Designer & CEO of Bluebella
[Scroll down for the Binky Felstead Bluebella calendar shoot video]
Emily Bendell, founder of boudoir lingerie brand Bluebella, the official licence holder of Fifty Shades of Grey lingerie in the UK and Ireland, shares her inspiring brand and business story.
Bluebella was founded in 2005 whilst Emily was working as a legal journalist in London, after graduating with a degree politics, philosophy and economics from the University of Oxford.
“It’s a bit random,” says Bendell. “My dad is still wondering why I’m not a lawyer,” she adds, laughing. “But I just thought I’d like to do it and, God, I didn’t know anything about the business, I made loads of mistakes, so it was very much a learn-as-you-go kind of thing.”
It’s an industry cliché, but the idea for Bluebella was hatched when Bendell saw a gap in the market – and she really did – for a provocative brand with a luxury style at an affordable price.
“I’ve always loved lingerie – as we all do in this game – and I loved all the high-end provocative brands, but I couldn’t afford them as they were inaccessible,” she explains.
In order to turn her exciting business idea into a start-up, Bendell moved away from the big smoke and returned to Nottingham to live with her father.
“I started really small and, actually, we didn’t produce our own product initially; I bought in small boutique brands that you couldn’t find on the high street because I wanted to test it out and understand the market.
We started to grow very quickly and then I had the classic experience that most brands have, which was that I was selling, but I didn’t have the infrastructure behind me to support the sales, so at that point, I thought, right, I need to get some investment in,” Bendell recalls.
Initial investment was partly raised through an all-female investment network called Addidi Business Angels.
“It was very important to me to have some female backing, partly because women understood my brand, and partly because what I was finding was that the investment community is generally middle-aged men – I think 95% of investors in the UK are male, which is ridiculous.”
From there, Bluebella grew very quickly through direct selling and began to develop its own product ranges as it learned more and more about its customers’ likes and dislikes.
Bluebella was primarily focused on direct selling until 2011, when Bendell and her team decided to make the move to become a multi-channel business.
“I think a lot of people are realising that the world is changing and people want to access your product in all different kinds of ways, and you have to offer all those ways,” she resolves.
Before long, Bluebella had found a marketing budget, expanded into wholesale and gained the official licence to develop Fifty Shades of Grey lingerie line for the UK, Ireland, and some central European countries, in 2013.
Fifty Shades of Grey
So how did the collaboration with E L James, the author of the bestselling erotic romance novels trilogy Fifty Shades of Grey first come about?
“We heard about the book probably a bit ahead of a lot of people because of our network of women. People were telling their friends about it and it was becoming this ‘thing’.
“Then, we read it and we felt really strongly that we were well-placed to develop a Fifty Shades of Grey lingerie and nightwear collection because the book is all about the billionaire lifestyle and it’s got that luxe element to it, but, equally, everyone has read that book, so the product had to be accessible,” explains Bendell.
“I think we thought were really well positioned to do it, so we pitched to E L James and, happily, we shared the same vision, and so we went forward.”
Bluebella launched the Fifty Shades collection to trade in August 2013. The collection, which consists of 35 pieces for women and eight for men, launched in September.