November 24th, 2010 • Comments: 0 • by Wendy • About this Blog & MeCustomer ServiceInside SnugabellPumping

PumpEase - Not Just Another Pretty Face

PumpEase features a 3-row hook & eye closure

The other day, while in the shower (I do all my best thinking in the shower and the car), I was pondering our slogan (which we love):  "...because women like pretty things EVEN when they're pumping!™" and then I had this horrible thought, "Oh my gosh... I hope people don't think PumpEase is "just another pretty face"!"

You see, we're always talking about how we're the ONLY fashionable hands-free pumping bra (and now of course we're also offering the ONLY organic hands-free pumping bra), but I wondered... do the moms out there realize that when we designed PumpEase, the functionality was right up there in importance with the aesthetic?

After all, if you try on that fabulous Dior dress and it fits like hell, then what's the point? I for one, do not believe in being a "fashion victim". I wear fabulous shoes, but they fit well and are comfortable. Some of them are even pieces of art. (Yes, these shoes do exist!) But I digress...

As you may or may not know, I have over 15 years experience in the apparel and sewn products industries (aka the fashion industry) including designing and manufacturing a women's sportswear line, providing CAD pattern management services (pattern making, grading, marking, technical specificiations) to other manufacturers, custom design and teaching fashion courses at the post secondary level.

This reminded me of something that I used to tell my starry-eyed fashion design students in drafting and construction (sewing) class. Often the "design-oriented" students had no use for drafting and construction class (they thought it was boooooring) and so I found myself saying, "A pattern is like the foundation of a building. If you don't draft a solid foundation, your design will crumble."  In other words, anyone can sketch a glorious dress, amazing suit or other fabulous garment, but if it is impossible to create either via flat pattern drafting or draping, or if it is too expensive to produce for the mass market, then you have nothing. Nothing. Well, you have a sketch...

These students figured they could just hire a pattern maker to execute their designs. Well yes and no. In order for a patternmaker to successfully bring a design to life, the designer needs to have a firm understanding of the fundamentals (and limitations) of pattern making, garment construction and mass production. And honestly, although there are a lot of pattern makers out there, a good pattern maker is hard to find. I can't tell you how many times we've received patterns for grading (that were drafted by someone else) that were just... ummm... BAD. Cringe-worthy even! And believe it or not, many of them came from brand name companies! The lightbulb surely went on the next time we were in a "better" store and we tried something on that just felt weird - the sleeve cap was glued to our upper arm or the pants had "hungry bum" - it all made sense now. It was concrete evidence of bad design and it can happen in any market.

So when it came time to create our hands-free pumping bra, there were a few things that were non-negotiable...

1.  It had to be pretty :: you're already aware of this one. Does it matter you ask? Considering the $9.6 billion US lingerie industry in which over 80% of purchases are made by women, I would say it does! The postpartum period is certainly not the sexiest time of a woman's life, so why not spice it up a bit with something fun?

PumpEase works with all sizes of breast pump flanges

2.  It had to accommodate ALL makes and models of breast pump flanges on the market :: we have yet to find a breast pump that doesn't work with PumpEase. We even tried the larger-than-average Simplisse flanges at the ABC Show in Las Vegas last month and yes, they fit too! Our "no-stitch" horn openings are at the heart of our design. It's simple really. Even if you use a stretch fabric, if you finish the fabric with thread, even stretchy thread, the fabric won't stretch as much anymore. Have you ever inadvertently pulled on a garment and heard the "snap, snap, snap" of threads breaking? Go ahead, hook your hands inside the openings and stretch them. Stretch them hard. They are built to last and will always return to their original shape.

3.  The closure had to be adjustable :: let's face the facts: nursing moms have fuller and less-full days. Aside from our fabulous fabric that is super stretchy and has incredible memory (i.e. it doesn't "bag out" after use like cotton/spandex can), PumpEase has a 3-row hook & eye closure for another 1-1/4" of adjustment.

4.  The closure had to be user-friendly :: it's a no-brainer that we chose hook & eye. I don't know about you, but I can do up my bra in the dark and behind my back, sometimes even with a martini or two under my belt ;-) So when a new mom is hormonal, sleep-deprived and gets up in the middle of the night to pump, she will be able to don and doff a PumpEase with ease.

5.  It had to be of EXCEPTIONAL QUALITY :: our fabric is one of the best technical fabrics out there. Quite frankly, it is expensive and although we could buy cheaper we don't, because YOU are worth it. It is also super-soft, wicks moisture away and is easy to care for and yes, YOU deserve it. PumpEase is Made in Canada and we are so very proud of that. Our manufacturer, that we have worked with since Day 1, is top-notch, however even after the goods come out of the factory, our Quality Control team goes over each and every PumpEase one more time before packaging them. Our return rate for BOTH sizing and warranty issues is less than 1%.PumpEase - quality detail

6.  It had to fit the majority of our market :: via our four sizes - S/M/L/XL - PumpEase fits moms from 32AA to 48H (a size range into which over 90% of women fall into). We developed our sizing using ASTM standards for body measurements, with a strong focus on the bust point measurement, which varies as much from woman to woman as the bust measurement itself. PumpEase fits moms with bust points that measure from about 4 to 11" (that's the measurement from nipple to nipple). Just to put this into context, the very first horizontal line that a pattern maker drafts is based on the bust measurement. In fact the bust point calculation itself is based on the bust measurement, and therefore this is pretty much the foundation of the whole draft. If you make an error at this point, the whole draft will be wrong. So bust point is very important in apparel in general, and even doubly so when you are inserting breast pump flanges into your pumping bra and the openings need to line-up with your nipples.

And then of course, we musn't forget that Dr Sears says that the bold colours and prints of PumpEase are better for your baby. It just goes to show that you should never judge a book by its cover...

Have you ever been skeptical of a product because it looked "too good" for the price?  You thought it wouldn't work/wouldn't fit/would be uncomfortable? Please do tell us about it below...

{Photo credit: Ameda}

October 26th, 2010 • Comments: 0 • by Wendy • Dragons' DenMedia & Marketing

Snugabell Travels the Road to the Dragons' Den Part IV

WOW.Pandora La Glamme & Kevin O'Leary

I have no words for how I feel amidst the outpouring of support from friends, family, colleagues, vendors, customers and even complete strangers after the airing of our Dragons' Den segment. Just WOW.

I'm still digesting it all.

I was actually quite surprised at how many people were outright angry; they thought I got ripped-off; they thought the Fenis got too much air time and I got too little. (Sorry Ryan and Elizabeth!)

I am flattered by your passionate support for me and my business. Thank you.

I'm not going to lie - I was disappointed that the segment that aired was as short as it was and as a result, not reflective of what happened in The Den. A segment like mine is referred to as an "Also" as in Also in The Den. Interestingly, they find it harder to edit the shorter segments than the full-length ones. Watch it again and note how much of the audio is voice-over courtesy of Diane Buckner - hence they can make up whatever story suits them. But hey, that's the chance you take when you appear on a show like this, and I'm OK with it. OVER 1.5 MILLION people saw my product and very clearly what its function is. And the orders are rolling in. Onwards and upwards I say!

I did have a short chat with my segment producer Molly, who, when I asked what I could have done differently, was nice enough to ask Mike (the fellow who edited my piece) for some feedback. Here is what they had to say...

"I asked my colleague Mike for some feedback for you - he edited your piece. He said it was good, at least you made the cut, about 50% of products taped don't get to air. And 1.5 million viewers saw it! I can only say it's hard to sustain a LONG piece, usually pieces that make it to about 8 minutes were likely in the den for at least 45 minutes. With yours they didn't hate the product, they liked you, but they simply didn't see it as an investable business. It's almost the toughest kind of pitch in the den, cause it's a cool product, people like it, but over the course of your presentation there was no over-arching lesson to be learned by the viewer (meaning a lesson in business because you were either ill-prepared or over valued or what have you). It seems unless you really get a vibrant or heated discussion going, it's hard to sustain the arch of a full piece."

This made total sense to me. And I actually watch the show now from a new perspective
----> the lesson.

I will also add that although I still cannot share any specifics about what happened in The Den outside of what aired on TV, I will tell you that ALL of the Dragons were very kind to me. There was (obviously) a lot of "boob innuendo" flying around the set throughout the 30 plus minutes I was out there, but it was all in good fun. They had a problem with my valuation (as they do with most pitchers); they asked questions and I answered them; they decided not to invest... However, everything happens for a reason <---- I TRULY believe this.

Thank you CBC for the opportunity to present to five amazing entrepreneurs. And thank you Molly and Sam and all the fantastic people at the CBC for guiding me through the process.

Oh! and I was going to call this post "Snugabell Travels the Road to the Dragons' Den Final Chapter", but somehow I don't think that is suitable...

Because I'd do it again in a heartbeat...

Oh and one last thing. See the pic above of Pandora La Glamme and Kevin O'Leary? Kevin actually pulled her back onto the set after we walked-off to have this picture taken. And here is what went down:

KO: "What do you do?"

PLG: "I'm a burlesque performer."

KO: "No really, what do you do?"

Nuff said, here's the pitch:

We'd love to hear your thoughts on the pitch, the model, the product, the Dragons - anything that comes to mind at all. We're all ears (and boobs)!  You know the routine - leave your comments below.  :-)

September 24th, 2010 • Comments: 0 • by Wendy • Breast is Best

Returning to Work? You CAN Continue to Exclusively Breastfeed!

As the end of your maternity leave fast approaches, Canadian women have a number of choices to maintain their breastfeeding relationship with their baby. This holds true whether you have taken the full year leave that you are entitled to in Canada, if you have chosen to hand-off all or some of the 35 weeks Parental Leave to your partner or if you have chosen to return to work early on your own accord.

If you are fortunate to live fairly close to your place of employment, your nanny can bring your baby to you at work for as many feedings as desired. This is especially beneficial when you first return to work as a transition for both you and your baby. The sustained contact will be good for both of you emotionally and will facilitate your letdown as well as help to maintain your milk supply as you both adjust to the new routine.

Remember to discuss your breastfeeding and/or pumping schedule with your employer prior to your return to work so that there are no surprises for either of you. It is also a good idea to return to work on a Wednesday or Thursday so you have a short first week. Finally, plan a dry run of your morning routine, including the drive to work, before tackling the Real McCoy. This will do wonders for your stress level on that first day of leaving baby.

Following is a typical schedule that can be adapted to suit (based on a baby that is 3-6 months old):

6:00 am: Wake up, get ready for work and eat a healthy breakfast.
7:00 am: Wake and nurse your baby.*
8:30 am: Leave for work.
9:00 am: Arrive at work.*
11:00 am: Nanny brings baby to work to nurse.
12:30 pm: Eat a nutritious lunch.
2:30 pm: Nanny brings baby to work to nurse.
5:00 pm: Leave work for the day.
5:30 pm: Arrive home, eat dinner.
6:00 pm: Nurse your baby, then bed time/bath time routine for him/her.
7:00 pm: Put baby to bed.
8:00 pm: Prepare for you work day tomorrow (pack your lunch, plan tomorrow night’s dinner).*
10:30 pm: Wake baby to nurse if he/she is not sleeping through the night yet. If baby sleeps through, you may want to pump then off to bed. 

* The asterisks in the schedule indicate prime times for additional pumping if your nanny is unable to bring the baby to you for whatever reason (e.g. you are out of town on business or your baby is ill). If you will be pumping at work even once per day, you may want to invest in a hands-free pumping bra so that you can still answer emails or take phone calls while pumping. Make sure you have a comfortable chair to sit in, a footrest to raise your knees to parallel while sitting (so that you don’t hunch over) and if you have problems with letdown, a picture of your baby or an article of clothing that smells like him/her. Remember that you should wait 4-6 weeks to introduce a bottle to your newborn to reduce the chance of nipple confusion. 

If you don’t have an office with a lock on the door, then you will also need to find a private room that you can use for nursing and/or pumping – and try to avoid the restroom! Approach your employer to set-up a lactation room. You can pitch him or her on the benefits of having a breastfeeding mother on staff. Never mind the extensive long-term health benefits, in the short-term, research shows that:

➢ breastfed babies are sick less often and when they do get sick, then aren’t as sick
➢ breastfed babies are less likely to have ear infections, colic, diarrhea and other childhood illnesses
➢ babies who are breastfed are 10 times less likely to be hospitalized during the first year
➢ nursing mothers have a lower incidence of postpartum hemorrhage
➢ nursing mothers enjoy a decreased risk of iron-deficiency anemia (delayed return of menstruation) and the longer the mother nurses, the stronger this effect

Therefore, because you and your baby will be sick less frequently, your employer will benefit from reduced sick days and in turn, increased productivity from you! 

After your baby starts solids at 6 months, whether this is before or after you return to work, he/she will be taking less breastmilk. If you do not live close enough to work to warrant having your nanny bring the baby to you, you may choose to pump during the day and breastfeed first thing in the morning and at bedtime as well as on the weekend. Your nanny can feed your baby one bottle of expressed breastmilk in the afternoon (2:30-3:00 pm) and you will still successfully maintain your supply. These types of arrangements along with an open mind, flexibility and support will help you reach your personal breastfeeding goals. 

Speaking of support, a lack thereof is one of the top reasons for the extreme decline in breastfeeding rates after moms leave the hospital. The best thing you can do is to keep the following in mind:

➢ breastfeeding is not “instinctual”, both mom and baby need to learn how to do it
➢ if you are having difficulties, ASK FOR HELP from your Public Health Nurse, Doctor, Midwife, Doula, Lactation Consultant, La Leche League Leader, friend or family member

➢ there appears to be a learning curve for the first 6-7 weeks postpartum - if you can persevere until then, you are usually home-free

➢ resist the temptation to give your baby formula – as little as one feed per day can cause your supply to diminish – keep a small stash of breastmilk in the freezer instead 

Following is a schedule for a baby that is 6 months or older: 

6:00 am: Wake up, get ready for work and eat a healthy breakfast.

7:00 am: Wake and nurse your baby.*

8:30 am: Leave for work.

9:00 am: Arrive at work.*

12:30 pm: Eat a nutritious lunch.

2:30 pm: Pumping break.

5:00 pm: Leave work for the day.

5:30 pm: Arrive home, eat dinner.

6:15 pm: Nurse your baby, then bed time/bath time routine.

7:15 pm: Put baby to bed.

8:00 pm: Prepare for you work day tomorrow (pack your lunch, plan tomorrow night’s dinner).*

10:30 pm: Wake baby to nurse if he/she is not sleeping through the night yet. If baby sleeps through, you may want to pump then off to bed. 

Many people are under the impression that a live-in nanny is out of reach financially; however, if you do the math, this choice is actually quite affordable compared to group daycare, especially if you have more than one child. Remember, there is also the option of arranging a “nanny share” with a friend, family member or co-worker. 

As with many “seemingly” insurmountable challenges in life, one day you will look back on your choice to maintain breastfeeding after your return to work and say, “It was a bit of a challenge initially, but I did it and it was absolutely worth it!”

September 22nd, 2010 • Comments: 0 • by Wendy • Health & WellnessJust for Fun

Pregnancy, Breastfeeding and the Corset

Shortly after the launch of PumpEase Organic, I received the following email about our marketing image (shown below).  I figured if there was one person out there that felt this way and took the time to email me, that there may be others that had the same concerns and yet didn't say anything.  So I've decided to share both the emails and my interview with Melanie Talkington of Lace Embrace Atelier, an expert in corsetry and the owner of one of the largest antique corset collections in North America.  I met Melanie at Kwantlen Polytechnic University in 1993 where we were both studying Fashion Design and Technology.

PumpEase Organic

The following is the email that I received, unedited...

Dear PumpEase folks

I just came across your advertisement for your pump. As a childbirth Educator, breastfeeding advocate and educator, and mother of four breastfed children, I find the picture extraordinarily harmful to breastfeeding women.

Postpartum women are sensitive the enormous changes that their bodies go through. As I am sure you can appreciate, growing a baby for nine months is a huge endeavor. After birth, the body must not only recover from birth, but make the slow and subtle changes back to its pre-pregnancy state.

This picture of a woman, who is presumably postpartum since she has the hands free pump attached to her, definitely does not have the body of a woman who has just given birth. The corset and size of the woman's waist are completely misleading( is she a size 3?) further promoting the media stereotype that resume their pre-pregnant bodies immediately after birth.

The picture also gives the false sense that the woman who is pumping would never have to support those flanges and bottles attached to the bra. The weight of those bottles and eventual milk will weigh down on her breasts and nipples and cause her discomfort and/or pain. For women with large sized breasts this would not be a possibility. She would need to support the weight of her breasts with her hands for comfort.

Not only does this picture not represent what the postpartum women is going to look like, but in all honesty, it's pretty cheesy. Your ad did get my attention, but I would not recomment your product in my classes.

Xxxx Xxxxxxx

And my response...

Good day Xxxx,

I apologize for the late reply - our assistant got married and went on her honeymoon for two weeks, and as a result we got quite behind.

I appreciate you taking the time to share your thoughts and feedback on PumpEase Organic, especially since it's a product that is extremely helpful to breastfeeding moms whom you support.

The colleague who lent us the corset that you see in the image, who is a leading corsetiere in North America, works with many new moms to help them return to their pre-pregnancy figure.  She has had women come in as soon as one week after giving birth.  In Victorian times, postpartum women were wrapped in a soft cotton corset with ties down the front to help the new mother get her figure back.  Corsetry supports the back, slims the waist and improves the posture.

In fact, postpartum belly-binding/compression has been in practice therapeutically for thousands of years and is still evident today.  Women are routinely told, by both hospitals and birthing professionals such as yourself to purchase a “compression garment” and to wear it “as tight as you can stand it” immediately postpartum to help return the uterus to its pre-pregnancy size, decrease bloating caused by water retention and support the legs & back. There is information on Belly Bandit’s site about the safety of this practice including how it can support Caesarian Section incisions.  Therefore I’m not sure why you feel the need to fault moms for doing something to boost their own confidence, if that's their choice.  It's like criticizing a mom for covering up when she nurses in public; I say that whatever helps moms' confidence, goes.

We do not feel that we are giving the wrong message to new moms at all with this image. We feel we’re doing something positive for body image by not using a stick-thin model (as evidenced by our model Talysia’s upper arms and wider hips).  Talysia is, in fact, an average size 12, with a waist measurement of 29-½”, not a "size 3" as you stated in your email.  She is also a mother.  Having said that, women come in all shapes and sizes and their bodies react differently to pregnancy, even from one baby to another.

Further, we are not suggesting that women don a corset after birth any more than we are suggesting that women dress-up as a pin-up girl or as Holly Golightly as seen in our other marketing images.  In fact, moms LOVE our images, with most finding them very empowering.

I should also correct you in your statement:  "The picture also gives the false sense that the woman who is pumping would never have to support those flanges and bottles attached to the bra.  The weight of those bottles and eventual milk will weigh down on her breasts and nipples and cause her discomfort and/or pain.   For women with large sized breasts this would not be a possibility. She would need to support the weight of her breasts with her hands for comfort.”

I have many testimonials on my site attesting to the fact that PumpEase works wonderfully for larger breasted women AND supports full 6-8 ounce bottles. And again, I can attest to this personally as I pumped 10 oz of milk with no problems whatsoever.  I was a D when nursing and do NOT have “perky” boobs by any means.  I was also using the Petite version of our product (as this was during our prototype stage).  We now have a wider version of PumpEase which provides even more support.

We designed PumpEase solely to help moms extend their nursing relationship with their babies.  Our customers include moms pumping for their toddlers and preschoolers as well - not just newborn babies.  If you look around our site, I’m sure you’ll agree.

If you’re ever in Vancouver, you should visit Lace Embrace and try a corset on.  You will find that they are very comfortable, easy to wear and wonderful for your waistline and posture.  I know, as I’ve worn one myself on several occasions.

Thank you,

Wendy Armbruster Bell

After I received this email, I contacted Melanie to help me with my research.  We had previously discussed my interviewing her about maternity and nursing corsets both because I love the History of Costume (one of my favourite subjects in school) and because I find it very interesting to hear about the nursing apparel from other eras and thought some of you may too.

So without further adieu...

And if you'd like to learn more about historical costume you need to attend one of Ivan Sayers' lectures.  Ivan Sayers is a fashion historian who specializes in the study of women’s, men’s and children’s fashions from 1650 to the present.  Sayers has one of the largest and most comprehensive collections of historic clothing in private hands in Canada.  He is the founder of the Original Costume Museum Society in Vancouver.

So what do you think about corsetry?  Corsetry while pregnant?  Corsetry while nursing?  Do you find this as fascinating as I do?  And what was your first reaction to our marketing image?  Did you think it was inappropriate?  Empowering?  Silly?  Leave your comments below - I'd love to hear all about it!  And if you're ever in Vancouver, be sure to visit Lace Embrace and try a corset on.  Remember my warning however - they are totally addictive!

August 26th, 2010 • Comments: 0 • by Wendy • Customer ServiceInside SnugabellPumping

We've Discontinued PumpEase Petite - What Does That Mean For Smaller Chested Moms?

PumpEase Petite is discontinuedWe've had a few moms email us fretting that we're discontinuing PumpEase Petite so we thought we'd better talk about the reasons behind this decision and the fact that there is no need to worry. (Not even a little bit!)

So here's the scoop - both PumpEase Petite and PumpEase are the same size around your body - the ONLY difference is the width of the bra up and down your body. The four sizes:  S, M, L and XL fit moms from 32AA to 48H. The Petites were recommended for smaller cup sizes as they usually need less coverage and less support but the same size in the PumpEase will work the same or even better!

In fact, PumpEase Petite WAS the original PumpEase. I was at least a D cup when I was nursing and I only used the 3" wide bra. (Actually I used our first prototype for both my girls and it didn't even have a proper fastening at the front - only pins! AND it was ugly! But that's another blog post). So as I was saying, I was at least a D cup and I do NOT have "perky" boobs by ANY means (I know, TMI, but it had to be said) and the narrow bra worked absolutely fine for me, so I figured it was all Moms needed.  PumpEase isn't meant to support your breasts (even though it might a bit), it was designed to support the pump flanges.

And then, in the very early days of the biz, we started getting feedback that we should make the band wider. So we decided to introduce a second style and rename the original Petite. Hindsight tells me we should have just run with the wider one, but we had already paid for the packaging to be designed, had ordered our 3" hook & eye (like 3600 of them) and manufactured our first round of production, blah, blah, blah.  It wasn't a ton of money in today's world, but back then, I broke out into a cold sweat just thinking about it!

And then I fell in love with PumpEase! It had more fabric to show-off our fabulous prints, the packaging had more real estate so we could gush about all the amazing features and according to my wonderful manufacturer, it was easier to sew! So we decided to start phasing PumpEase Petite out last year and are now actively clearing out the last of the Petites at 50% off! The good news is, if you are an official member of the Itty Bitty Titty Club (sorry, couldn't resist), you can take advantage of these fantastic savings because if PumpEase Petite supported the flanges on my Droopy Double D's, it will work just fine for you! ;-)

By the way, my Droopy Double D's are now Droopy C's but they look fabulous because I get professionally fit for my bras and thus are one of only a small percentage of women that are wearing the correct bra size. It really does make a HUGE difference! You owe it to your girls ladies! But I digress...

Another super important reason we want to discontinue PumpEase Petite is to reduce our SKU's to make room for new product development. We have a few ideas up our sleeve and want to be able to offer them ALL to you! We can't dish about anything yet, but watch for something completely different this fall!

So are you feeling better about PumpEase Petite going the way of the Dodo Bird? Leave your comments below - we always love to hear from you!