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How Enell Built Your Favorite Sports Bra

Designing a Better Sports Bra for Large Breasts

“I used to play volleyball, but when the ball flew out of the court, I would just stand there and watch someone else chase after it because it hurt my boobs too much to run,” says Renelle Braaten, founder of Enell, a company that makes sports bras for large-breasted women. “And I thought, ‘Boy, I gotta do something about this.’ So, I did. I made myself a sports bra that worked. I had no intention of making more, much less making a business out of it. Then I realized if I had this problem, other women had it, too.”

Helping others is in Braaten’s nature. So, after building a sports bra that fit right and let her exercise comfortably, she knew that making them for other women was something she needed to do.

From Design to Production

At the time, Braaten, then 43, was working full-time as a barber in the small town of Havre, Montana (where the company is still based today). She decided the best route, since she had no background in clothing manufacturing, was to acquire a patent for the new design, and sell it to already-established bra companies.

She shopped the design around, but no one bit.

“I don’t think that the big companies thought what I’d come up with was worthwhile,” she says, laughing a bit as she recalls the “good-luck” and “that’s awesome, but we’re not interested” letters she received. “So, one thing led to another, and I guess I was just stupid enough to do it myself,” she says. “I kept telling myself that there are more women out there who need the extra support; I’ve got to get this bra to them.”

Just like that, Enell was born. However, it would take several years to take off. At first, Braaten was making sports bras for friends. Then, she got down to business. She and her husband owned a building downtown with what they both thought was a perfect basement for production. So, she hired one seamstress to help make bras.

“My husband told me that I had to sell one bra per day to break even,” she says. “I honestly wasn’t even sure I could do that.”

But she did.

From the Basement to Oprah

Still, Braaten didn’t have money for advertising; she relied on word of mouth. Then, something happened: An Enell bra showed up in a fashion magazine. Actress Drew Barrymore was wearing the bra to work out. And then Oprah featured the company on her show. More magazine reviews followed. So did trade show exhibits. Braaten knew if she got women to try on the bra, they’d be hooked. And she was right. Business started to snowball.

After its appearance on Oprah, the company moved manufacturing out of Montana (after all, one seamstress can’t keep up with that many orders), but quality control remained (and remains) in the same place. In fact, Enell inspects every single piece of every single bra that goes out the door.

“I didn’t know that we would be able to do this,” says Braaten, “because, as I said, Montana is not in the clothing industry; we grow wheat. Luckily the internet was just taking off when we started, so it gave us the ability to sell everywhere.”

But even that wasn’t easy. Shipping to and from Montana often takes longer and costs more than shipping from other places in the U.S. But Braaten has, to this day, never let that stop her. “I’ve always said, you just have to find a way,” she says. “And I know women really need this. If I ever feel tired, I go and read any one of the thousands of testimonials we’ve received. Afterward, I immediately feel motivated again.”

A Feel-Good Company

To this day, Enell remains the single-best high-impact sports bra for large breasts. In fact, for hundreds of thousands of women, Braaten’s bras have been the very thing that’s allowed them to pursue an athletic life. There are hundreds of testimonials to prove it.

“Before I discovered [Enell] bras, every attempt I made to move beyond a fast walk into jogging and running was met with pain and frustration,” says one enamored customer. “ ... Your bras really are the functional equivalent of unhooking your breasts to leave them home for a run – and somehow they accomplish this support without binding or hurting.”

She expounds about Enell being a feel-good, do-good company, and that that’s another reason she works hard every day. Because, she says, everyone deserves to work out in comfort.

“Sometimes people get confused and think that we’re just a plus-sized bra company. And while it’s true that we can fit larger women than most bra companies, we can also fit just about any woman with large breasts,” she says. “We want to reach and help as many women as we possibly can.”

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