Sheila Holdsworth

The founder of the online bra store Know Knockers talks about finding a 'small' in the market

Running a part-time business while juggling a career as a musician is no mean feat, but one which Sheila Holdsworth has taken on with gusto., the online bra shop for the smaller busted lady she founded in 2004, still plays second fiddle to her career as a freelance viola player.

“The amount of time I spend on the business depends on how much playing work I have coming in,” she explains. “Some months I’ll spend an awful lot of time on the website because I only have six gigs.

“The music business is so fickle and not easy to get on in. I was tired of accepting gigs I didn’t want to do, so the business was really a way of giving myself some choices.”

Holdsworth runs the website from London while her mum does all the ‘wrapping and packing’ from a bedroom in Cambridge, along with her aunt who takes care of the books.

She started the business with a fellow musician who was eventually bought out, amicably Holdsworth insists, by her mother and aunt. “We wanted different things out of the venture,” she explains. “I saw it as a long-term thing, whereas she wanted more of a quick profit out of it.”

The original idea for Know Knockers came to Holdsworth while listening to a radio interview with Sally Robinson, founder of Ample Bosom.

“She set up her business because she had trouble finding big enough bras. Being quite small myself I thought, ‘I have the opposite problem!'” She explains that while small cup-sized bras are common, they often only come in small back sizes, unsuitable for a lot of smaller busted ladies who are average size everywhere else.

Holdsworth started doing some internet research but couldn’t find anyone who stocked a good range of small cup / large back solutions. “We do actually have three competitors,” she admits. “But they must have been well hidden at the time because I didn’t find them.”

A whole year was spent on the business plan, but Holdsworth says it was time well spent. As well as a solid platform to build the business it also earned her a visit to Number 10.

Reading a magazine on the way to a gig, Holdsworth saw a competition entitled Tycoon Idol. Six weeks into trading Holdsworth and her partner were invited to Downing Street, where she had the opportunity to ask Mr Blair if his wife was in need of the website’s services. “He laughed his head off and said he’d have to check,” she recalls.

As impressed as the PM was with the business plan however, it wasn’t enough to iron out all the creases involved in starting up. “We made a few mistakes in the beginning – ordering too little of one thing, and too many items of a particular size – but we just didn’t know any better at that stage. It’s still an ongoing learning process.”

During the first month of trading, the site only received one order. It then hovered around the seven or eight mark for a couple of months before gradually growing to a steady stream of two to three orders a day, which it currently stands at. The business is on course for a turnover of £40,000 this year.

Currently spending 20-30 hours a week on the site while working around gigs, Holdsworth says she’s constantly knackered but wouldn’t give it up for the world.

“As freelance musicians we manage ourselves, but I’ve got no business background, yet taken my tiny little idea, and watched it grow. I’m hoping we can get close to Bravissimo’s success and I don’t see what there is to stop us.”


(will not be published)