The story of the Hamilton start-up business is familiar at this point; an innovative, usually young person finds a gap in current available technology, urban planning or philanthropy, fills the void and makes a name for themselves in the city.
Rosalie Loney’s trajectory is different. She moved from the Guelph area to Hamilton with her husband and then three-year-old daughter about two years ago. Loney had a background in theatre and costume design, and was looking to start a business where she could use her creative skills from home.
Inspiration struck when Loney realized that her new neighbourhood was home to a bra-making supply store, right in the middle of the Ottawa Street textile district. Bra-makers Supply, owned by Beverly Johnson, is one of the few shops that caters specifically to the lingerie-designing and making market, and over the past 20 years, the shop has enjoyed international renown.
“I discovered all the cool materials and thought I could maybe make bralettes,” said Loney. “They’re really simple and comfortable so I tried making a few. And it took me a while to perfect the design, but when I finally [did] and I was wearing it, I was like, ‘oh my goodness this is so comfortable. I don’t want to wear anything else’.”
Armed with lace, elastic and a finely tuned set of measurements, Loney started her company, Rosalie Wynne.
Loney draws much of her inspiration from her own experiences shopping for lingerie.
“I have so many memories of shopping for bras,” she said. “Even like, as a teenager, shopping for bras with my mom and… going to La Senza and feeling like [I] must have been the weirdest shape because nothing ever, ever fit.”
When Loney launched Rosalie Wynne, she took her time becoming well-versed in bra sizing and the typical issues people experience with mainstream companies. Typically, bralettes are sized extra small to extra large, with each cup size matching its band size. It is difficult to find a bralette with a small band but, say, an extra large cup.
Loney herself experienced this problem and used her business to create her own solution. Over the course of eight months, she developed dozens of different cup and band sizes and combinations to ensure that anyone can find the right fit.
“Part of the problem is that when you’re selling bras retail, from a profit side of things you can’t have such a huge range of sizes,” Loney explained. “It’s extremely costly to actually stock that many sizes. And some of them may never sell so that you’ve got inventory that’s dated and you can’t do anything with it.”
To combat the issue of dead stock, Loney has adopted a labour-intensive but economic solution: she still makes every item by hand, to order.
“That way… people can get the right size but I don’t have to stock all of it, I just stock all my components,” she said. “So I can just take that band size and that cup size and put them all together and that doesn’t take too much time anymore.”
Loney’s one-woman show has caught the attention of Hamilton’s entrepreneur scene. She is currently enrolled in the city’s Starter Company Plus program, which offers education in all areas of owning an independent business. Loney sees the opportunity as a worthwhile way to strengthen the fundamentals of Rosalie Wynne.
“I finished my business plan and submitted it [at the beginning of March]. It was incredibly helpful to write everything down in such a structured way. I feel much more confident in what I’m doing and I also saw some areas where I needed to become more focused and clear.”
In the near future, Loney hopes to simplify her online ordering process, where the majority of her business is centred. Limited sizing is available at Hamilton boutique White Elephant, but she aims to include at least one bralette in each cup and band size she stocks. This way, shoppers can find the perfect combination, even if the store does not have the right two sizes together.
Ultimately, Loney has two goals for each item she sews: comfort and beauty.
“I really want women to feel empowered, to be comfortable and confident in their own bodies and to know that you can be super comfortable in your unique shape, whatever it is, and you can also look gorgeous.”
While Loney sees her business continuing as an independent enterprise for the time being, she has big dreams for Rosalie Wynne.
“In the next few years I’d love to grow my company into a small team here in Hamilton that continues to manufacture everything in house,” she said.
Rosalie Loney has, in her own way, carved a niche for herself in Hamilton. She has found her perfect fit, and continues to help others do the same.