IN HER BAG WITH BITS
In my life there have been afew women I've had the pleasure of working with, where I've thought "She’s a powerhouse, she is going to do something amazing"
Where demonstrations of creativity, enthusiasm and a trojan like work ethic have combined to create an amazing professional. In instances like this, I've often thought "I'm going to keep an eye on her, because I bet whatever she does next will be big."
So you stay in touch, follow their socials, like their holiday pics and dog pics and new boyfriend pics and sure enough, one day you see they’ve launched something amazing.
This is exactly what happened with my friends Ava + Bec who after their days at MECCA launched the 2019 breakout star of the beauty world Ultra Violette and Phoebe Simmonds who after years at MECCA and Benefit launched retail concept The Blow + and online baby essentials destination The Memo.
And, this is exactly what happened with my next two interview guests Sophie + Bianca.
Sophie was the woman behind the MECCA Marketing team for nearly a decade. The fact that most of us know what MECCA is, is due in part to her compelling marketing campaigns. Bianca, working on the other side of the same buzzing beauty head office was in Buying team. So, the fact that MECCA stocked the best brands and that your best sellers (think NARS Laguna Bronzer, Stila Kitten eyeshadow, Hourglass brow pencil) were always in stock and on the shelf was thanks in part to Bianca.
Soph + B were always first in the office and last to leave, always impeccably dressed, innately stylish even if it was just trainers and jeans, churning through a huge amount of work with a smile on their faces. Nothing too difficult, nothing too challenging. In fact, challenges were just learning experience, a “what can we learn from this?” moment, rather than an experience that would defeat them.
One of the best retail marketing minds in Australia, after MECCA Soph went on work with Cotton On and Dejcuba, before circling back to MECCA. B took her brands and buying prowess to Carlton & United Breweries, before leaving beer for beauty finding herself back at MECCA as well.
Fast forward a few years later and the girls have combined to create BITS. The new home for intimates. A curated collection of the very best, for our bits.
No one can tell the story as well as them, so I’ll let them do exactly that.
This is my IN HER BAG conversation with the spectacular women I am proud to call my friends, Sophie Hopkins and Bianca Robortaccio of BITS.
What’s in your VESTIRSI Jillian bag right now?
Sophie: Everything! It’s one of the reasons I love the Jillian bag as it literally fits everything I need on me at all times – my phone, laptop, keys, sunnies, Ultra Violette sunscreen, Mecca Lip De Luscious lip balm (and unfortunately my face mask 😊). And there’s still room to throw a few BITS product samples in when I need to.
Bianca: I actually love to keep my bag as tidy as possible - which has taken me a long time to master after being a hoarder for so long. Yes, it might mean that I forget things every so often buuut it does mean I’m not lugging around a 10kg bag all the time! Jillian always has my lappy (if fact, that’s its home 24/7), my sunnies (in the best little built-in pocket as I never bring the case... who does?!) plus a little clutch filled with my purse, lip balm and remnants of random receipts I should probably file for tax time… whoops!
Soph + B let us take a peek in their Jillian totes
What are the three must-have items in any woman’s lingerie collection?
Bianca: Lingerie has been a big part of my wardrobe my whole life - my bits came in when I was 11 so I have barely gone a day without an underwire since. Lingerie wardrobing is super important - you change your makeup depending on your outfit, so why wouldn’t you change your bits?
When it comes to must-haves, it’s all about comfort and a couple of key investment pieces.
If you do nothing else you must invest in - seamfree undies and, of course, these high waisted undies by Peach are my go-to, something totally comfy that feels like nothing (even for those of you who have bigger bits) for those days when you’re feeling a little sore, or just CBF - my fave is the Nico plant-dyed underwire which is made from certified organic cotton, and last but never least, something that makes YOU feel special… for me, it’s something sheer like this Triumph Minimiser that I live in - it’s the ultimate combo of supportive and sexy.
Like many founders, you identified a gap in the lingerie market and the shopping experience around these products. Can you tell us about what you observed and what you thought was missing, and how you wanted to fill this gap through BITS?
Sophie: Like so many others, we were both just super disenfranchised by the way lingerie (and more broadly intimates) was being served up. Particularly to women, and predominately by male-led organisations. It felt out-of-date and to be honest, pretty condescending.
Couple that with the fact that shopping for lingerie is already a really intimate experience, meant most women were having a pretty horrible time shopping for bras and undies, and more importantly, feeling good in them.
So creating something that was super empowering has been one of our driving forces. Ultimately, we wanted to make shopping for intimates an enjoyable experience (rather than a dreaded one), a relevant experience that everyone wanted to be a part of, and we wanted to make it easier to find the right fit.
And we felt that to do that, we needed to create a one-stop shop that caters to everyone - all bits, all boobs, all bodies, all demographics and all life stages. A trusted go-to for everyone’s intimate needs and some good intimate conversation too. We wanted to really normalise real bodies, products and the conversations about them that were once taboo.
So we dreamed up BITS.
What was the biggest challenge in bringing BITS to life?
Bianca: I think having the confidence to press go. Soph and I had been talking about this idea for so long that sometimes it felt like it was never going to land. I suppose that is the silver lining of ‘he-who-must-not-be-named’ of 2020, right?! We ummed and ahhed about every little detail but at the end of the day we needed the confidence to just put one foot in front of the other and press go. We eventually got there but it was about one and a half years in the making!
Which is your favourite item on BITS?
Sophie: My undies drawer has exploded since launching BITS. I am completely obsessed with all things Nico and Saturday The Label. Both are super luxe and special but still (and importantly) ultra comfy too. I’ve also loved converting to the Scarlet period undies (the boyshort is my go-to for overnight protection) and the Rose & Bare bras are incredible for a smaller bust like mine, offering small sizes (starting at 8A) and light padding to add a little shape but still look and feel really natural - which I love.
Bianca: Sophie and I have many things in common - not only do we wear and use the same VESTIRSI Jillian bag, but we also (weirdly?!) wear the same undies. I’m a fellow Nico lover, but love the mid-rise for me. Anything soft for my bottom bits are my go-to, so if it isn’t the Nico, then it’s gotta be Vee Underwear. These eco-friendly undies are made out of sustainable bamboo and are seriously the softest undies I’ve ever worn. They are super popular and we haven’t been able to keep them in stock lately, but have them coming back in stock soon. In terms of bras, choosing my favourites is a bit like choosing your favourite child but I definitely can’t go past the Eco Intimates Siane DD+ Crop - as a fuller cup gal, getting your hands on a wireless crop with enough shoulder strap support is like trying to find a needle in a haystack! This bra is that needle.
What drove your decision to stock not just lingerie, but also pleasure products?
Bianca: Initially, when we first came up with the ideas to do BITS, it was all about the traditional side of intimates, namely bras and undies. But as we explored the idea more and more we connected the fact that BITS is all about modernising your experience when shopping for intimates, and that needs to push past just bras and undies. That’s where pleasure (and period) comes in. They are very specifically intimate products which customers are getting more in touch with (in so many ways!) and it was important that we brought that conversation to the forefront.
What does it mean to be sexually empowered, and why is this important for women?
Sophie: I think sexual empowerment can take on a different meaning for everyone. To me, it is about feeling confident in your sexuality and your sexual desires. I think that’s important (not only for women) because it is important to feel good about ourselves, and to do that, we need to embrace all parts of self. So many of us have grown up suppressing who we are, or who we want to be, and when you think about how short life is, it really just doesn’t make sense not to be who you are and own it.
Tell us about period cups! Why are these becoming a popular choice?
Bianca: For something that happens most months for about 50% of people in the whole world, there hasn’t been very much innovation when it comes to period products. In the past, the period cup has probably been seen as a bit of an alternative solution, however as people are now thinking more and more about sustainability, and reproductive health, it’s no wonder more people are jumping on board and they are becoming more mainstream.
But they aren’t just great for the planet, what I really love about them is that they’re also fantastic for getting more connected to our bodies and understanding our cycles too. They are a really great solution for those who want to learn more about what happens each month and how a period cup might help to change it (sometimes for the better).
Your mission is to empower women to love all of their bits. Why do you think women find it so hard to love and celebrate their bodies?
Sophie: Sadly, I think this is how we’ve been conditioned. For most of us, we’ve grown up surrounded by unrealistic ideals (like the Victoria Secret Angels), coupled with a strong focus on external beauty. Particularly for women, there’s been such an innate connection between beauty and value. And it’s a really hard cycle to break. I often catch myself telling my 4 year old niece how cute or beautiful she is - and she is - but she is so much more than that. It can sometimes be easy to forget how subtle our conditioning can be. A little comment here, an Instagram filter there and all of a sudden our belief system has been formed. This is what we wanted to help deconstruct with BITS.
BITS is so much more than just an online lingerie and intimates store. BITS, like VESTIRSI, aims to supporting women and their mental health through honest and real conversations. Can you tell us more about “Real Talk” and what you aim to achieve through your conversations around “bits, boobs and the bigger picture”
Bianca: We want to create a platform for people to learn more about their own bits and about other people’s bits too. Every body is so different but what joins us all together is that we are all simply totally normal. It’s just there isn’t one kind of normal! That’s what Real Talk is about; sharing intimate stories about things we didn’t know, things we think we should know and things that we think are important to get more in touch with.
You both left amazing much loved jobs at MECCA and DEJCUBA to launch this business, and took big financial risks in bringing BITS to life. It’s certainly paid off as you’ve found an important gap in the retail market and are providing such an incredibly helpful service that women around Australia are loving. But at the time, why were you so sure BITS was a safe bet and this was a project worth your time, money and energy?
Sophie: Bianca and I have both been fortunate to work at some of Australia’s leading retail brands, however it was probably our time at MECCA, where we worked together, which taught us the most about connecting with women, and how to better deliver to what women really want.
Back in 2005 when I started at MECCA, the beauty industry was kind of where the lingerie industry is now. It was an industry dominated by men, and the experience was often exclusive, intimidating and somewhat condescending (you might remember that you had to approach a department store counter where someone - usually wearing a lab coat - either ignored you or diagnosed all the things that you needed to fix)! MECCA really helped democratise the beauty industry in Australia (and I think even influence it beyond too) by delivering a more empowering experience.
When we left our jobs, we certainly didn’t think BITS was a sure-thing, but we were passionate about it and felt women deserved it - which made it a project worthy of our time, money and energy.
It’s been a huge undertaking though, and certainly not one for the faint-hearted. We’ve both sacrificed a lot to make it happen (including other life-long dreams like buying houses).
Now, we just have to cross our fingers and hope that Australian women are as passionate about BITS as we are :)
Do you have any advice to women wanting to start their own business?
Bianca: Like us, last year gave everyone an opportunity to put pen to paper on some of the ideas that have been floating about so there is certainly a widespread trend of new businesses popping up, and we love it!
With so many of the old fashion barriers removed, it is easier than ever to enter the market and really all you need is a laptop and a social media handle. But it’s definitely not for everyone and from the outside, it can definitely be seen as way more glam than it really is! I think my advice would be to really consider WHY you want to launch a business. I’ve just watched the F1 doco on Netflix and, just like the drivers, when you run your own business you need to keep pushing through the ups and the downs. The one thing that allows you to do that is going back to WHY you started the business.
An online startup is 24/7. What are your top tips for managing stress and maintaining work life balance and positive mental health?
Sophie: I’m particularly bad at this one as I’m an all or nothing person and I’m terrible at setting boundaries, which can make it challenging. However, I have learnt a lot about what I find helpful.
For me, a big part of it is awareness and simply acknowledging that you can’t do it all, and it’s not all urgent. It sounds obvious but I definitely do need to remind myself of this. We’re saving boobs from uncomfortable bras, we’re not saving lives!
And then I guess it’s about finding the things that really energise you and help create a sense of balance – for me, those things are belly laughing with friends, yoga and eating yummy, healthy-ish food.
When it comes to work, I try and tackle the tasks I don’t enjoy as much in the morning, so I can check them off my list and then finish the day with the activities that I love. This means I finish the day feeling energised, rather than drained.
I do really miss the energy and buzz of a large team environment though. So hopefully we can start hiring some great people around us soon!
Bianca: This is something that is super important to me. But whilst important, I don’t dwell on it as being a worry wart isn’t in my nature. The biggest learning I have had in this space is figuring out what my priorities in my life were - and that sometimes they change.
It’s ok for your job to be your #1 priority and spend loads of time doing something that makes you feel super successful, but the key for me is realising that... that is ok! Dedicate the time to it when you can, and then when your #1 priority is taken over by something else - maybe your partner, having a baby, or even something simple like going on a 2 week holiday, then that is ok too!
I think it is imperative that we allow ourselves to spend the energy on the things we love… it is just that what we love might change over time and learning to recognise that is what allows you to have a positive mindset and work towards a balance.
What can we expect to see coming next from BITS?
Bianca: Our customers have been showing us what they want - and the people get what the people want! So in the short term there is going to be a helluva lotta more pleasure and absolutely more sizes! In the long term… well… you’ll just have to wait to find out ;)
If you could go back to yourself at 21 and give yourself 1 piece of advice, what would it be?
Sophie: To look for the good in everything, sit back and enjoy the ride.