Smaller Busted Or Know Someone Who Is? An Exclusive Interview With Lula Lu Petite Lingerie Designer Ellen Shing!

As you may recall, I have a 14 year old daughter. She is just over 5 foot tall, about 85 pounds, and wears a 34A; she cannot wear anything in the Junior department (unless it’s the elusive size 0) and must still shop in the kids’ department.

So far as she confesses to me (when it comes to lingerie, confessions are rare; she’s quite modest and prudish!), finding bras that fit has not been a real problem, though right now she is wearing mainly tees etc., not blouses and other tops which might expose more fit problems. Panties, however, are a problem. I cannot find anything in her size but cotton — usually with cartoon characters or flowers on them for her. Not cool, mom.

I suspect, as she grows older, bra selection to fit the tastes and needs of a more mature young woman will be an issue… Especially if she wants bras and panties to match.

These are so not the sizing problems I am familiar with.

So I was very interested in finding out more about Lula Lu Petites Lingerie.

Lula Lu Petite Lingerie founder-designer Ellen Shing has her own boutique in San Mateo, CA, which caters to small-busted women of all heights and sizes by offering not only their own Lula Lu brand, but a wide selection of great fitting bras, panties, lingerie and sleepwear. It’s the only retail spot of its kind in the U.S. and Canada. Naturally, I wanted to know more…

Ellen graciously agreed to an interview.

Ellen, I’m not a small busted woman; I am the opposite, actually. And so my own shopping problems leave me complaining and operating under the impression that “small-busted women get all the lingerie.” *wink* Can you describe the problem(s) that small-busted or petite women have?

I often joke that both small and big cup women have the same exact problem, just on opposite sides of the size spectrum! Neither can find the size, fit and styles they would like and the market is slow to address both ends. However, I think the bigger cup gals these days are getting more choices more quickly because it is recognized as a growing market. And, we at Lula Lu, are trying very hard to provide the smaller busted women with a variety of style and size choices as well.

As a larger busted woman, and indeed a larger woman in general (actually, I am average size, but you know how fashion goes!), I’ve often been frustrated with way sizes are created. If I’m unhappy with the poor fit of the ill-conceived “just add a few inches all over,” I imagine the problems are similar with “just shrink it all over.” How does Lula Lu actually address the proper lingerie sizing for petite women?

We don’t start with a 34B, like many bra companies do for the fit of our bras as it makes no sense as we haven’t even really added B cups to our collection! We start with AA cups and work our way up a little to an A cup and down a little to a AAA cup to keep things accurate. We keep the range of our sizes focused and test the size samples on actual women of each size to make sure they fit well. Having said that, no bra can ever fit everyone perfectly in a particular size because everyone’s built differently and thus the bras will wear differently on women’s bodies (and you also have to account for everyone’s different tastes on how they would like to appear in a bra).

How big is this problem of small bra and lingerie sizes? Do you have any statistics or data on marketshare?

It’s difficult to find data for the petite lingerie market because petite in the fashion world is 5′ 4″ and under (and any weight) and we cater to women of all heights (we have many customers over 6′ tall) so we’re not height restrictive even though we use the word “petite” to describe our market. We are more focused on a frame and bust size range. Because the fashion world uses 5′ 4″ as the cut off for petite, even if there were petite bra statistics available, it would be confusing as it would run the gamut of all bra sizes available, including all the big cup sizes.

Specializing in such a small, err, sorry, niche market, does this present more problems or more freedom for you as a designer?

I would say that I am free to design for what I think will flatter smaller busted women and there is a lot of design ground to cover still! =) Almost anything you can make for a bigger busted woman, you can make for a smaller busted woman as well and it’s just a matter of managing the design so it will flatter a small bust.

Do you feel that the American obsession with big breasts (and implants) have negatively impacted not only the smaller-busted, perhaps, with self-esteem issues, but lingerie companies and retailers too — resulting in offering less options for those women with petite bustlines?

Most of my customers are happy with their body type and bust size and they just feel defeated by the actual bra shopping experience when they realize that they cannot find anything that fits them or are told to go to the children’s department. I think the biggest misconception about women with small busts is that the all want to appear like they have a big bust. It’s not true and a lot of my customers like their shape and just want some bras that fit well.

I know that you’re a small-busted woman, and so you’ve suffered personally from these issues yourself — necessity is the mother of fabulous fashion invention! At the risk of being impolite and asking a lady her age, how long did you suffer before making the decision to be part of the solution? What pushed you into taking the plunge to start Lula Lu Petites?

I started to realize during one of my bra shopping trips that if I, at the time a 36A (I’ve subsequently lost weight and am now a 36AA), had trouble finding bras, then what did my even smaller busted friends do? Once I started asking around and received this outpouring of stories from friends who were 32AA or 34AAA’s, I decided that there must be a way to do something about this problem.

Is your background in fashion and design?

I have a marketing background but I am really enjoying learning about fashion and design!!

What were the biggest challenges starting Lula Lu Petites? And what are your largest challenges now? Anything you’d do differently?

Finding products that fit my customer base was the biggest challenge for me and not disappointing people who did come in when I first opened and possibly didn’t have all the selection they wanted. My challenges now are to get the new bra styles out as quickly as I can to make my customers even happier! =) The bra development process is a tedious and long one and sometimes I wish I could go faster but I’d rather have a solid product than to rush so I am working on my patience.

I really can’t think of anything I’d do differently as the business has built on itself in a good way thus far and I just need to keep all the balls in the air!

Anything in the works we can look forward to from Lula Lu for Fall and Holiday? …We love sneak-peeks!

Sure, we’ve got a new racerback coming soon and a beautiful non-underwire lace bra called Kallie.

[The racerback bra is the solid black bra; the Kallie bra and panty set is the white lace set. Both can been seen here in the bottom half of this exclusive interview.]

Anything you’d like to add?

Just thanks for taking the time to talk to us!

Thank you, Ellen; I now know where to send my petite daughter for lingerie!

Image credits: Photo of Ellen Shing in her Lula Lu Petites Lingerie Boutique by Lance Iversen/The Chronicle; you can read more about the store and lingerie line in this fascinating article by Carolyne Zinko of The San Francisco Chronical too.

All other images from Lula Lu Petites Lingerie.

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