Loren Heller and Hillary Cullum searched just about everywhere for the perfect fabric. It needed to have just the right amount of flexibility but maintain a high-quality feel. There were instances when the long-time best friends got close but they were still so far.
“There were moments in the fabric exploratory process where, like, we really wanted to love something, and we kind of would look at each other, and the other one would maybe be afraid to tell the other one that it still wasn’t right,” Heller said. “Like, ‘God, I want it to be, but it’s still terrible.’”
But what came of that exploratory process, which was difficult because of their fabric standards and COVID-19, was two types of maternity leggings meant to fill the gap in leggings for pregnant women.
Now, the two have devoted their new clothing line, Berkley Clothing, to empowering women to feel beautiful, confident and comfortable during and after pregnancy.
“I think so many pregnant women, as their bodies are changing, they just feel so outside of their bodies and just not comfortable in their own skin,” Heller said. “And we want to give that back to them by providing them with something that when they put it on, they just go like, ‘Thank, God. This is what I would wear even if I wasn’t pregnant.’”
From Luxury Clothing Store to Small Business Owners
Heller and Cullum met over 15 years ago while working at the Neiman Marcus store in Denver. They both had dreams of moving up in the fashion industry, and that’s exactly what they did. Both applied and got into Neiman Marcus’ executive development program and moved to Dallas together.
But Heller and Cullum never expected to create a clothing line together, let alone a maternity line. It wasn’t until Heller was pregnant in 2016 with her daughter that she realized something was missing from the maternity market.
Heller told Cullum about this struggle, and their idea for Berkley Clothing was brought to life in December with the launch of their Dallas-based business.
“To put it bluntly, high-quality, functional and luxurious activewear for pregnancy really didn’t exist,” Heller said. “I ended up kind of resorting to what a lot of pregnant women do, which is buy something that was two sizes too big. That didn’t work, didn’t look good and certainly wasn’t flattering and didn’t make me feel good about myself.”
The Gap in the Maternity Market
Cullum and Heller’s vision was to create maternity leggings that were soft and comfortable with functional performance qualities, such as wicking. And they wanted the leggings to be high-quality — similar to the quality of Athleta or Lululemon leggings — but also versatile enough for work outs or lounging. They also searched for fabric that would last throughout the pregnancy period and afterward.
But finding a fabric that met these criteria did not prove to be an easy task.
After sorting through hundreds of fabrics, they finally found their fit. They created their two signature styles — the Janey Over-Belly Legging and the Cindy High-Waisted Legging.
The Janey Over-Belly Legging is similar to the “classic maternity legging,” which has a full panel of fabric over the stomach, Cullum said. The built in panel adds supports but maintains flexibility.
But the Cindy High-Waisted Legging brings something new to the maternity market. The idea for this style of maternity legging was born from Heller’s pregnancy. She didn’t find over-belly panel maternity leggings comfortable for her body. Because of that, the Cindy legging doesn’t cover the belly fully. They designed it with elastic inset panels to stretch as the baby grows and snap back postpartum.
“You should have access to the same quality and functionality of [leggings] during one of the most important times of your life,” Cullum said. “You’re growing a life, and your body is changing, and it’s difficult.”
Heller and Cullum named the legging styles after their moms. And the name of the store, Berkley Clothing, comes from Heller’s mom’s first name.
“Everything about Berkley and everything that we do here is centered around empowering women,” Heller said. “Whether it’s making them feel comfortable, confident, giving them a product that not only suits this time in their lives but also makes them feel really good about themselves. In that vein, the name of our company and our products are all named after important women in our lives.”
The COVID-19 Setback
But like all businesses, big and small, COVID-19 proved challenging as Heller and Cullum worked to launch their maternity line. Had the COVID-19 pandemic not happened, Heller said they would’ve probably been able to launch their leggings earlier in 2020.
However, because their production is based in Los Angeles, which had strict COVID-19 shutdown measures, this proved to be impossible. They were delayed about six months, Heller said.
The shut down meant fittings for their leggings were done virtually, which, as one can imagine, was not easy. The fittings consisted of FedExing samples back and forth to Los Angeles and showing the leggings over Zoom.
“And when I say shut down, I mean, we went weeks and weeks without any progress being made,” Heller said. “It was also incredibly discouraging and frustrating that there were things that theoretically we could have done perfectly well virtually that we just couldn’t because of the uncertainty of the world, and the fact that there were things shut down with no opening in sight.”
All things considered, though, Heller said it could’ve been worse. At least they hadn’t launched the company yet, and they didn’t have to worry about selling their product during a pandemic.
The Future of Berkley Clothing
Despite it all, Heller and Cullum launched their online, Dallas-based maternity line in December 2020 and haven’t looked back since. While they started out with two types of leggings, they are currently working on expanding their line. Heller and Cullum are also always looking at new fabrics, colors and prints for their leggings.
“We’re working on developing a top as we speak and hope to take that to market as soon as it’s ready, sometime hopefully in the not too far distant future,” Heller said.
So far, customer feedback has been great, Cullum said. Sales are about 50/50 for each legging type — a testament that each pregnant woman has a different preference like Heller.
“We’re really excited for the opportunity to be able to bring high-quality products to pregnant women and hope to continue to be able to grow,” Cullum said. “And we’re just really excited about it and to see where this takes us.”
But even as their maternity line flourishes, they still find themselves learning something new every day.
“Being new business owners, I think we always sort of laugh and say to each other, like every day we learn something that we didn’t know the day before,” Heller said. “That journey to raising brand awareness and getting the word out about who we are has definitely been a priority for us and something that we are learning more about each and every day.”