For the millions of women who give birth every year, a nursing bra is an essential part of feeding their child. But even though it’s considered a FSA/HSA eligible medical garment for women who breastfeed, many nursing bras currently on the market are inefficient, bulky, and not leakproof, making it difficult for mothers to feed their babies, while also being uncomfortable to wear. Dayton startup Lunnie is working to revolutionize the postpartum industry for moms by moms, with nursing bras that are functional and leakproof.
“I’m a mom, and I have three young girls under the age of five,” Founder Sarah Kallile said. “I came up with this idea from my own frustrations with breastfeeding in January of 2021. The pandemic was raging on, and I felt really isolated as a stay-at-home mom to a toddler and a little baby. I kept asking my friends who were also moms what nursing bras they wore, what brands they used, and I kept hearing the same things — that they didn’t like their nursing bra. I worked in marketing at tech startups for almost a decade, so I decided to collect more data to see if this was a collective problem.”
Kallile created a google survey and sent it to fellow mothers in her community to gauge their opinions on their postpartum nursing bras. Within days she received over 300 responses, 84 percent of which showed that the mothers surveyed were unsatisfied with their nursing bra. Kallile calls this her “lightbulb moment.”
“I found out how universal of a problem this is,” she said. “I wasn’t even aware of what a nursing bra was before I became a mom, but if you’re breastfeeding, depending on how long you nurse your baby or how many kids you have, you could wear this garment on your body 24/7 for years. For 84 percent of mothers not to like their postpartum garment was something I decided I needed to do something about.”
The lightbulb moment sparked by that feedback became the foundation of Lunnie, which touts itself as a community-led brand. Throughout the product development process, from the first prototype to the two currently pending patents, Kallile has cultivated a diverse community of mothers who are not only Lunnie’s product testers and customers, but also “brand evangelists” who are invested in improving postpartum products.
“I set out to design something functional and aesthetic because I had this fiery response early on from moms, and I wanted to include them in the product development,” Kallile said. “Now, this community of 300 has grown to thousands of moms called the Lunnie Hive. Every step of the way they were trying and testing my nursing bra to give me feedback through six prototypes to make it better and better.”
But the Lunnie Hive isn’t the only community that has helped Kallile build the company. Resources and support from the startup scene in Dayton have been crucial for Lunnie. After connecting with The Entrepreneurs’ Center, a partner of the Ohio Third Frontier, Kallile was paired with an entrepreneur in residence who helped connect her with funding and pitching opportunities.
“I’ve been very fortunate to receive a lot of support from the Dayton community,” she said. “I was paired with Katie Hill, a fellow mom and two-time startup founder, through The Entrepreneurs’ Center. She has been an amazing advocate and she immediately resonated with this idea. I’ve also had great opportunities with the University of Dayton Flyer Pitch Competition, which I won in 2022, and recently I won the Soin Award for Innovation through the Dayton Chamber of Commerce. I’ve been very fortunate to be able to run this business through creative grants and bootstrapping here in Dayton.”
The startup is moving into its next phase, transitioning from small-batch to larger manufacturing and bringing on new talent that will help scale the business, with the ultimate goal of expanding even further into both the retail and health care spaces. For Kallile, that means getting Lunnie’s products directly into the hands of women who need it most.
“We’re bringing in experts who know all areas of the business,” she said. “I’ve brought in a chief product officer with an amazing manufacturing background and three great advisors, all women who have experience in direct-to-consumer e-commerce markets. I envision that we’ll be able to grow and scale this business to meet demand through creative sales channels, including in hospitals and health systems so we can get the product to women during the first moments they need it.”