Although Elaine Cato was the runner-up in last year's ABC reality series “American Inventor 2,” she ended up an even bigger winner, landing a partnership with Maidenform and bringing her “Breakthrough Backless Bra” to stores earlier this month.
We caught up with Elaine via email to learn about her deal with the intimate apparel company and how she’s handling her newly found success, years in the making...
I was flipping channels when I ran across ABC's "American Inventor 2" and saw you were a contestant on the show. I thought your "6-1" bra was a brilliant idea because I can't tell you the countless times I wanted to wear a cute backless or low back top during the summer, but couldn't find a bra and those adhesive bra cups didn't work. Tell us a bit about how your bra design came about.
“Thank you so much! It’s so funny that you gave your scenario because so many women have the same problem; including myself. The idea for my bra was conceived to meet a personal need. After my pregnancies, my bra size changed and I needed a bra that would lift my breast with support and comfort. It took quite some time, but with persistence I came up with a design that worked and I could wear with my backless attire.”
What prompted you to sign up for the reality series versus using a more traditional vehicle to get your bra noticed?
“I never thought that I would be selected as a finalist because there were almost 2,000 people auditioning with me. The reality series was a true Blessing. Over the years, I tried everything I knew to try. However, my knowledge was not extensive enough in the industry to be successful. After the creation and patent (which I’m proud to say I wrote myself), everything was pretty stagnated. When I heard about American Inventor, my excitement hit the roof. The exposure alone was worth more (than) anything I had accomplished over the years.”
Through your appearance, you were able to land a licensing deal with Maidenform. As a designer, how has that partnership been?
“I was very fortunate because American Inventor contacted Maidenform to introduce my invention and Maidenform was intrigued and saw great potential. Our relationship has been so grand. I am involved with nearly every aspect of the construction of the bra as well as sales and marketing. I have learned so much. It is truly amazing all that goes into the whole process of taking an idea to market.”
The "Breakthrough Backless Bra" was made available through retailers and online earlier this month. Maidenform must be doing an extensive marketing campaign because I've already seen several online banner ads touting the bra. What's the early buzz from consumers?
“The reception of the Breakthrough Backless Bra has been off the charts. Before we even went to market we had over 1,300 pre-orders online and that’s outstanding. Personally, the way women have embraced this specialty backless bra is so gratifying. I knew that it was something special to me but I had no idea that others would find it to be something of value to them. I am so happy that Maidenform has incorporated me into the marketing and advertisement. It has kept me very busy with wonderful opportunities to travel to places I’ve not been, like abroad to London for market week. That was fun!”
So what's next for you as an entrepreneur?
“My mind is spinning. I have so many ideas and hopefully I can continue a strong and long relationship with Maidenform. They have been so great to work with. So stay tuned and I hope to surprise you.”
What advice do you have for others who dream about bringing their own designs or ideas to the marketplace?
“It’s so important to stay true to your dreams. Other people will not always share your enthusiasm or understand your passion. It takes time, money, effort, persistence and sometimes many years for an overnight success!”