Expandable bras, a growing business

Ryerson grad Stephania Stefanakou studied fashion communication, but since graduating in 2016, she’s had a lot to learn about running a business.

Stefanakou co-founded House of Anesi with Leen Al-Taher and Jacob John. The startup is part of Ryerson’s Fashion Zone and it’s working to launch a bra that can change shape and adapt to wearers’ breast-size changes.

After winning two awards since spring, House of Anesi is looking to expand. It will hold a pop-up shop on the eighth floor of the Ted Rogers School of Management on Nov. 28. The pop-up will be open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and again on Dec. 7 and 8 with the same hours.

House of Anesi founders, left to right: Leen Al-Taher, Jacob John and Stephania Stefanakou, are developing a bra that adapts to the wearers change in breast size. (Photo by Clifton Li/DMZ)

With the pop-up, Stefanakou said her team hopes to develop their strategy for connecting with customers, something she didn’t learn in school.

“We listen a lot to customers and mentors,” Stefanakou said about her business. “We’re so eager to learn stuff. So before we make a decision, we make sure we talk with 10 other people.”

“We are mature enough to make the best decision in the end for our business,” she added.

In May, House of Anesi won $25,000 in the third stage of the Norman Esch Engineering Innovation and Entrepreneurship Awards. It had previously won $13,000 in the first two stages of the award, bringing the total Norman Esch funding since 2015 to $38,000.

Then, in August, the startup won an award in the lifestyle category of CNE’s Emerging Innovators Pitch Competition – their first non-Ryerson competition.

“(The judges) didn’t previously know us. They didn’t see us as students. So that was a very big win for us,” said Stefanakou.

Following that win, investors contacted House of Anesi, pushing them to accelerate plans for expansion. The startup is planning a Kickstarter campaign in March and April to raise more funding.

At the CNE, House of Anesi ran a contest, which involved asking people to fill out forms reporting their biggest bra problems. About 200 people participated and added themselves to the company’s mailing list.

Stefanakou said her team wants to test something similar at the TRSM pop-up.

Bra straps were the target of many complaints from people at the CNE.

“[It’s] always that the straps are either digging into their shoulders or the straps are falling off,” Stefanakou said.

Sizing is another problem. Breast size can change due to weight gain or loss, pregnancy or changes in hormones.

Stefanakou pointed out that even though the average American woman is a 34DD, popular bra seller Victoria’s Secret offers nothing higher than a 40DDD.

“It’s kind of stupid that they don’t have larger sizes,” she said.

House of Anesi will carry eight sizes. Stefanakou said many lines have just four to six. The bras will be made with material like that in sports bras, with antibacterial, moisture-wicking properties.

The fabrics will be able to stretch or conform up to two cup sizes and return to the original shape. The bras will have a housemade underwire, which Stefanakou said will make them more able to conform to wearers’ bodies.

“You’re getting a bra that looks like a traditional bra, but with technological advantages,” she said.

House of Anesi plans to sell its product for C$113 online. Stefanakou said the startup will offer early-bird discounts to people on its mailing list.

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