A Conversation With Margaux Elliott, Product Designer And Founder of Lume Six
On making a better sports bra, funding her startup business, and climbing one million feet on a mountain bike
Margaux Elliott is the founder of Lume Six, an emerging sports bra brand raising the bar when it comes to sizing and materials. She officially launched the company in October 2021 but has been working on designs since 2018. Margaux has more than a decade of experience developing technical and performance apparel for cycling and snow brands like Giro, Pearl Izumi, and Sessions. She’s also an accomplished cyclist who in 2020 became the first woman to climb a million feet on a mountain bike.
As part of my job as a gear writer, I’ve tested Lume Six bras. Consider this my endorsement. I love that you can choose a band size that’s different from your chest size for a fully customized fit. I was stoked when she said yes to an interview. In this feature, Margaux shared about painful sports bra experiences from her past that led her to start Lume Six, the steps along her journey that set her up for success, her views on funding her startup, and how creativity manifests in her life.
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What’s your craft?
My craft is creating technical and performance apparel, from picking fabrics to fitting garments to coming up with new ideas. I'm allowing myself to be more innovative and have been fostering that over the last few years. I'm a play-it-safe person. I usually like small, incremental changes. When I look back, there have been steps throughout my life that have led me to this point of starting Lume Six. It feels like everything I've done has put me in a position where this is what I'm meant to be doing.
What were some of those steps?
Growing up, my dad was pretty outdoorsy and my mom was an artist. Where my dad took us outside to go hiking and camping, she was taking us to museums to see exhibits. My dad is an engineer and my mom is a writer, so I have this mix of creativity. They were really supportive when I bounced around between hobbies. I was into soccer, basketball, ice skating, playing the harp, then water polo. At the time I was like, do I not have focus? Am I just dancing around and can't make up my mind? But it was really nice to switch it up because I felt like whatever my passion was, I could just change my mind.
In high school, I went through transitions of being very focused on academics to wanting to commit more fully to sports. For a time, I was considering pursuing water polo into the collegiate level. The water polo coach told me, “Well, you can't do both. You can't be an international baccalaureate and do water polo.” I think hearing that made me rebel against both. I became much more interested in my social relationships. When it came to college, I was deciding between Cornell for hospitality administration and the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) in New York City for fashion merchandising, which I applied for on a whim. This is somewhat embarrassing to say, but I also totally want to own it. I saw The Devil Wears Prada. It wasn't a movie where I felt like I wanted to be there. It was a movie where I became super fascinated with people's perception of each other solely based on what they were wearing and how confidence, attitude, and mood could change depending on clothes. I ended up at FIT. When I got there as this outdoorsy girl from California and saw the reality of high fashion, I realized it wasn't for me. But on a snowboarding trip with my dad I had this pair of red plaid Burton pants that I was obsessed with. I had this moment on the lift where I was like, oh, I can combine combine fashion with my love for outdoor sports.
At my first job at Sessions, a very small snowboarding brand, they gave me a lot of responsibility, and I got to do a little bit of everything. That’s where I learned the small business mentality. After that, I went to Pearl Izumi, which is more of an old-school technical apparel brand. I dove deep on development, materials, and fit for cycling, running, and mountain biking. Now I’m at Giro, where I’ve learned the importance of design and innovation. All of those combined experiences really brought me to where I am now, and each had a unique influence on what I’m doing today with Lume Six.
Available Lume Six sports bras on the market: the medium impact Alta and the high impact Cirra. Both come in a variety of sizes. Margaux is currently working on extending the sizing options to 3X and adding more band/chest proportions.
What made you want to start Lume Six?
Going as far back as high school, I was doubling up on sports bras and then unable to breathe at the gym. I had this one bra that I would wear every day. But my rib cage would hurt from the band being too tight, even though it was really supportive elsewhere. I was sore for hours after I would take it off. I was getting terrible knots in my shoulders and I was feeling the tension of the strap going over my shoulder. Even my unpadded bra for mountain biking left a red mark from the rubbing. No doctor told me, but I was like, this is a problem. I kept looking for solutions from brands that were supposed to be experts, and they all sucked. Every woman I talk to hates her sports bra because it's heavy, never dries, doesn't support enough, doesn't fit right. I was never interested in starting a company if it was just going to be more of the same. But this idea came from thinking that women deserve so much better. Because of my technical apparel expertise and personal experience, I realized I was perfectly positioned to create a better sports bra.
What goes into making a bra and configuring sizing?
For lack of a better term, the ingredients are so important. I was watching Chef's Table on Netflix and the chef said, “You cannot make good food without good ingredients.” And I was like, yes, exactly. You can't make a good sports bra with shitty materials. I feel like that's where every other brand is getting it wrong. I understand why they’re stuck in their ways. They have margin expectations to meet, which is not conducive to innovation and advancing product. But I think the most interesting thing brands are doing is working with the University of Portsmouth’s breast health department. The focus on breast health is such a great development within sports bras. However, I have tried bras that I just hated, even though they’ve been given the mark of approval. Breast health is super important, but it's only one aspect of it. You may be forgetting about user comfort and the daily needs of a product. Having said that, I would love to work with them and see where my sports bras rank.
I also think it's really hard to make the best possible thing for everyone. There's such different breast tissue composition and body shape from person to person. Realistically, I know that Lume Six won't work for everybody. But a mentor at Giro once told me, “If it's something you want, there's a good chance there's a bunch of other people out there who want it.” I always go back to that advice.
Exciting news for Lume Six: Margaux was recently accepted into the Moosejaw Outdoor Accelerator program to grow her company.
With a full-time job at Giro, what does it look like to work on the side? How do you make time?
During the development phase of Lume Six, life was pretty normal. I was waiting on samples, testing them, making adjustments. That's all stuff I do in my daily job. But a lot of heart and soul was going into it. I'd have a weekend or two where I was spending a lot of time testing and getting opinions. Then I'd have time when I was waiting on an updated sample or debating what to do. I had two-month-long internal debate about adjustability of straps and bands before deciding what to do.
Now that I have launched, it has been much more intense. I see Lume Six as my future because I believe it can make women's lives in sports so much better. I'm putting everything I have into it, and that takes time. Sometimes I'm waking up at five in the morning so I can work on Lume Six before I do Giro work. I spend all day every Sunday working on the brand from sunup to way past sundown. Without a following to start with, I’m spending a lot of time getting people engaged and positioning the company as an outdoor-focused brand. It's really hard to balance all that and also have friends and foster my relationship with my partner, Evan. Luckily, he's super understanding because he’s launching his own bike brand.
How are you funding Lume Six, and what have you learned about money through starting your own business?
Well, first of all, you need more of it. We're really fortunate that we bought our house in Santa Cruz seven years ago. Housing values have skyrocketed here. When I started this project, I had no idea how I was going to fund production, but I believed I would figure it out at some point. I figured I would go to the bank to get a loan. As it turned out, it made sense to refinance the house. Between our companies, we pretty much pulled out the max we could. I took what I thought I needed and he has what he thinks he needs. It’s risky, but we're both so confident in our products. I believe in this so much that there's no question in my mind that I would do that. That's how I funded the first run of inventory. Now, that money is totally gone. I have some sales, but it's hard starting a brand and getting traction when nobody knows about you. Sales aren't funding everything at this point, so I use my savings and whatever I can throw at it to pay the monthly fees.
Living so close to Silicon Valley, we know so many people wrapped up in venture capitalists and startup funding. It can be great for certain people, but I feel strongly about not having a lot of influence determining where this brand goes. I want to keep as much control as I can, and I don't want to take money to achieve something in the short term. Maybe I’ll have a little bit of help from a business loan or a line of credit at some point. But isn't the point of a business to be profitable and fund itself? Not, how much money can we raise as fast as we possibly can so we can be as successful as fast as possible? I'd rather hustle and find a way to make it work. Maybe it's a little slower and more deliberate, but I'd rather do that than take the more rushed approach.
How have we not yet talked about the fact that you climbed one million feet on a mountain bike?! What were some takeaways from that accomplishment?
There are two things that I took as the biggest learnings from that experience. One is goal setting. Before I did it, there was no reason for anyone to believe that I could do it, aside from Evan who blindly supported me 100 percent. But if I had told anyone else in the beginning, they would have been like, “Yeah, but you probably can't do that.” The power of setting a huge goal and turning it into bite-sized pieces to achieve it is something I'll take with me forever. The second thing is the level of confidence I gained after and during the journey of achieving that. I've always been really self-conscious about my riding because I'm a bigger girl and I go slow up hills. By committing to a climbing-oriented goal—which isn’t where I excel; I'm more of a descender—it gave me a huge boost of confidence. I was able stop caring about how fast other people were going or what they might be thinking about me.
How does creativity manifest in your life and flow through you?
These days, I think the most and the deepest when I'm on my own either mountain biking or going for a walk. That's when I really allow myself to open up my mind. Which makes sense, right? Because we're all so busy with our phones and our computers. It's really hard to think conceptually when you're just trying to get things done. Evan is inspiring to me because he is so creative and knowledgeable about bike kinematics and mechanical engineering. Like we were talking about earlier, I’ve never been the person who could fully commit to one sport or hobby. But he's been so committed to bikes his whole life and the knowledge around that. I internalize a lot of my thought processes, whereas Evan is the opposite. Every hour or so he'll come in and tell me about the suspension changes he’s making. I think his dialogue and detailed thought process has really changed how I think about product.
As far as creativity goes, I've never seen myself as particularly creative. Maybe now that I'm getting older, I can see how creativity kind of swats its way into my pragmatism. I always thought of myself as being more like my dad, the engineer. But now I can see my mom’s creative influences in myself. A good way to put it is that I'm a much more practical person yet the medium that I apply that to is a more creative medium. Because it’s a physical product, I get to play a little bit more than I would if I were in a different industry. That's what I love about it. I think my creativity comes out when I have a problem to solve.
Before you go…
Plan: Steps to setting and achieving goals and resolutions (Lume Six)
Listen: Why We People Please (The Writer’s Co-op)
Support: A women-led brand making better hiking pants (SheFly)
Read: A Kansas City chocolatier starts her own biz (my story in Startland News)
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