I recently had the opportunity to sit down with Ruhee Rajan, owner and founder of Rubies Bras. Rajan designs and produces custom bras and swimwear and took her very first sewing lessons at The Make Den. We chatted about balancing a day job while running a business, her early obsession with breasts, and her recent feature in Vogue. I also got to photograph a few of her gorgeous handcrafted samples.
I: Who are you, and what do you do?
R: My name is Ruhee Rajan, and I was born and raised in Edmonton. I went to the University of Alberta and got a degree in marketing about fifteen years ago. Since then I have moved to Toronto. Two years ago I started a custom bra making and swimwear company called Rubies. The name came from a friend when we were brainstorming over drinks. She tells me, “Ruhee, I’ve thought of the perfect name. Ruhee plus boobies is Rubies!” We laughed over it, I thought it was a really funny joke, but it just stuck.
I: Sewing bras is very intricate! I was recently taking the class with Olivia, and you did my fitting, and it’s way different than making any other kind of garment.
R: That’s right. You have to think about the physics. It defies laws of gravity, you have to have something that supports, but is still comfortable. You’re basically trying to fit two lumps of fat that are completely different. They sit differently in a bra, they sit differently on your body, and you have to find a way to make it fit, that is comfortable, and in a way that looks good, and it’s way more difficult than anyone knows.
I: What made you want to learn how to sew?
R: I wanted to try to make my own bras because I pretty much hated all of my own. I found that I was going to Victoria Secret, and that didn’t work, and then I went to some specialty shops, and I still wasn’t happy. I couldn’t get all three: comfortable, fit well, and that made me feel awesome. It made me frustrated because I was spending a lot of money. So I thought, why not try to learn how to make one.
I: This just came to my mind when you mentioned Victoria’s Secret. I always go to get bras from Secrets from Your Sister. Why do you think these well known companies have this ‘secret’ aspect attached to them?
R: That’s a really good question. I think it’s a societal thing. When you go to Europe, bras aren’t a big deal, they’re not padded, they’re very feminine. You see the bra underneath, nipples show, people talk about breasts, and it’s fine. I think it’s a thing where talk of bras and breasts is something that should be done behind closed doors in secret. I don’t believe in that. I take the more European or liberal approach. I’ve never been afraid to talk about breasts and bras. My friends will tell you that it’s almost like I give too much information, so I think it’s just in my personality to be totally open about the topic. I’ve been inspired by European trends, and European bras, where they’re not afraid to show their breasts and their nipples and it’s fine.
I: Tell us a little about the history of Rubie’s bras.
R: When I was young, I was completely flat. I had no breasts. I would wear training bras, stuff my bras, and I got teased a lot in school. My friends didn’t mean it but it still created an insecurity in me, and everyday I would pray for breasts. I would do everything in my power to try and get breasts. Finally, at the age of 20, I don’t know what it was, but my wishes came true. I went from an A to a B to a C to a Double D in two years. So my obsession with breasts and bras came at a very early age, and it was because I didn’t have them for so long. When I got them it was like “This is a gift, I need to cherish it and take care of it!” However, with that, and such a big growth spurt in such a short amount of time, I was finding that I was getting back issues. It felt like my body was saying, “What the heck, there’s all this weight all of a sudden, and I’ve never had this before.” I started getting neck issues, back issues, my posture starting getting really bad, and that’s when I started doing more research and going to specialty shops. I wasn’t satisfied with the products I was getting, which led me to take the bra making course. I was really nervous, because I had been dealing with this issue for so long. The first time I tried the custom bra I made, I was so relieved that I started becoming emotional because I had finally found something that felt good. I already talk about breasts to my friends, but I was so happy that I talked about it to everyone. My friends started becoming more open about it as we talked, and I realized that everyone else had the same issues that I did. They would tell me “You know what, my straps suck too, my straps fall off too, my bra feels uncomfortable too, can you make me one?” And I thought to myself, “You’re kidding! I never thought that my passion for breasts and bras would actually lead into something that I could do as a job”. So that’s where I got the idea, and here we are!
I: What advice would you have for someone starting their own crafty business?
R: I would say, get yourself a cheering team. If you don’t surround yourself with people that inspire and encourage you, I can’t see anyone being successful. I remember when I first started telling people that I was going to do this I got a lot of people telling me “It’s not going to work. Make sure you don’t quit your job. There’s not really a market,” and similar negative messages. I know that it was coming from a good place, because this was coming from my good friends and family, who were just trying to protect me. I’m glad that I pushed through, because those same people are on my side now. Don’t be discouraged by people who you trust who discourage you, because it is coming from a good place. If you see that it is effecting you in a negative way, I would say stay away from that negativity, and surround yourself with people who believe in you. I don’t think I would be where I am without those people. I really, truly believe that.
I: What has been the biggest accomplishment since starting Rubie’s bras?
R: Honestly, I’d say my biggest accomplishment was learning how to sew a bra, and doing a second bra. I didn’t even know how to sew a button on when I started. When I showed my friends and family, my grandma who is a tailor, was dumbfounded. She asked me in disbelief, “You made this?” After I finished my course I was sure I would never make another bra. I thought “Nope, this isn’t for me, I don’t really like it, it’s too frustrating.” Even when my friends asked me to make them a bra, I instantly tried to outsource the sewing part, because I was confident in my fitting skills, but I wasn’t as confident in my sewing skills. Thankfully, I got pushed by teachers like Jade like Beverly, from Bra Makers, telling me to keep making bras. And it’s because of their persistence and gentle encouragement, and sometimes assertive encouragement, that I did. and I am so, so glad that I ended up meeting a network of teachers that pushed me.
I: What has been your greatest challenge?
R: I think my biggest challenge is keeping up with demand, which is a great problem to have. I’m so proud and I just can’t believe that I’m at this point. It’s still a problem, though. I never want to run into a situation where overnight it’s a success, and I’m not able to keep up. So I’m taking it really slow and in realistic steps. You don’t want to ever get so busy that you can’t deliver, so now I’m working with a local production company to outsource the sewing and start scaling. As I mentioned, a lot of my clients are friends, family, or part of their network, and that’s how it starts, from word of mouth. It’s really important to me to work hard and create a product that makes people super happy. They’ve given me money, they don’t really know what they’re going to get out of it, and they’re putting their trust in me. They wanna make sure their money was well spent.
I: So you have a day job on top of running Rubie’s. How do you balance between the demands of your job, and your business?
R: I don’t, really. I find that it’s a big challenge for me to balance it. I’ve read many books and articles that say “Quit,” and I’ve read many that say “Don’t Quit,” and many that suggest doing something in between. I would say my advice is to somehow make it work in a smart and realistic way. You have to be confident, and you have to see a profit before I think you should consider quitting or scaling back, and until then it’s going to be a hustle, because then you are working two jobs. But if you’re really serious about it then you gotta be serious about it. So I would say, if it is your real passion then find something else that pays the bills, and still allows you to do this. My passion for Rubie’s makes me a better at marketing, my day job. I never feel like Rubie’s is work. I love what I do and I would do it day and night, but you really have to balance the other things in your life: family, friends, health, which is what I try to do. Some weeks I am really successful, and some weeks I completely fail at it. You just have to take it one day at a time. Be realistic. Don’t bog yourself down with the pressure of building an empire over night, because it’s not going to happen. There’s nothing wrong with keeping your day job and keeping this as a hobby. Or keeping your day job and doing this on the side. I think that everyone’s definition of success is different, and do what you love to do, and find a way to fit your life around it.
I: You were recently featured in Vogue, and you spoke a bit about the ‘Cupperware’ parties. Can you tell us a bit about these parties?
R: Yes! I would actually attest a lot of my success to these parties. I found that there was a lack of knowledge around bras. I wish that these things were taught in school! I find that most people don’t know how to wear a bra, they don’t know that you really have to get the breasts in there, really pull them in. I’m obsessed with this stuff! So I thought that since I have so much knowledge, and all I want to do is talk about it, why not have a girls night over wine and cheese and just educate people on the subject. I want to be seen as an expert fitter, and as a professional bra maker, but also an expert on breasts and bras. I remember doing the first ‘Cupperware’ party, which was named by my husband actually, who is really proud of it. It was a complete hit. We would sit around and talk for about 15 – 20 minutes, and we would talk about the basics: shopping techniques, wear and tear, how to care for your bra, and then would go over some common questions such as “Why are my sizes so different between different retailers?” I find that when one person would start talking, other people would open up and start talking, and it would turn into a great discussion where everyone felt so supported and you realize that you are not the only one who has these questions or issues. That makes me really happy. I would also go into the advantages of wearing a custom bra or wearing something like a Victoria’s Secret bra, versus a specialty bra. Sometimes, a custom bra isn’t the solution for everyone, so I walk through the pros and cons, and at the end I do private individual fittings and consults on the spot. I realized a lot of my friends wanted to host themselves, because they bring their own network, so now I rarely host them myself, I find people that are interested in hosting who invite their friends, and I give them a special discount for hosting. They love it and have a good time. It’s just a girls night where you talk about boobs. How can you go wrong?
I: Are you having more anytime soon?
R: Interestingly enough, I’ve had more out of town than in town. I’ve had a lot in Edmonton and Calgary, which is where I’m from. There have been a lot of requests to have them here again, so I’m probably going to do a series of them starting very soon. I don’t consider them unsuccessful if I don’t make any sales. I’m just happy that I’m able to meet people, impart my knowledge, and have them walk away thinking “Wow, she really helped me.” People get really excited about that and that makes me really happy.
I: Do you have a most memorable experience from these parties or from any other customer interactions?
R: I would say my most memorable experience is honestly the joy and relief that I see in my clients when they wear their new bra. I understand what they’re going through. I’m surprised I haven’t cried when someone tells me that it’s completely changed their life. I see them wearing a bra that fits, and their posture changes. Your shoulders are back, you’re ready to take on the world. They leave through the door a different person, and knowing that you were part of that is just priceless.
I: What do you hope for Rubie’s in the next five years?
R: Today I’m proud to say that I’ve almost hit one hundred clients, which feels amazing. I’m on track. I think when someone buys repeat, that’s a really good success indicator, because you’re not really making much of a profit on the first bra. You’re spending a lot of time fitting, and you have to make adjustments. It takes a long time to make a bra, it takes a lot of hours, so labour is really expensive. Right now, it’s because of the support of these 100 clients, and it’s because of the cheering team that I’ve surrounded myself with. Jade, Beverly, and the staff here who are so welcoming. It’s because of this community that I’m here. In the next five years I hope to build a solution to make it even more scalable. I want to be able to scale online so that everyone in the world can order a custom bra. I don’t think it’s easy and I know that people have failed, so I’m just going to give it a shot and see how it goes. I hope to have Rubie’s available to anyone who wants one, anytime, anywhere, that’s really my dream.
I: Thank you so much! Was there anything else that you wanted to add?
R: I think I kind of touched on this, but the goal of Rubie’s isn’t just to make a bra, but it’s to change people’s quality of life. If a bra fits well and is comfortable, it can change a woman’s perspective. I want to be part of a bigger cause that does this, because I think it’s so important for women to feel comfortable and confident, and I think it starts with a good bra.