With eight out of 10 Irish women estimated to be wearing the wrong bra size, Bridget Kearney of Belle Femme Lingerie in Kilkenny has long been on a mission to right this wrong.

So when COVID-19 meant she had to close her doors during lockdown, she brought her service online, offering “virtual” fittings to women nationwide.

Bridget – who is married to pig farmer Gerard Power and lives in Urlingford – had just had her third baby in February before the lockdown came in March.

Bridget Kearney of Belle Femme Lingerie.

“We closed our shop on 15 March. From a business point of view it was a disaster; from a family point of view it was great because I had a newborn. But it was really hard for me to come into the shop and see new stock that had just arrived the week before,” says Bridget, who stocks leading brands including Panache, Elomi, Lepel, Hotmilk maternity and ATIR shapewear, with sizes ranging from an A to a K cup and 28 to 46 (and above by order).

Bridget, however, originally trained with Lindsey Brown in the UK (one of a handful of people with a master’s research degree in bra design and manufacture) to fit a bra without using a tape measure, using the eye instead to assess how it sits on the body ie that there is no over-spill, that the strap is not riding up the back etc.

This training, she says, meant that for many years, she had already been providing “virtual” fittings for customers who were not able to travel to her shop in person because they lived too far away. When COVID-19 came, however, she decided to roll this out to the greater public.

Our customers’ security is our top priority

Customers are asked to send three photos of themselves in their current bra – one from the front, one from the side, the third from the back – along with their contact details to fittings@bellefemmelingerie.ie so that Bridget can then make her assessment.

“Our customers’ security is our top priority,” she explains. “While our site is safe and completely secure and we delete all images once orders are filled, we ask that their face is not visible in these images and that they focus on the bra area only in their photos.

“We call customers for a consultation prior to sending on the product. When they receive the bra they can try it on and let us know how it fits. If it is not right, they can send it back to us in the pre-paid envelope enclosed and we promise we will ensure they get the perfect bra.”

While Bridget admits she wasn’t sure initially if people would be interested in virtual fittings, she says that it “kept the business afloat” in a trying time.

Indeed, even though she opened her doors in June to provide “appointment only” fittings with social distancing and safety precautions in place, she continues to provide virtual consultations every Tuesday, with customers receiving pre-arranged time slots once they email in advance.


Sasha Roche Kelly of Linnoco. \ Ger Hore

Another person providing a virtual fitting service is Sasha Roche Kelly of Linnoco, a leading supplier of mastectomy bras and prostheses, based in Co Wexford.

With a background in oncology nursing, working with Wexford General Hospital for 10 years prior to retraining as a manual lymph drainage therapist, Sasha has a unique insight into the issues faced by women on the breast cancer journey.

“I can understand what it’s like to be in that room, hearing that diagnosis, right up through treatment and through into survivorship,” she says.

She believes that for a lot of women, it is daunting to shop for a bra in a non-specialised shop.

“There can be an element of fear and dread, because I think it’s hard enough to go in to a changing room and say to somebody, ‘Can you measure me?’ and then what happens if you get somebody and you think, ‘Oh gosh, I don’t think they’re going to be able to understand that I only have one breast,’” she says.

“And I think there’s also an element for ladies who think, ‘Gosh it’s only a bra, I shouldn’t be worrying about a bra, I’ve survived cancer and there’s little for me to be giving out about’.”

The Safina bra €59 is a best-seller at Linnoco.

Her best-sellers include the “Safina” and “Anita” post-masectomy bras for day-to-day comfort and support, “cami” style bras for greater coverage and T-shirt style bras that are especially popular with women who have had lumpectomies. Specialised sports bras, swimwear and compression garments are also in stock, while she also carries a full range of prostheses.

Prior to COVID-19, Sasha was operating from her shop in the Allied Hub in Wexford, as well as through breast cancer support centres throughout the south-east. Once lockdown came, however, she developed a “tool kit” with a measurement chart, diagrams, instructions and a measuring tape that clients could order free of charge to do their measurements at home, before she then followed up with a “virtual” fitting by video call or phone.

The Royce "Maisie" bra €40 is just one of the products stocked by Linnoco.

“So we’ve had uptake on that, which is great; especially for people who have had diagnosis and come out the other side of things, it can feel very lonely now at the minute,” says Sasha, who can also advise medical card holders on their entitlements to post-mastectomy underwear and prostheses, as well as process the relevant paperwork on their behalf. (Many health insurers also provide cover for these products.)

Indeed, even though she has re-opened for appointments, Sasha will continue to order her virtual service to women across Ireland for the foreseeable future, especially as many remain in the “vulnerable” category.

She believes the service is an important part of helping her clients to “restore a little bit of “themselves”.

“It’s amazing, when they do get access to services, it just changes their whole physique, their mentality, their body posture, everything,” she says.

Please remember that under Level 3 restrictions currently in place, retail outlets can remain open, but people are asked not to leave their region with the exception of those who must travel for work, education and other essential purposes. For further information, visit www.bellefemmelingerie.ie and www.linnoco.com