Written by Andrew Seale

Bra retailers may have gotten better about finding the right fit for customers from their standardized sizes but Ryerson Fashion Zone startup House of Anesi suspects the solution lies in the design itself.

“When it comes to the human body you have to build something that fits everyone perfectly,” says Jacob John, who co-founded the startup with Leen Al-Taher and Stephania Stefanakou. “No manufacturing process is that amazing that it can find out who bought it and build that one thing uniquely.”

But with its adaptable Anesi smart bra, House of Anesi is looking to take a different approach.

“Hormones fluctuate throughout the month, and that causes breast size to change,” says John. “You may have gotten sized one-way but that size may not necessarily be the same for the entire month – (this) is a bra that changes with you.”

The idea was spun out of a re-engineering fashion competition in 2015 at Ryerson’s Sandbox, an entrepreneurial community centre in the Digital Media Zone network. The trio – Al-Taher, an industrial engineer, John, an aerospace engineering grad and Stefanakou, who studied fashion communications – met during the comp and settled on tackling the challenges associated with bra design.

“It was almost daunting to solve that problem,” recalls John. “We knew we couldn't change the manufacturing process but to make it adaptable would mean it would fit people better.”

The bra uses a specially designed underwire, engineered to conform to a woman’s natural breast shape and size and a unique gel formulation embedded in the straps to reduce pressure on the shoulders. They ended up winning the competition with their idea – which came with $1,000 in prize money – and afterwards decided to pursue the project. 

“The win gave you incubation space at the Fashion Zone for free,” says John.

The next six to eight months were swamped with research. But they had support. Through the Norman Esch engineering innovation and entrepreneurship awards, House of Anesi won $5,000 for ideation then an additional $8,000 for development. In May they won the remaining $25,000 for market readiness. The also won the lifestyle category at CNE’s Emerging Innovators Pitch Competition in August.

But re-engineering the bra hasn’t been without its hiccups.

“Around eight to ten months ago we realized we never focused on aesthetic… it was still decent looking but it wasn’t made from a designers point of view,” says John. “By the end of the year we'll have more styles.”

Being in Ryerson’s Fashion Zone and seeking advice and mentorship from other members of Toronto’s tightly-knit fashion community has helped keep House of Anesi on track.

“I want to see Toronto just kick butt in the startup world,” says John. “I meet these people day-in and day-out – they're amazing individuals and the companies the ideas they come up with… they're nothing short of impressive.”

Photos: Cameron Bartlett (www.snappedbycam.com)