By: Jessica Houghton
avamae, a startup athletic apparel brand out of Portland, designs and produces specialty wrap tops for large chested women with small frames. The founder, Shelly Carlton, saw a gap in the market for comfortable clothing for women of this body type. Recently, we sat down with Shelly Carlton, the founder, about the company, future expansion plans, and her experience as an entrepreneur:
What led you to start avamae?
I have a large bust on a size small frame, and nothing fits just right. In particular, I need something comfortable and supportive to slip into at the end of the day when I just have to take off my bra. Additionally, I generally have to buy tops and dresses a size up for my cup size, and consequently, I have struggled to find tops that look decent on my frame. One day my daughter Ava pointed out that the shelf-bra tank I was wearing was digging into my skin. She said it looked like it hurt, and I began to wonder why I was settling. I started searching for something that would look and also feel good. After looking for several months and researching various websites and even my favorite bra shop- I was still empty-handed. Since I couldn’t find something that worked for me, I decided to make it myself. I developed a comfort-wrap top that supports me perfectly and named the brand avamae, after the nickname my father-in-law used for Ava.
You patented your product; what did the design and production process look like?
I was able to work with a friend of a friend who works in costume design down in LA to help finalize the original design. The idea started with something built off a top that I already owned, which helped me create a unique pattern. The next step was using a local pattern maker to get a tech pack. Instead of conventional sizing, my tops are based off of band size, which is a better solution for my target body type. It provides a more accurate fit as well as a higher level of comfort. The unique shape, sizing and closure design of the top allowed me to get a patent.
Was there a learning curve in the design process or around starting your own business?
Of course, but the real challenge is beginning right now, mainly with marketing. I have years of marketing experience, but targeting women based on their bra size is difficult. My product accommodates a very specific target audience: women with a large bust and a small frame. Although I see them on the street every day, it’s been a struggle to find them online and get them to my store.
avamae is having a pop up at the Loyd Center this weekend; What are the details?
The pop up will run for two days: April 6-7. On April 6, the hours are from 10AM to 8PM and on April 7 the hours are from 11AM to 6PM. I will be selling my pieces there, but if you cannot make it to the pop up, the pieces are available online as well at: avamaepdx.com/shop-online. Readers can get 10% off with the code: Staterra Law.
Where do you hope to see avamae go in the coming years?
I see avamae becoming a comfort and athletic brand that caters to women of this shape, which is a real gap in the market. Girls who develop larger breasts often drop out of athletic activity because of their body type, and while my top isn’t made for high-impact now, I may have one in future. We need a brand that caters to that demographic. I also see dresses and bathing suits in the near future.
Looking back at starting your company, how does it feel now?
It has been a liberating process to create something that is my own. The sense of ownership and the feeling that you have more control over your future is priceless. Although I can’t quit my day job just yet, I daydream about doing this full time some day.