Bluebella is a British lingerie company founded in 2005 by entrepreneur Emily Bendell. The business – which additionally sells in the US, Australia, France and Italy – has won a number of corporate awards.
Early investors included James Averdieck, founder of luxury chocolate pudding brand Gü, as well as the investor network Incito Ventures and the South East Seed Fund. Bluebella was the first company to get funds from the London-based female investor club Addidi Business Angels.
The business has experienced rapid growth – recording a one hundred percent increase every 12 months between 2007 and 2010.
As a politics, philosophy and economics student at Oxford University, Bendell took a summer job at a High Street lingerie store. She has said that the idea for Bluebella began to form as a result of that experience. She additionally cites the huge popularity of the TV series Sex & The City as a key inspiration. After graduating, however, she started a career in journalism. In 2004, she left her job as the editor of a legal and business journal and began working on the Bluebella concept.
In a radio interview, Bendell explained the philosophy behind Bluebella, saying: “I thought women had evolved beyond the seaside postcard idea of sexiness. My concept was to take high-end sensual products that you might normally buy from posh boutiques in London and make them more accessible.”
Bendell road-tested her idea for six months, doing parties for friends and family members. She told Jazz FM’s Elliot Moss: “It was just me in my bedroom initially. I’d go out and do the orders, then I’d do all the packing and, if someone called, I’d answer the phones too.”
By 2008, Bluebella had 100 agents operating across the UK, from Aberdeen to Southampton.
In February 2014, the luxury department store Selfridges announced that it too was selling Bluebella lingerie.
Fifty Shades of Grey
In 2013, Bluebella won the official licence for UK and Ireland to produce a Fifty Shades of Grey themed lingerie range based around the series of EL James novels after Bendell personally pitched the company’s range to the author. She has said: “Fifty Shades has created, or perhaps reflected, a fundamental shift in women’s attitudes to sex and sensuality.” Several items were sold over Christmas 2013. The full range is due to be launched in 2014.
Ann Widdecombe Controversy
In March 2011, Bluebella won the Small Business Of The Year Award at the East Midlands Women Of Worth Awards. Notwithstanding at the prize ceremony, which was held at the East Midlands Conference Centre throughout the annual Women in Business Conference, former Tory MP Ann Widdecombe refused to give the award to Bendell after watching a short film about the company. Widdecombe, additionally a former Strictly Come Dancing contestant, instead handed the award to another judge, Penny Mallory, to present. “It was clear that she didn’t know the nature of the business before she saw the film,” Bendell told The Daily Mail.
Bendell has been invited to receptions at both Buckingham Palace and No10 Downing Street as a result of her high profile as a young entrepreneur. In 2012, she became one of a dozen ambassadors for the government’s newly formed Start Up Loans company, which provided mentor-supported loans to young people looking to start their own businesses. The scheme, which additionally involved Dragon's Den star James Caan, was promoted by Bendell alongside additional young entrepreneurs such as James Eder (The Beans Group) and Romy Lewis (Lola's Kitchen).