5 minutes with Priya Downes, Co-Founder, Nudea

Nudea is an innovative direct-to-consumer intimates retailer built around empowering women to buy lingerie in a modern way, from initial measurement to purchase. Retail Gazette caught up with co-founder Priya Downes, to find out why she left a high-salaried career in the luxury sector to follow a new passion.

Priya Downes, Co-Founder, Nudea profile Q&A
Priya Downes.

Tell me a bit about the Nudea story.

Founded in 2018 and launched in October 2019, Nudea is a direct-to-consumer online underwear brand that is modernising the bra purchasing process. We’re reshaping the bra fitting experience from measurement to the product with bras and knickers that are engineered to actually fit and look great across all sizes.

Eighty per cent of British women are wearing the wrong size which is why we created our own bespoke fitting tools, including our hero product the Nudea Fit Tape, to make it really easy to self-measure accurately and comfortably at home. We’re transforming an outdated and unnecessarily complicated physical process to one that every bra wearer can do as often as they need to with confidence.

The name Nudea comes from the combination of the Latin words “Nu” and “Dea” which means New Goddess. This is how we want all women to feel in our underwear, a better version of themselves no matter their size or shape.

“We want to make women fall in love with underwear and underwear shopping”

Why was it launched?

Nudea was born out of my own frustrations shopping for underwear. Coming from a background in luxury fashion, I have a huge appreciation for quality, design and craftsmanship, which I seek in my all my own personal purchases.

I have always been disappointed by what was on offer in the bra market, something that I wear and have worn everyday of my life since I was a teenager. My choice was either a body-basic, cheap quality high street bra or an overtly fussy, expensive piece of lingerie – when all I really want is a good-fitting, comfortable bra that I am not embarrassed to wear. I also wanted it delivered to me in the way I receive most of my products: online with sizing that is not complicated and puts me off purchasing.

What gap in the UK retail market does Nudea strive to address?

Nudea occupies the space between a comfortable bra and beautiful piece of lingerie. We want to make women fall in love with underwear and underwear shopping. After all, it’s something we wear everyday. We bra-wearers shouldn’t feel torn between comfort and aesthetic and it shouldn’t cost the earth for something that is an essential piece of our daily wardrobe.

I don’t think I have met a single woman who says they love shopping for bras – it’s often quite the opposite. Getting fitted in a physical fitting room is not necessarily convenient, often intimidating and more than three-quarters of British women haven’t had a fitting for over three years compared to the recommended frequency of every six months.

“It’s important for women to feel like they are buying from a brand that cares and understands this”

It’s little wonder that 80 per cent are wearing the wrong size bra. Fit and comfort starts with the right size and without the convenience to fit regularly this will never change. It’s clear that there needs to be a better way, a way to put the tools and education in the hands of the bra wearers themselves to empower them to find their fit.

How is Nudea’s business model different to other lingerie retailers?

We invest in fitting upfront, particularly with sending out our Fit Tape measure to customers ahead of purchase. Not only does it build brand loyalty but it also helps keep returns low and repeat purchases high. For a new brand offering a wide range of sizes, this is a significant achievement.

Once a customer knows their size, our product doesn’t disappoint with its engineered features for fit/comfort and aesthetic, and we’re finding that they come back to buy additional colours and styles.

Our tape measure and reminders to check your size regularly also help to drive customers back to us. It’s still early days for us, but we have already built a good base of loyal and trusted customers.

Additionally, our fit guarantee through free returns and offering every a customer a free virtual session at anytime through their purchasing journey has helped build trust. Bra purchasing does come with emotions, especially for those who struggle with size, and it’s important for women to feel like they are buying from a brand that cares and understands this.

How did Nudea handle lockdown and how is it coping with the ongoing pandemic?

Our USP of fitting at home, online and virtually was something we had from the outset and was our vision for the future of bra purchasing pre-Covid. What Covid-19 brought was an acceleration in digital adoption and customer acquisition.

Our growth was exponential during lockdown. And as lockdown has eased the obstacles to physically-based fittings are ever more challenging and we are now seeing a more permanent shift to at-home and online. We help women find their fit at home, which not only helps at this time but is genuinely more convenient, less intimidating, and makes it more likely you’ll do it more often. Proving this point, we’ve seen sales of our Fit Tape increase by 500 per cent since March.

“We’ve seen sales of our Fit Tape increase by 500 per cent since March”

We’ve also had to pivot on holding face-to-face events, which had been working well for us prior to lockdown. However, we now offer virtual fitting services both to help women get sized up as well as aftercare to help you wear your bra correctly, both services that we accelerated during lockdown.

Before lockdown we also foresaw the potential challenges for warehouse and fulfilment safety – so we decided to bring this in-house. This not only meant that we could safely fulfil our surge in orders over the lockdown period, but also helped bring a more personal touch to our customer delivery and experience.

What’s in store for Nudea in 2021?

We have plans to expand our product offering into loungewear, sleepwear, and all the time inventing ways to make it better. Also, our new product range launching in November, which we are very excited about, will feature bras and knickers made from recycled yarns and a sustainably-sourced spacer fabric. We’ve also expanded our size offering from 27 to 43 different bra sizes up to a GG cup as well as new colours.

How is Nudea addressing some of the challenges facing the retail industry as a whole?

The biggest challenge facing the retail industry at the moment is accountability. Not only in terms of environmental and human impact, but also in terms of what brands should stand for other than the products they sell. So many recent world events have accelerated this conversation; #MeToo, Covid and now Black Lives Matter.

“The biggest challenge facing the retail industry at the moment is accountability”

There is a renewed focus on company missions and authenticity in brand values and it’s our collective responsibility to help drive this change.

What would you say is the biggest risk for the retail sector, given the current climate?

Covid-19 is the biggest risk but also the biggest event that will have a lasting effect on the retail industry. Covid-19 has accelerated digital change in a way we could never have anticipated.

For example, pre-Covid it was generally accepted that online shopping for certain goods such as groceries or clothes would plateau at a certain penetration. However, this is no longer the case, I believe there is now a bigger opportunity to make changes that are positive for everyone with better shopping experiences that merge both digital and physical.

Describe your role and responsibilities at Nudea.

As a founder of a start-up I’m not sure any role is cemented and well trodden. While I am the chief executive charged with overseeing the direction, strategy and execution of the business, each day is so varied that I sometimes find myself packing orders, picking up calls to customers and occasionally even doing a bra fitting.

Tell us a bit about yourself and your background before Nudea.

My first job after university was as an actuary and although it was a great start for getting comfortable with data and numbers, I knew it wasn’t going to excite me enough to spend my whole life doing it. Eventually after a few years of finance, I moved into the luxury fashion industry which I was much more passionate about. After eight years working for the some of the big houses, I felt the itch to try something new that married my head for numbers with love of great product. However, I knew straight away that I didn’t want to create just another fashion brand. It was important for me to create a product that served a need as well as being made with care and passion for the product.

“Covid-19 has accelerated digital change in a way we could never have anticipated”

How has your previous experience aided your current job?

I spent the last 10 years working in the fashion industry and particularly in luxury. This experience has not only has given me the skill of understanding how to build a product-orientated business but also working in luxury product has given me a huge appreciation for quality, design and craftsmanship. Much of this basis goes into the products we create at Nudea.

What is the most challenging aspect of your job?

Keeping the discipline of a good work/life balance and, now even more so in the working from home culture adopted through Covid-19. As a founder of a business it’s hard to not let yourself get totally consumed by it and if you’re not careful this can lead to burnout. It’s important to step away from time to time to recheck you direction, so finding that balance of work/life is far more challenging when you don’t have a fixed day.

And the most rewarding?

Hearing from customers who say that our Fit Tape has helped them get their right fit for the first time in their lives, both young and old. It’s amazing how much our Fit Tape is revolutionising and democratising fitting.

What advice would you give someone considering embarking on a career in retail?

My journey was not conventional into the retail industry and I gave up a high-salaried career path to move mid-career to a new industry where I effectively started from the bottom. I don’t regret it one bit. I was driven by a real passion and prepared to work hard.

While a hard pill to swallow on a personal level, it emphasises the point that you need to be passionate about the industry, as it can be very cyclical and you need to be prepared for the tough times. This is true even more so now, when the retail industry is going through such a huge change and disruption. It’s so important to have the passion and the drive to adapt.

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