In the beginning, it was just Barb and a 200 square foot store.
“I laugh when I think about that first day,” says Barb Gilbert, owner and CEO of Barbara’s New Beginnings, a bra specialty boutique in Fort Wayne and Indianapolis. “On May 1st, 2000, I opened a little store at State Street and Spy Run Avenue across from North Side High School. It was exclusively a store for women who needed a breast prosthesis and/or a prosthetic bra.”
Gilbert said she was inspired to open the store after a heartbreaking experience in the hospital. She could hear a breast cancer patient crying and asking if she would ever look normal following a mastectomy.
“I just wanted to help these women. I felt so bad for them. We actually had a lot of fun during their fittings. They would often bring in cookies and I would serve coffee and we would just have very nice conversations during their visits. And I loved being able to help them with their insurance papers and take that load off their minds.”
About six months later, Gilbert decided to offer just one traditional bra from the Avani line.
“It sold like crazy and not long after, I had to hire someone to help me because I couldn’t keep up with all the orders.”
From there, the business kept growing and expanding. Gilbert eventually moved her store to its current location in the Apple Glen Shopping Center near Jefferson Pointe on Illinois Road. The store is 4,200 square feet and offers thousands of bras, swimwear, pajamas and lingerie. Gilbert also opened a small store in Zionsville in 2010 and later relocated it near the Keystone Shopping Center in Indianapolis.
“The Indianapolis store is much smaller than the Fort Wayne store, but it’s always very busy. We still offer the prosthetic fittings and bras, but only at our Fort Wayne location. And we get a lot of customers referred to us by their doctors because of issues like neck and back problems,” says Gilbert.
When she first started her business, Gilbert ran television commercials that always started with a question: Does your bra really fit?
“No!” says Barb as she chuckles. “The truth is, most people are not wearing a properly fitting bra. If you get the right size bra, it can be so comfortable, you don’t even know you’re wearing one. A lot of people buy a bigger band size in order to make the cup bigger. When that happens, the bottom of the breast will hang out underneath the bra and it pulls down on the shoulders. It’s uncomfortable and it doesn’t look right. If you come to our store, we have professional fitters who will show you what kind of bra really fits you and there’s no charge for the fitting.”
Gilbert says most people have lots and lots of bras in their drawers at home. She says if you got rid of all of those bras that may look very pretty, but do not fit right, you would save a lot of money just buying two or three bras that will fit perfectly.
“It’s an investment in yourself,” she says. “Our bras will last you a very long time if you take care of them. A bra should never be put in a washing machine or dryer. Instead, you can use a mild detergent to rinse it out in the sink and then hang it up to dry.”
After being in business all these years, Gilbert, like so many other business owners, never could have imagined having to shut down during a pandemic.
“Some days, I think it’s hard to believe this is really happening. But we have wonderful customers that I regard as my friends and I’m looking forward to seeing them again. We help customers from age 9 to 99 and we have something for everyone at a great price.”
While bras are her specialty, Gilbert says being a people person is truly the secret to her success.
“You have to love what you’re doing and it needs to make you happy,” she says. “If you’re happy, it gives you the energy to keep going and growing. I have always thought of Barbara’s New Beginnings as one of the best-kept secrets in Fort Wayne. We have a blast with our customers and we joke and laugh and just enjoy each other’s company. I am truly blessed.”
Owner(s): Barb Gilbert
Address: 4705 Illinois Road, Suite 108 Fort Wayne, Indiana 46804
Phone: (260) 432-9939
Years in Business: 20
Number of Employees: 16
Products & Services: Professional bra fitting and attire, prosthetic bras, swim wear, lounge wear and various accessories