Enterprise Student Plunges in to Lingerie Industry

The Gryphon interviews student entrepreneur, Harriett Howe, who is making waves in the lingerie industry with her fresh and funky designs.

As students, we are often steered in the direction of employment as soon as we graduate. However, Harriett is a shining example of how you can seriously benefit from mixing up the status quo. Amazingly, this determined fourth-year Business Management student has managed to create a lingerie business from scratch alongside her degree.

During her second year, Harriett joined the mass student population in trying to secure a graduate placement. However, she soon grew tired of the long and ruthless recruitment processes that didn’t allow her to show off her passion for business. She was inspired by a previous Year in Enterprise student to apply for the programme run through the Centre for Enterprise and Entrepreneurship Studies at the University of Leeds. With support from the SPAR(K) team at the Career Centre, the team programme provides students with the resources to make their entrepreneurial dreams happen.  Harriett’s motivation and passion for the project sets her apart from competitors; having thought of the idea for Lunebelle when she was only 13-years-old, the business is already very close to her heart. She was disappointed with the limited range of comfortable and attractive lingerie for larger breast sizes and often felt low in confidence because of it. Frustrated with the industry, she is now striving to create a collection which is “fun, funky and colourful” so that women of all breast sizes can enjoy their lingerie. Specifically, she is aiming her products at the 15-25-year-old market, as her research has found that most larger bra size designers cater for older women. 

Harriet describes the experience that SPAR(K) provided her with as a “once in a lifetime opportunity” and would strongly encourage other students to consider a Year in Enterprise as well. In order to be eligible for the year, you first need to create a business plan. This may seem daunting but it’s clear from Harriett’s attitude that if you have passion and enthusiasm for your idea then this is something that is easily achievable. If you are selected, you then go through to the final stage of presenting your business plan to SPAR(K)’s panel of judges. Although Harriett only had an initial idea to pitch, she still managed to wow the panel with her vision and creativity, showing that you can achieve anything with the right mindset and determination. This won her a place on the Year in Enterprise programme along with four other students.

Harriett choosing her fabrics

The scheme provided her with £5000 of living expenses, a group of business mentors, entrepreneurial training courses, meetings with lawyers and accountants, an office space and access to networking events to build contacts. In addition, she started working at Bravissimo in order to educate herself about the industry and was shocked at the number of women who were not wearing the correct bra sizes. For this reason, she wants to go one step further with her business by doing free bra fittings within schools and helping to promote breast health. She notes that these topics are left out of the school curriculum, leaving young girls uneducated and confused about their bodies.  By doing this, she hopes to give girls “a comfortable environment to transform their body confidence”. Clearly, it’s this type of unique thinking that is going to make Harriett’s business, Lunebelle, a great success.

However, being keen to put everything into this amazing opportunity she didn’t stop there. Harriett also went on to enter multiple competitions, run by both the University of Leeds and external companies, winning over £12,000 of funding. This exposure began to establish Harriett and Lunebelle within the local business community. Harriett describes the year as a “massive rollercoaster” even after facing huge challenges, such as changing the name of her business six months in, due to trademark issues. Harriett believes the programme gives you the opportunity to learn and grow in a supportive environment where you are in control and can decide how far you take your business. The Year in Enterprise has enabled her to fully develop her concept which will be ready to officially launch in Summer 2019, just after she graduates; she’ll be leaving university with a degree and a fully-fledged start-up ready to grow.

So, what’s next for the young entrepreneur? Well, having recently flown to Latvia for the Lingerie Forum, she hopes to start manufacturing there soon. She is working with the well-known designer and industry veteran, David Morris, on the finishing touches to her patterns. Having travelled up and down the UK, she has chosen almost all of her fabrics which will help transform her designs into the colourful and funky products she promises. In terms of capital she has already gained financial backing through competitions and networking and her aim is to continue along this path when she graduates. She is also targeting social media in order to get her brand noticed in time for the launch next year. Harriett clearly has the drive to make her business happen and the programme has allowed her to come this far. If you are interested in completing a Year in Enterprise, the deadline for submissions is the 31st of March 2019.  You can find more details on the University’s Centre for Enterprise and Entrepreneurship Studies website. What is evident is that Harriett’s ambition and passion with carry her far and we expect that Lunebelle will be a household name in the not too distant future…

Shona Augustinus