leader carries just 33 sizes. This size limitation force-fits consumers into the sizes retailers have available in order to make the sale, leaving us never truly satisfied with how our bras fit or feel.
Our patent-pending design uses personalization to solve this fit issue for our customers. Our bra design will allow us to offer more size options and eliminate excess inventory more than any other bra company today. We are replacing hook and eye closures with an adjustable back band feature that will allow our customers to create their own unique and personalized fit, for the first time ever. Because of this feature, we can offer just 30 SKUs, covering 253 sizes from 26AA-48J. This allows us to reach a wider customer base than any of our competitors.
Name the biggest challenge you faced in the process of launching the company. How did you overcome it?
One eye-opening challenge has been uncovering all the aspects of the niche manufacturing process of women's undergarments. In today's technology era, it's crazy to think that most bra manufacturers still sew bras by hand.
What I think has also been the challenging is understanding and uncovering just how antiquated and inconsistent the bra industry is as a whole. And what is even more surprising is how many bra companies exist (a handful) compared to the amount of apparel brands that exist.
As a result, bras are one of the most technical garments manufactured, and to recreate that entire design, ergo that entire manufacturing process that has been embedded for 100+ years, it was surprisingly difficult to find someone with the technical experience to help take proof-of-concept to an MVP product stage.
Where do you see your company headed next?
Ellery and I have had an exciting few months. We recently competed against 100 startups at Startup of the Year and placed in the top 5 and most recently advanced to the Global Round at the SoGal pitch competition. Currently, we are heads down working on our MVP and readying for our official launch.
Give us a tactical piece of advice that you’d share with another founder just starting out.
Walls exist to keep people out who don't want in bad enough. Starting something new comes with countless challenges, nay-sayers, and self-doubt. For me personally, the constant walls I faced turned into mirrors of self-doubt and at times I thought maybe the idea of creating a new bra company wasn’t for me.
The “walls” you experience will be unique to your build but what's common for all founders is your "why" that drives you to continue to better someone else's life. You’ll start to see that every “no” gets you closer to the “yes”. The people who doubt you become less important on your list. Each setback creates the space you most likely needed to regroup, and the challenges you face will push you to become more nimble, more creative, and ultimately better because you had to face those challenges. Your "why" becomes the driving force that breaks down brick walls and provides you your reason to persevere.
The challenges and unexpected setbacks that occur daily is enough to make anyone second guess leaving a comfortable corporate job. But when you sacrifice comfort to build something to better someone else’s life - there is a sense of serenity in knowing that what you are creating is something bigger than you, and that becomes your “why”. The walls you experience will be unique to your build but what's common for all founders is the "why" that continues to drive you.
That being said - time is your most valuable asset that you can never make back. Don’t waste it chasing after people - customers or investors - who don’t see the value in what you are building. Stay true to your vision and with every “no” learn how to improve for the next conversation. The ones you want to be with you on this journey are those that see your path just as vividly as you. Stay focused, keep going, and never stop. The ones who didn’t see your vision prior will be at the finish line. You’ll start to see that every “no” gets you closer to the “yes”. The people who doubt you become less important on your list. Each setback creates the space you most likely needed to regroup, and the challenges you face will push you to become more nimble, more creative, and ultimately better for having faced them. Your "why" becomes the driving force that breaks down brick walls and the continual resource to persevere.
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