NAPLES — A Naples woman no longer experiences wardrobe malfunctions, bulging layers and the need to constantly readjust her top.
Michelle De Sousa solved these problems for herself three years ago with the invention of the Cleava, a snap-to-bra camisole by BraNovations, the self-created line.
Cleava is a small piece of fabric that snaps directly to the bra straps. The fabric runs across the chest giving the illusion of a layered look without the extra fabric of a camisole.
The idea, De Sousa said, grew out of wardrobe frustration.
De Sousa’s job in the construction industry required her to dress modestly.
“I wore a camisole under my dress. I had to keep readjusting it,” she said. “That was my ah-ha moment.”
The first Cleava was cut from a white “Got money?” T-shirt.
De Sousa cut out a triangle from the T-shirt and explained to her husband, J.D., that a little piece of fabric was all that was needed to cover-up without the extra layer.
J.D. Sousa said he did not believe that something like this didn’t already exist.
But, it didn’t.
After ample research, the couple failed to find a product that would solve the problem, which left the De Sousas with an opportunity to create something new and profitable.
They now work full time managing the business in Naples.
“I am really passionate about my product,” Michelle De Sousa said.
The undergarment allows women to take low cut clothing and make it appropriate for the corporate world in seconds. The De Sousas have clients who use Cleava to hide scars and “jazz up” bathing suits and prom dresses.
The panty-shaped garment comes in more than 40 colors and designs. It retails for $19.95.
Heidi Johnson, from Utah, found Cleava deserving of a positive review on thebraggingmommy.com, a website managed by mothers who review nearly 120 products a month to find “brag worthy” inventions for their readers.
“I love that you can use Cleava to completely change the look of your outfit,” said Johnson, who created thebraggingmommy.com. “It stays in place and I don’t have to adjust it at all.”
Cleava has used snaps to hold the fabric in place since the product began production in 2007. Since then, other companies have introduced similar methods using adhesives, Velcro and plastic.
The De Sousas are expecting the patent process to be complete this year and plan to address “copycat” products.
“We are ready for them,” Michelle De Sousa said.
That attitude has earned her a new nickname.
“The Cleava-nator, as I call her,” said J.D. De Sousa.
The “Cleava-nator’s” goal is to help women look good with minimal effort.
“When a woman is feeling comfortable, they are confident,” Michelle De Sousa said.
Cleava is available online at www.Cleava.com and is sold in more than 25 states. The couple encourages their customers to order from a local store rather than online. The product is sold in three local locations: Bang’s Salon, 3060 U.S. 41 N., Naples; Lux Boutique, 2355 Vanderbilt Beach Road, North Naples; and Planet Beach, 6631 Orion Drive, Fort Myers.
“We like boutiques. It is a hands on, feel and see environment for the customer,” J.D. De Sousa said.
Shoppers who interact with the De Sousas may say the same thing about how they operate their business.
The couple makes a point to deal directly and personally with their clients, even if it means answering the phone at 2 a.m. for an Australian order, which happens often.
The Home Shopping Network in Australia featured Cleava in 10 minute segments after they were discovered in a trade show. Cleava sold out in the first 24 hours it was on television, said J.D. De Sousa.
Future goals for the couple include more local ties.
“It is our passion to be able to make this in the U.S.,” Michelle De Sousa said of her product, which is currently manufactured in China. They think manufacturing in Immokalee would be ideal.
The entrepreneurs promise that Cleava is just the beginning for the BraNovations line.
“We are now ready to move up. We are ready to tell the world,” J.D. De Sousa said. “Cleava has been proven and tested. We know it is good to go.”