One of the most frequent questions I get asked is "how do I start a lingerie brand" and although it will be different for everyone, I can tell you how I started mine.
* though beware it's a bit of a long post (the five things you need to know are at the end if you haven't time to read the full post).
Before I started Vanjo, I had sold all of my previous furniture and car etc and had bought a one way ticket to Thailand (where i ended up designing swimwear for a company) I spent just over a year travelling, and not ready to yet go back home I ended up in Belfast. I knew I wanted to stay put in one place for awhile and start my own brand of lingerie. I had drafted out a rough idea in the airport (basically I was sick of taking my bra off for long flights as it was so uncomfortable) and I knew I wanted to launch a soft bra into the big boobed, small back category of the world of lingerie. It was 2004 and at the time there wasn't much available in the way of sizes such as a 28FF and near to nothing in soft bra sizes - they were all small, medium or large.
So only arriving with one bag and no job, it spurred me on that I could set up my label, as I had nothing to loose. I gained work part time in a shop so I didn't have the added pressure of making money, and by then I was use to not buying much when travelling; that the little amount that I was earning covered rent and food and that was pretty much it.
So after about 8 months, I had gotten all fits and the style of my brand that I wanted. I had sourced a UK manufacturer, and my friend from uni had set up her own business providing digital grading so I outsourced the grading of the bras whilst I graded the briefs. My original plan was to get a range made up then sell it.
About six months before I was going to launch the UK manufacturer went bust, I should have had my doubts, as I'd kept on ringing them for the sampling to be made and was fobbed off with excuses why it wasn't made. Also the factory had changed it's name a couple of times so it had gone bust before.
This made be re-evaluate everything, as I felt even though I had committed to design and launch my label, I felt I hadn't fully committed. I still had the mind set that I could travel again if it didn't pan out. And to be honest at that time I didn't even have a plan. I'd even tinkered with designing T-shirts and Jewellery at this stage as well.
I had run out of money and felt a bit lost what to do next. My sewing was not at a level where I could make it myself, and I didn't want to just be working in a shop anymore not designing.
I decided I would give myself a year, I wrote a business plan, I went to Invest NI for help with writing one (and I also received a £750 grant), and then approached Princes Trust with this new business plan for a loan.
By gaining £3,600 from them I had a responsibility to launch my label and pay it back.
Within that year, my skills in sewing increased, I learnt why stitches skipped, and simple things about tensions of the thread. I sorted out my USP, I had a vision for how I wanted the brand to look and stuck to it., not flitting from one idea to the next.
What I bought
Buying fabric with the trims were one of the first things I did, I sourced places that cleared out warehouses of factories and brands that didn't want the fabrics that were left, so I could provided a sustainable lingerie brand.
Next came the patterns, I launched with two styles of briefs, one style of a thong shape, one style of an underwire bra and one style of a soft bra. Prints were a main part of my brand so I contacted the fabric supplier in Liberty and asked for swatches to be sent of all the fabric they had in stock that were end of roll samples.