We are delighted to announce that Katherine Hamilton lingerie is now available from Zoë & Co., Professional Bra Fitters. With such a strong reputation for their superior bra fitting expertise, we wanted to learn more and so asked them a few questions about their experience in the industry:
Who founded Zoë & Co. and what was the motivation behind the business?
Zoë & Co., Professional Bra Fitters was founded by Bruce Prescott in the late 1990’s.The original intent was to provide upscale swimwear and resort wear for the summer population of Fishers Island, NY, but, as it turned out, learning to fit women for cup and band-sized swimwear was the inspiration for something greater! Switching gears, the business focused on getting customers into the right sized bra, and swimwear was a fantastic bonus. Women began taking the ferry over to visit the seasonal store for a fitting, and it became apparent that there was a need for a year-round business on the mainland. Zoë & Co., Professional Bra Fitters moved to Westerly, RI in the fall of 2001, opened a second store in Concord, NH in 2008, and is on track to open a third store in Hyannis, MA sometime in 2018!
Who does the Zoë & Co. team consist of?
At the moment, we have eleven professional bra fitters on staff, and one in training. The staff does everything from fitting and ordering to cleaning and decorating.
How has the lingerie business changed over the years since you founded the business?
One thing we are pleased to see is the greater range of cup and band sizes being offered by lingerie companies, and a wider variety of styles in the extended range. Now women can find pretty, sexy, youthful, and sophisticated selections in an even greater range of band and cup sizes than ever before!
Another change that’s been a lot of fun for us is the use of social media to connect with customers and others in the industry. Facebook and Instagram are definitely our favorite platforms!
Lastly, here’s an example of “the more things change, the more they stay the same”: women are much more aware of the importance of being fitted for a bra than they were when we first started out—and many more come into the store after having fittings elsewhere. Back when we started out, we often had to convince women that fittings were important! Nevertheless most of the women coming to us today are still wearing the wrong size bra, even after being fitted elsewhere. Often they have been fitted at stores that don’t carry their size—most stores focus on and offer about 30 sizes. Because we carry the full range of bra sizes available (over 230 sizes!), we are able to provide women with an accurate fit, plus lots of great style options to try! So we are still doing what we do best—but it’s a lot easier to convince customers that having a fitting is beneficial!
What changes would you like to see in the lingerie industry?
In general, we’ve been very happy with the relationships we have with companies in the industry, and we do our best to be responsible partners, to give good feedback, and to promote the great products these companies offer. There are some companies, however, that profess to love and support independent boutiques (because we introduce customers to their brand, match up their products with the right customers, and teach those customers which size works best in each particular style a company offers), but at the same time offer their products online for less than wholesale prices! Boutiques cannot provide specialized service and compete with internet warehouse prices—it will drive them out of business. We hope all companies will recognize the important role independent boutiques play in promoting their products. Many women have rejected bras that they later fell in love with—because a professional fitter helped them find the once-rejected bra in the correct size for that brand.
What makes Zoë & Co. unique?
In a nutshell: service and selection! We like to describe Zoë & Co., Professional Bra Fitters as a “lingerie superstore in a boutique setting,” because we carry the widest range of sizes available (from a 24 inch band to a 56 inch band, and cup sizes from AAA to K), and we provide unparalleled service to our customers. Our fitters go through an extremely rigorous training process which takes several months to complete. This gives them the experience needed to help women of all ages and body types find the bras that they seek. There is a lot more to fitting than just finding a band and cup size. The lengthy training process teaches fitters to take into consideration breast density, spacing between breasts, skeletal framing (ribcage, sternum, shoulders, spine curvature), asymmetry, and to work with clients who have special concerns such as mobility and medical treatment. Once we find a customer’s size, we work with them to find styles they’ll love. Because we carry over 230 sizes of bras and work with over 40 companies, our fitters must know the stock well, and the benefits or drawbacks of certain styles to meet each customer’s unique needs. This combination of extensive stock and fitter expertise is what makes Zoë & Co., Professional Bra Fitters a destination shop for anyone who wants a perfect fit!
What size and product range do you offer?
As noted, we offer bras in over 230 sizes, from basic to luxurious, in band sizes 24 to 56 inches, and cup sizes AAA to K. We are thrilled that, because of Katherine Hamilton, we’ve been able to add 24 and 26 inch bands to our available sizes! We carry sport bras, strapless bras, nursing bras, cup and band-sized swimwear, longline bras, and cup and band-sized lingerie. We also offer bralettes, panties, shape wear, hosiery, mastectomy forms, chemises, and many other specialty items!
What products would you like to offer that aren’t currently available?
We’d love to see more nursing, sports, and contour bras in larger cup sizes! And more “convert to racer back” contour cup bras!
How have products changed over the years?
There are so many more wonderful options for women of all sizes available now. When we first started, we were thrilled to be able to get 30 inch bands in larger cup sizes for our petite but well-endowed customers. Being able to offer 28 inch bands, and now, thanks to Katherine Hamilton, 26 and 24 inch bands, shows that the industry is recognizing a need for women on this end of the spectrum to have supportive bras that they don’t have to alter themselves! We are also seeing extended cup sizes in more youthful styles, as well as plus sized swimwear in flattering two-piece styles. We’ve also found the use of stretch lace on the top panel of balconette bra cups to be a great innovation, especially for women whose breasts are slightly asymmetrical.
How are your professional bra fitters trained?
As noted above, our fitters go through a rigorous training process that takes months to complete. After shadowing a professional fitter for several weeks, trainees begin to fit clients under the close supervision of a fitter. They receive training in helping customers with shape wear, hosiery, maternity/nursing, mastectomy, lumpectomy, and other special concerns. Then they must independently fit 100 women correctly (each fit checked by a professional bra fitter) before they become certified fitters. As noted in previous answers, there’s much more to being a fitter than just finding a cup and band measurement. Gaining the experience of working with a multitude of women of all shapes, sizes, and ages is what makes our fitters so exceptional.
What does a typical bra fitting experience at Zoë & Co. entail?
We begin by taking a preliminary band measurement while the customer is still wearing their own bra. We then bring in several bras which we believe will be close to the right size. For accuracy and consistency, we use specific cut and sewn bras during the fitting process—ones we know run true to size, which have no stretch or give in the cup. Once the customer is wearing one of the bras we use to fit with, the fitter adjusts straps and checks to see if the band is secure. The fitter checks the front of the bra to see if the gore sits flat against the breastbone, the cup is filled at the apex and from wire to wire with no overflow/spillage, and to make sure there is no wrinkling or pulling at the top of the cup. The fitter explains these points and teaches the customer how to adjust themselves into a bra properly. If anything is not right, the fitter will have the customer try a different size to correct the fit. It usually takes a few bras before the customer is in the proper size. At that point, we work with the customer to find the right styles for them.
How would you define your ideal customer?
The ideal customer is one who is willing to try different styles with an open mind, recognizing that what a bra looks like on the hanger may be very different from the way it looks (and feels) when worn. The ideal customer also understands that a single style may not work for every outfit/occasion, and is open to the idea that bras are like shoes—they may need different ones for different outfits. Our ideal customer also places value on the time and expertise provided by our fitters. We love working with our customers, and it’s always nice when our customers recognize that we are putting in lots of effort to help them find what they are looking for!
What are the greatest challenges that you’ve faced with your business?
Staffing is probably the greatest challenge for us. Fitters need to have the skills, the stamina, and the sensitivity to work with clients who are often feeling nervous or vulnerable. Many customers have never been able to find a bra that fits before, and they think it’s because there’s something wrong with them. It isn’t enough for staff members to know the mechanics of fitting; they must also know how to listen, to be empathetic, and to remain positive in difficult situations. Physical stamina is also necessary—putting in three to five miles a day getting and putting away stock is not uncommon! The ability to keep track of several customers at a time is important, and being able to work with the other fitters on the team is critical. It’s not easy to find employees who can do well in all these areas!
What advice would you give to anyone thinking of starting a lingerie boutique?
Know your niche. You must offer something that big box stores and large corporations can’t offer. Be prepared for hard work—it’s fun, but it’s also a business. Remember that it’s important to maintain relationships with others in the industry. Enjoy what you do, because you’ll be spending a lot of time doing it!
What aspect of the business do you enjoy most?
There is nothing that compares with helping customers who never thought they’d find what they were looking for. It can be a very emotional experience. While we aren’t doing brain surgery, we know that we are trying to help women feel good about themselves just as they are, and many have told us through tears of happiness that they never thought they’d be able to wear a supportive and comfortable bra that fits. “It changed my life” is a refrain we hear again and again, and we are honored that our customers are constantly bringing in friends, family members and coworkers because they had such a positive experience in one of our stores.
Where do you see Zoë & Co. In five years’ time?
We hope to have our third store (coming soon to Hyannis, MA) well-established and running smoothly, and perhaps be looking for a fourth location. We see ourselves continuing to grow, and we look forward to seeing our clients continue to bring in friends and family as the years go by.
Thank you Zoë & Co., Professional Bra Fitters for providing such a detailed insight to the world of professional bra fitting.
Amidst their incredible wide range of bra sizes and styles, Katherine Hamilton lingerie can be tried and tested at Zoë & Co., stores. Please visit our Stockists page for further details.