Designer Spotlight on Bella Petite Lingerie
Story by Luis Paredes & Christi Reid
While there is a clear trend towards serving the full-chested and plus sized consumer we tend to forget that the smaller women of the world need attending to as well.
Designer Stephanie Ballard found in her own struggles that there was a gapping hole in the market for lingerie designed specifically for the petite chest. She channeled that frustration and a desire to help petite busted women embrace their natural beauty into her own brand – Bella Petite Lingerie.
Stephanie’s story is incredibly inspiring and we wanted to share her brand’s journey from epiphany to reality in this Q&A to showcase Bella Petite Lingerie.
About Bella Petite Lingerie
“We believe that a woman’s petite natural bust should be complimented, not covered up. Our products are designed to highlight the petite busted woman’s natural beauty.”
Could you tell our readers who might not be familiar with your collection collection what Bella Petite Lingerie is all about?
Bella Petite Lingerie is focused on a niche in the market we feel is not being well served. Unlike other lingerie companies who try to sell to women of all sizes with the same outfits, we have specifically designed our line for small busted women. The company was founded by a petite busted woman who understands first hand the challenge women her size face in finding lingerie that fits and is flattering. Many companies sell bras in smaller sizes and many fill them with lots of padding. This can leave a woman feeling like she has to pretend to have something she doesn’t.
We believe that a woman’s petite natural bust should be complimented, not covered up. Our products are designed to highlight the petite busted woman’s natural beauty. One of my goals is to help petite busted women embrace their natural beauty and not feel they need to change to be what society tells them they should look like. I am hoping that when women hear about our story, those who faced similar challenges will feel a connection. Bella Petite offers a solution for smaller busted women who are looking for beautiful lingerie that is made to compliment their natural curves and was designed with their body type in mind.
What are the distinguishing characteristics of Bella Petite Lingerie?
We used a plunging sweetheart neckline on our babydoll and deep neckline on the chemise which is very flattering to the petite bust. Both pieces have elastic underneath the bust which hugs the woman’s natural curves and helps to highlight them. We also chose sheer material as it draws attention to a women’s smaller bust in a very feminine flattering way. I understand what types of designs look best on a small bust and I incorporate those into my pieces.
Above: Bella Petite Lingerie recent press/blog coverage in wifessionals.com
“Many stores advertise selling in plus sizes which draws additional sales. On the flip side, I think stores that advertise selling lingerie in petite sizes could reap similar benefits.”
How do you feel retailers could take advantage of a collection like Bella Petite Lingerie?
There are quite a few companies out there which are now selling bras made for petite busted women which I think is great. However, many of these companies advertise as selling lingerie and I believe there is more to lingerie than just bra’s. I know from first hand experience that when looking for lingerie in my size, it was practically non-existant. I even went as far as going into boutique’s that claimed to sell to all sizes. I remember one experience vividly.
I went to a boutique which claimed to have lingerie for women of all sizes. While in the dressing room I was envisioning a multitude of lingerie choices being brought to me to try on. Imagine my disappointment when the sales representative brought me one item of lingerie to try on which did not fit my long torso. When I asked if there were more choices, she responded with “that is all we have it that size”. I am a 32A and I don’t believe that I am unique in this size. I know there are thousands of women just like me that have probably had their own similar experiences of being let down that their options for lingerie were limited at best. I believe retailers could be gaining a niche of the market, that might otherwise not shop at their store. Many stores advertise selling in plus sizes which draws additional sales. On the flip side, I think stores that advertise selling lingerie in petite sizes could reap similar benefits.
“Bella Petite is manufactured right here in the US. As an OEF (Operation Enduring Freedom, the War in Afghanistan) Veteran, it was very important to my husband Jeff to have our products manufactured in the USA.”
Can you talk a bit about the materials used in the collection?
We used a very soft sheer material on the body of the outfits and sheer lace on the top of the chemise. The material is extremely soft and comfortable to wear. It is a stretch lace which helps the outfit conform to the person wearing it. Since the lace would be worn over a very sensitive part of the body it was important for us to find a very soft lace material, not one that would be irritating or scratchy.
Where is Bella Petite Lingerie manufactured? Why?
Bella Petite is manufactured right here in the US. As an OEF (Operation Enduring Freedom, the War in Afghanistan) Veteran, it was very important to my husband Jeff to have our products manufactured in the USA. This was a challenge for us and took us many many months before finding a manufacturing company stateside. It has definitely been worth all the time we spent searching. We are excited to be keeping manufacturing here and not sending it overseas. We believe the quality of our products will be higher as a result. We also feel good that we are helping fellow citizens by creating opportunities for work. It was also convenient for our manufacturer to have the same business day as us.
How long did it take you to bring Bella Petite Lingerie to life from concept to first samples?
From the time the idea of Bella Petite was born to when our first samples were created was about two years. We originally started with a local seamstress to take my sketches and turn them into a prototype. When we found the US manufacturer, the prototypes we had developed evolved over the next six to eight months. I worked with them and I made changes based on things I felt would improve the look and feel of the products. There is a steep learning curve when starting out, especially for people with no prior fashion experience. With the experience and knowledge we have gained we will be able to quickly adapt to our customers changing needs and get our product to market much faster in the future.
Above: Bella Petite Lingerie recent press/blog coverage in wifessionals.com
“I have used the knowledge from my own challenges to create designs that would enhance a woman’s natural beauty without hiding it or covering it with lots of padding.”
What can a retailer ordering Bella Petite Lingerie expect? What can their customers expect?
Retailers can expect a high level of customer service. As a small company we have the ability to be very involved in dealing with retailers and customers to ensure they receive prompt, professional services. This makes us unique from large lingerie companies whom you have to go through several layers of management to talk to someone with authority and decision making capability within the company. We will also offer much greater flexibility when working with their individual needs. A small independent boutique will have much different needs than a chain of boutiques and we have the ability to work with them all.
What connects you to your customers & gives Bella Petite Lingerie an edge?
Many companies have designers that are trying to make pieces for a wide range of sizes. Women with larger busts have different needs with their lingerie than those of a small busted woman. The result with these designs is that petite busted women end up wearing lingerie that really doesn’t fit right, or doesn’t make them feel sexy like they should. As a small busted woman, I understand first hand the challenges women like myself face. I have used the knowledge from my own challenges to create designs that would enhance a woman’s natural beauty without hiding it or covering it with lots of padding.
One of my goals when we starting creating the company was that I wanted to help women feel good about their petite bodies and to help them feel comfortable in their own skin while wearing my lingerie. When I tried on my first prototype and looked in the mirror, I couldn’t help but to start to tear up. FINALLY! I was looking at a beautiful piece of lingerie and it fit me perfectly. Not only did it fit me, it was flattering and made me feel incredibly sexy! The feeling I experienced, is one I hope to provide to my customers.
Above: Bella Petite Lingerie founder Stephanie Ballard.
When did you first become interested in lingerie?
I have always loved lingerie and would often be on the look out for products at places like Victoria Secret or online lingerie companies. I would often find designs I loved, but they either didn’t come in my size, or would not have been flattering on my petite bust. I always wished I could fit into the pieces. I figured that I was destined not to be able to wear these products, short of having breast augmentation which was not an option I was willing to consider. It wasn’t until about four years ago that I took my interest in lingerie to the level of wanting to design my own line.
Were you always on track to become an intimates designer? What lead you to intimates?
Actually I wasn’t always on this track. I went to college for Business Management and spent the last 15 years working in Human Resources. The aspect I love most about working in the HR field is being able to help people. I think that is a common theme that can be seen with Bella Petite and why it’s so important to me. What lead me to designing lingerie was frustration with the lack of options available for small busted women like me. I want to help women like myself feel beautiful and confident when they wear our products.
Do you listen to music when you work? If so, what?
Usually I do not listen to music when I am designing/sketching. I enjoy the quiet as it helps me focus and get to a place where I can let my creativity flow without distractions.
Could you tell us how your experiences shaped the development of Bella Petite Lingerie?
I struggled with body acceptance through my teen years ,even into young adulthood. Being a small busted women in a society where large breasts are the focal point ranging from advertising to movies and magazines made me feel I was somehow less of a woman, less attractive. I was often frustrated with the fact I could never find lingerie that fit me up top, or I would find lingerie I liked only to be disappointed it didn’t even come in my small size. While looking for lingerie for my honeymoon I literally spent hours online searching for something beautiful. I commented to my husband that “I should just make my own lingerie since no one seems to make any in my size!” It was said half jokingly but somewhere in my mind it was something that intrigued me. My husband Jeff’s response was “Then why don’t you?”. From there Bella Petite was born. Art has always been a part of my life. I grew up with a father who was an artist. Drawing and sketching is something I have done since I was a young girl. I used to sketch women’s dresses while in high school just as a hobby. Once the idea of Bella Petite was born, I started using my love of art to begin sketching and numerous pieces that I have sketched are still yet to be produced.
How supportive has your family been as you’ve worked to bring Bella Petite Lingerie to life?
I am fortunate that my family is very supportive of my work to bring Bella Petite into existance. When taking a leap to start a new company, you need all the moral support you can get and my family has been along my side every step of the way.
“Jeff is extremely supportive of me and he was a large influence on me actually starting the company. It was due to his encouragement that I pursued what started as a thought/dream and brought that to reality.”
How does your husband, Jeff, support you? How does Jeff work with you?
Jeff is extremely supportive of me and he was a large influence on me actually starting the company. It was due to his encouragement that I pursued what started as a thought/dream and brought that to reality. He has been my biggest supporter and without his encouragement along the way, I may not have followed through to the end. Starting a business is both exciting and very challenging. There were many hurdles along the way and Jeff has been helpful in continuing to pursue this dream.
Above: Bella Petite Lingerie’s Jeff Ballard
“A lot of the ground work to start the company took place while Jeff was deployed in Afghanistan back in 2009/2010. Jeff served as a Combat Medic. While Jeff was deployed I was raising a son, caring for our home and working part time.”
Could you touch on how Bella Petite Lingerie is a woman-owned and veteran-owned company?
My husband and I both own Bella Petite Lingerie. A lot of the ground work to start the company took place while Jeff was deployed in Afghanistan back in 2009/2010. Jeff served as a Combat Medic. While Jeff was deployed I was raising a son, caring for our home and working part time. In addition, I was focused on researching the lingerie industry and gathering up all the information I needed to launch a new small business. This was a tremendous help in keeping my mind off that fact that my husband was in a war zone. One of the things that helps you survive in this type of a situation is staying busy and not dwelling on the fact that your loved one is in danger. I had an entire year to fill and when I wasn’t with my son, I spent most of my free time working on the business. The timing of when the concept and idea began, and as it progressed, turned out to be a blessing when Jeff returned from Afghanistan. Jeff came home with several injuries from the war and required surgery which did not allow him to return to his job as an Emergency Room nurse right away. Adjusting to being home, and not being able to do much physically was challenging for him. When Jeff returned from the war, the one task I still had not successfully completed with the business was finding a manufacturing company in the States. Jeff used this time while he was recovering to research and successfully find an American based company for us. Being able to work on our business gave Jeff a purpose, at a time when he really needed it.
How did you come to decide on the name Bella Petite Lingerie?
I have always loved the name Isabella or Bella. It means “beautiful” in Italian. My grandparents were both first generation Americans and I witnessed them celebrate their Italian heritage as I was growing up. Listening to my grandparents speak Italian always intrigued me and I would often tell them that I wanted to learn the language. When choosing a name for our business, Bella Petite came naturally for several reasons. The first being my love of the Italian language and my heritage. The second reason was that the definition of the name Bella (beautiful) fit what I want petite busted women to feel when they wear our products.
What’s your favorite piece of lingerie?
I would have to say my favorite piece of lingerie is corsets. Not the fully padded kind, but the kind that has a beautiful lace top over the bust with an underwire. I’ve never been able to wear anything like that as they have never been made in my size. I’d like to design something like that in the future that would compliment a small bust.
What lingerie designers and/or brands inspire you?
Vera Wang has several lingerie pieces that I really like. I also love the lingerie by Escante and they have certainly inspired pieces of my designs. They have beautiful, sexy, lingerie but only sell them in regular and plus sizes. I always wished they made their products in petite sizes.
What other passions do you have? How do they affect you as a designer?
I have always loved art, in many mediums (painting, sketching, drawing etc). I believe it is this love that was a driving factor for me to even think of saying I should just make my own. One of my other passions has always been helping others. I think this definitely affects me as a designer. I am passionated about wanting to provide other women like myself a solution of finding lingerie that fits them and is flattering. I have been on many support websites for women with small busts and I have taken the frustrations of other women who struggle finding bras & lingerie and consider those things when designing my products (along with my own experiences).
The Business of Lingerie
What is the biggest challenge in designing and launching a new brand?
I would have to say branding/marketing. The concept behind our design is fairly unique and some stores do not seem to fully understand it, or believe the need doesn’t exist. Getting our name out there in the industry while up against major brand names is definitely challenging, however we are trying to educate stores how our product is different and could allow them to sell to a section of the market they may be missing out on sales. We have been fortunate to have worked with some key individuals in the lingerie industry such as Cora (The Lingerie Addict) and The Lingerie Journal to help reach customers and retailers to spread the word about our company.
What has been the biggest challenge for you as a designer? Any technical obstacles you encountered?
I think the biggest challenge has been starting from scratch and not having the design software that most companies have. It hasn’t prevented us from being successful, but it has taken us a bit longer to get where we are.
Do you feel that you’ve found balance in your work and home life with Bella Petite Lingerie?
Currently while the company is still in it’s infancy, I work part time in Human Resources. It has made it a bit challenging trying to fit everything in, however I believe I have found a balance where I am able to focus on our business when my son is in school and in the evenings. My long term goal is to be running Bella Petite full time and be able to work from my home which will provide more balance to our lives.
Where do you see Bella Petite Lingerie being sold here in the US and/or abroad?
Currently we are focusing on selling in the US. I would love to see our products sold anywhere there are petite busted women (US & abroad).
Could you tell us what’s next for Bella Petite Lingerie?
We still have many sketches that we would like to turn into products. I have some designs laid out for two piece lingerie’s (camisoles & panties) and several other chemises. I also have a few designs for corsets that we hope to launch in the future.
For all of our readers that want to learn more about Bella Petite Lingerie, who should they call to learn about wholesale information? Who should they call about samples for press?