From banking to bras: Elles Roeleveld’s journey of starting her own business after THNK

Madlen Popignatova 17
Article by: Sophie Poulsen
From banking to bras: Elles Roeleveld’s journey of starting her own business after THNK

At 13, THNK participant Elles Roeleveld knew she wanted to start a lingerie business. With an entrepreneur father and a mother who worked in a lingerie store, it was the perfect formula.


"My parents suggested I go to university and get a good education. I took that route and before I knew it, I had been at ING for 10 years, which I truly enjoyed. At the same time, I never forgot my dream of starting a business," she says.


When Elles joined the THNK Executive Leadership Program, she had been working at ING for 10 years. After completing the program, she left ING to start her own business.


"I was always so busy running towards the next goal and at THNK, I had to slow down and think about important questions like, 'Who are you?' and 'How do you want to be remembered?' I recognized that my life was out of balance. Work was always priority number one," she says. "When you are in a group of 30 people, you just cannot pretend."

Facing the music

On why she decided to join THNK, Elles says, “It had a lot of everything. It had different dimensions and a combination of creatives, corporates, and NGOs, all together. That triggered me because I was in the banking scene with lots of like-minded people so I really wanted to look beyond my own bubble.”

While THNK turned out to be an eye-opening experience for Elles, she also remembers some uncomfortable experiences: “Theater Day really got to me. It was just awful. For the whole day, we had to work closely together in a small group, creating something under pressure. There wasn’t an escape. I had to direct a play and it totally didn’t work.” She also remembers an exercise during her class’ introduction weekend, during which her classmates provided her with feedback: “I got some nice feedback but I also got people who wrote down ‘fake. Not herself.’ I was shocked, but at the same time, I felt seen.”

It was throughout these tough experiences and conversations that Elles would make new discoveries – about herself, her dream, her work. “It felt like a puzzle,” she explains, going through the whole Sensing phase. “THNK helped me in that period to really trust the process. I needed that time to go beyond the obvious.”

Between modules 3 and 4, Elles’ partner told her it was time to leave ING. Elles was hesitant: “Quitting my job really impacts my family. I have two small children. We had a really nice, safe life. Quitting my job would mean no income. Is it really necessary to follow my dream? Why should I leave an environment that gives so many opportunities to its employees? Is the grass really greener on the other side? My partner had watched me throughout the THNK program and afterward he said, ‘it’s time to pull the trigger.’ When we go through the THNK program, I think our partners can see things happening with us that we might not see ourselves.”

starting your own business
Is it really necessary to follow your dream? Is the grass really greener on the other side? #creativeleadership #entrepreneur #business #startup #leadershipdevelopment #purpose #dreams #resilience Click To Tweet

New beginnings

In January 2019, Elles left ING, armed and ready with tools she learned at THNK, to start her lingerie business. She spoke to hundreds of people – trend-watchers, industry experts, fellow THNKers – and traveled to different countries to visit other businesses, production facilities, textile and garment technology exhibitions, learning as much as she could and searching for funding, research labs, and accelerators. “Every time I spoke to someone, I asked them to recommend three more people I could speak to,” she says. “I made mind maps and explored different techniques and strategies.”

Out of 120 startups, Elles’ startup was selected for Climate-KIC’s accelerator, getting access to a startup coach, peer coaching, expert sessions, and an EU grant. A few months later, her company was selected as one of the top five companies moving forward to stage two.

Elles is still building her company, Soft Revolt, creating the “bra of tomorrow,” sustainable lingerie that is “soft to the skin, soft to nature, soft to us.” She is using 3D knit technology – something no other lingerie company is doing – to create a product in one piece, leading to minimized transportation and zero waste production. Ultimately, she wants to empower women with supportive, sustainable intimates.

starting your own business
'If there is one thing I take away from THNK, it’s to trust the process. If you want to go fast, you need to go slow.' – #THNKer Elles on her THNK experience. #creativeleadership #entrepreneur #business #startup #leadershipdevelopment Click To Tweet

Slow is the new fast

So, what did everyone think when she announced she was leaving ING to follow her dream of starting a lingerie company? “A lot of people were really proud,” Elles says. “They felt it coming. When the word got out at ING, I had a lot of conversations with people who also wanted to start their own business. We talked about our passions and dreams. Of course, a few people were skeptical, saying that I’d be done in three months, but it didn’t bother me because I also wasn’t sure myself.

If there is one thing I take away from THNK, it’s to trust the process. One of my classmates said, ‘If you want to go fast, you need to go slow,’ and that has stayed with me along this whole journey. I need to take the time. At THNK, we started every morning with Andra, doing exercises that make you feel completely present. This really helped me to slow down and think about my direction. When I take this time in the morning, my whole day becomes more fulfilling.”

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Soft Revolt will soft launch at the end of August! Subscribe to their mailing list and follow them on Instagram to stay tuned.

To discover the tools and mindsets needed to start your own business, join the THNK Executive Leadership Program.