Van Journal: Buying Fabrics and your customer

One of my favourite parts of designing - the buying of the fabrics and trims. The easiest part to get carried away, the hardest part of being selective for your customer base, and the easiest part of letting you mind wander and having so many ideas.

 buying fabrics for Vanjo

buying fabrics for Vanjo

Sometimes buying fabrics though can be the hardest part, when you realise that in your basket are fabrics that clash (not in a good way) and you know that you won't be able to made a collection out of them. It's liking going food shopping and only buying snacks, great at the time but later you realise you have nothing that goes together.

So with my basket full of pink tulle and yellow cotton jersey with a graffiti print on it, it was a quick look at my Pinterest board to see my defined customer then I could begin to edit.

if you haven't started a Pinterest board I would truly recommend one. I have a private one set up as well as my public ones which I pin images to that represent my brand and my ideal customer. For some of you what you buy will be easy, but for me, since I freelance for other companies as well, I'm not often submerged into my own range for long, so can find myself pulled in different directions. Anyway back to what's on my brand Pinterest board, rarely is it lingerie, I find images of what others have designed a distraction to what I'm trying to design. So it's mainly full of what I think my ideal customer would buy and go in other areas of her life, it's also got fabric ideas on too.

 Buying fabric and recording them

Buying fabric and recording them

I find that as you do over the weeks, when you look back even if you hadn't pinned in pattern or with an idea, one starts to emerge.

With my ideas and shapes of lingerie drafted out (but who knows they might all change when I've sampled them up). buying fabric is my next step. 

With Vanjo I'm still aiming to source as much ethical fabric as before, so this means supporting  UK suppliers, and buying reclaimed fabrics and trims. My first haul of fabrics and trims were from Sewing Chest - with a couple emails back and forth to confirm where items had been sourced from my package arrived, and it was great to start designing new shapes. Before anything got made, I noted down codes of the lingerie and prices in case I needed to buy it again and for when I costed it. I would so recommend doing this, otherwise you're looking back and forth for information. In the designs packs there is a sheet for this if you don't want to draft out your own.

Cup of the bra

So since receiving the fabrics and trims, I have been busy sewing, aiming to get everything fitted and signed off soon, so can then plan the full range properly.

 

Do I need to take a contour fashion course to become a lingerie designer?

"Do I need to take a contour fashion course to become a lingerie designer?" Is another question I get asked a lot.

And nope you do not.

That's not to say to give up on going, what a university degree does though is give you structure, a timely manner in which you have to complete your work, it gives to chance to get feedback on your work - although depending on whether you are producing something commercial or experimental the feedback may not be inline with your vision.  I did attend a university to study contour fashion so went the pretty normal route and got a junior job in a design studio in a UK manufacturer, I also did work experience, it all depends on what you are wanting to do with the degree as I remember many people who didn't follow the deign route after the fashion course.

 I was straight out of my 'A' levels when I went and used the time to explore how different fabrics worked in fashion,  I got a really bad mark for hand knotting a body suit whilst a girl just used the patterns available in lace and got a great mark.  I made a pair of trousers which were below hip level and had a pair of pants sewn into them. And also spent one semester making I made a bra out of Copydex glue!  What uni taught me was to explore and give me time to complete my ideas ideas, gave me support and have the chance to pick the tutor's brains and make contacts.  But if going to University is the only thing stopping you following your dreams of becoming a lingerie designer then brush off the idea that you need to go.

What you hold in your playing field is the naivety of the amount of work it takes to complete your brand. Let me digress: when I launch Vanjo, I had been to uni to study contour fashion and I had worked in a UK design studio, yet when I launched my brand because I had seen of how things worked in the industry; I felt at times that my brand wasn't good enough that I had to be bigger than I actually was, I couldn't just sit with where I was or what I was achieving, totally stupid right? Some brands that launched the same time as me were flying along, with no hesitation as they didn't have any previous experience, they just learnt as they went along.

WHAT TYPE OF DESIGNER YOU WANT TO BE?

lingerie sketches

Do you want to design and make everything, or do you just want to design and outsource everything else? Or somewhere in-between? With each choice you will have to have different expertise and different skills to learn. If you're not making everything then you don't need to learn how to sew, but then you need the ability to source manufacture or an in-house studio that will do this for you.

A LINGERIE CONTOUR COURSE

If you can afford to take a course in an area in which you think could benefit then I definitely would do. Whether that is pattern making, grading, business, sewing, that or if it helps employ a freelance designer to support you and push you along further. It can be lonely and slow going doing everything yourself. When returned back to the UK and was in the throes of setting up my own business I went to London College of Fashion for a 3 day course in Illustrator, which not only gave me the confidence to progress, but also gave me direction as I found there are do many ways to do one operation.  Looking online confused me. And not only that, it was was so lovely to meet like minded creative people, even though I had to keep leaving the class to silently puke in the toilets as I was suffering from morning sickness.

YOU GOT THIS

The thing is I could give you a long list of pros and cons of doing courses, what it boils down to is you. Stop saying that you've love to be a lingerie designer and get started. Try on bras, decide what you like or don't like about them, what would you change etc... No ifs and buts, in two years time you will be two years older no matter what you do, wouldn't it be great if you were closer to your dreams?

Accept it will take you longer than you first thought, but don't accept your excuses you give yourself when it becomes hard. Start to read about designers/people behind brands to inspire you.  It took Negative Underwear fours years to launch, they had no experience in the lingerie or fashion industry and had full times jobs. It all can be done.

getting started in lingerie design

So write down something now which you can either research or look at to get you one step closer.

Only you know what path to take, if you're still stuck on getting starting or have started designing but are stuck on technical side then these books may help you.

............................

How to become a Lingerie Designer : This book is broken into chapters each covering different aspects of becoming a lingerie designer, from sourcing inspiration, approaching buying and sourcing a manufacturer - it also has mini interviews from independent lingerie designers on how they started their label.

The Anatomy of a Bra : This book covers the different type of bra, the components needed to make a bra and a look at international sizing.

How to Spec a Bra and Brief : A technical book about writing a specification sheet, it gives the industry measurements used between bra sizes and gives you step-by-step instructions and diagrams on how to write one. 

How to write a tech pack for a bra and brief : With the same bra and brief examples used in the spec book, this technical book gives you construction terms and examples of what to put on each page of your tech pack so you can present it to a factory and get your lingerie produced.

..............................

Contact me if you have questions about the books or getting started and I will answer you the best I can or point you in the right direction if I don't have the answers. 

 

 

 

 

Five things you need to know to start a lingerie brand

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).

Back Story

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.

Starting

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.

No Money

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. 

 First swing ticket that was hand punched for Vanjo

First swing ticket that was hand punched for Vanjo

I looked on the internet at independent lingerie brands and looked where they stocked and built my list of stockist from this as a starting point. Washing labels were standard ones I bought from Morplan, and I put all extra details (like where it was made) on the swing ticket. Swing tickets were one of the last things I bought and didn't really have any money left for these so I got printed one sided business cards, bought myself a hole punch which took the corner off whilst punching a star shape and hand punched every single swing ticket.  (I had done it on photoshop and had blacked out each pixel, at the time I didn't understand Illustrator, hence the jagged edges). 

I sourced a guy to design my website (though it would only be later that I would regret the fact that to change or add a page would cost me £500 each time) and I designed the range that I was to launch with.

By this stage I had my sewing up to a standard that I was happy with and having seen some independent lingerie brands in Selfridges, I knew my sewing could easily sits alongside them.

So I was ready, except I kinda wasn't, I didn't have any stockists. Nobody knew about Vanjo. Included in my year time line was to gain stockists I didn't want to launch just online. After taking photos of my range I I booked a flight over to London and spent two days hand delivering my little press pack I had designed, hoping i would get to speak to the buyers/owners of the boutiques. Which of course didn't happen. 

press pack page from how to start a lingerie brand

I returned ready to send out more press packs to other stores throughout the UK and make the follow up calls of all the ones I had dropped off. Even thought writing this all down seems like a seamless path, first I did this then I did that.... it wasn't like that at the time, I was balancing working with designing and sewing, and learning all the things I knew nothing about like Tax etc.

Stockists

It was on a follow up call that I lied and told the buyer from Topshop that I was in London next week if she wanted to see the range, using the line that I didnt think she she wanted to miss out on seeing it; she 'Yes' and and after the phone went down I booked a flight whilst dancing up and down across the room.

I now had just under two months before my self imposed deadline. I arrived at Topshop and showed them the range, uncertain if they would take it as I would be the first lingerie brand to be stocked by them that was a D cup and above. They loved the brand and wanted to stock it, but not the Spring/Summer one I had showed them they wanted the AW range (it was July and I had designed 6 months in advance to give me time to show it). I told them that I was in London for a few days and would send them photos across when I got back. Yup another lie told. I was flying back that day and my idea was that I was going to go back, design and make a full range take photos and email it across.

After pulling in a long couple of days I had everything ready and sent it off to them, they mailed back to say they would contact me in the next couple of weeks. That would give me a month left, of my deadline. I had come so far that the deadline didn't matter anymore, I wanted to launch my own line and if it took longer then it took longer. I had decided that if Topshop didn't take the range, I would return back to England to look for employment as a Lingerie designer and do my own label, selling online on the side.

 Picture I sent through to Topshop for AW range

Picture I sent through to Topshop for AW range

So I did want I do best when waiting and thinking that I may be going back to work full time somewhere, I booked a flight to France, and another one back 4 weeks later from a different part of France to travel for a bit, and at a steal of like £59 in total (gotta love just taking hand luggage I was off.

Whilst away I went into an internet cafe because obviously my Nokia 3310 didn't have Internet and there in my inbox were two messages from Topshop.

Launching

The first one telling me they wanted to stock my brand and an order was placed. The second one a message saying they were placing it on their website as well and had increased my order so there were over 100 briefs to make and over 60 bras. I ended up flying home early to start on making them all.

It seemed once I had fully committed to this label that results started to happen.

Although this was just the start of running my label, five things to remember are:

1. Make a list of all the things you need to do to complete your label and then work through each one, mine roughly were:

- Swing tickets, labels incl. wash labels, designing the lingerie, fabric and trims, bra fitting, making the lingerie, grading, costing & patterns.

2. Understand and know your USP (mine were big boobs small back, ethical lingerie & prints)

3. Have some sort of plan. (Seriously have a plan - even if it's where you want to be stocked or who your customer is).

4. Know it will take longer than you originally thought. 

5. If it doesn't work first time re-evaluate and start to become in the area it didn't work in. (Mine was learning to sew better, and it gave me more control over my brand by learning it).

*Remember there is never a perfect time to follow your dreams, and you will never be ready. You will learn far more by your errors or mistakes and realise that they are not in fact your errors but they are the things that make your brand grow.

Above all be Bold and keep going if designing lingerie is what you want to do, if you need further help of where to start then these books will help.

 

 

 

Van Journal: Designing one of the briefs

I started drafting out shapes I liked for Vanjo awhile back and I had so many, and know in reality that I need to keep the brand designs tight, so that meant only going with shapes I know would work and loved.

I have been looking at vintage shapes to gain inspiration (mainly like the ones below) as well as having my mood board (which is all about Freedom) of what I would like Vanjo to portray.

 Vintage cut out swimwear

Vintage cut out swimwear

vintage swimwear

On a personal level I've previously designed cut out briefs with the cut outs going horizontal (usually at the back) but never vertical. Mainly because my side part of my hips are my least favourite part of my body and it feels like I've spent a life time dressing to cover or flatter them. But then you come to realise that if you don't just embrace what you think are flaws that they become bigger that they are, that it may be all in your head?!? I think vertical cut outs can be super cute so here's how I've been designing and re-making the toiles ....

I began playing about with the shape of a  high waisted brief shape, and on paper it started out different to how it ended up. There are still minor adjustments that I need to make, so don't know if I'll be sticking with it or not yet.

Toile One

I made the first ones out of bamboo and straight away just by looking at them I knew I needed to add into the waist. After fitting, the results were that I needed to take 1.5cm out of the front curve of the cut out and the elastic on the leg sat too low. I also thought the waist elastic would also dig in, so made the waist wider and highered the briefs by 1.5cm.

 First toile of the cut out briefs

First toile of the cut out briefs

Toile Two

The second pair were made out of a swan print cotton/elastane fabric but the fabric was too light in weight for what I like to use, and for those who follow me on Instagram know I put off making these for ages. After I had cut them out, all the fabric edges started rolling, and I was dismayed that they would be a nightmare to sew. Turns out they were actually alright, only thing I don't like it the white base of fabric you can see on the back. Now I had widened the waist part I thought the legs needed to be the same. I also aletered the pattern so the CF was higher by 2.5cm for them to be high waisted to go over the belly button.

 Second toile of the high waist cut out brief in swan print

Second toile of the high waist cut out brief in swan print

Toile Three

The third toile I am pretty happy by them, however it turns out I actually prefer the high waist brief to come just under the belly button not over. I sewed them together, using fabric that is cotton/elastane  (95% cotton 5% elastane). For the next toile I'm taking off the 2.5cm that I added in the last one. I'm also adding 0.5cm to each side of the waist and also shifting the line of the gusset forward as it seems to be sitting back too much. 

 Third toile of the high waist cut out brief in flamingo print

Third toile of the high waist cut out brief in flamingo print

I'm hoping after the next toile that I'll be happy how it turns out, as I'm yet to decide if they are going to make the collection or not.

Planning too much?

First blog post for 2018 and I've been planning what I need to achieve for 2018. In 2017 my work load consisted of a lot of lists and scheduling in all my work, and in one sense it worked really well but in another it also felt very over whelming when I didn't complete my to-do-list.

HOW I USE TO PLAN

It went something like this:

Complete grade book: break down all i need to do per sitting , each sitting consists of 30 mins work. So for example 'complete grade book' (I never finished it in 2017) is still on my list and I know I have approx 36 more images to draw up to put in it; and with that comes written step-by-step instructions for each image. So that's another 36 steps, each lasting approx 30 mins, so in 36 hours I will have roughly finished. I then went a step further and put down how much I could complete per day so I knew when I should have it complete. (I do like an end point). 

And just reading that back no wonder I bored myself out of work. It felt like I was doing the work twice.

But by breaking it down it sought out certain points in which I needed either further information or help with certain sections, but what didn't work or I didn't take into account was all of life's interruptions or new work I took on for clients or unexpected things I needed to work on suddenly.  Then I would be there at 36 hour mark with an non completed book and feeling a bit shit about it all, not to mention all that time wasted that I had spent planning.

So a new year and new way of looking at  everything, I'm really excited about this year, I'm working with new clients on exciting projects, and aim to complete the grade book and re-launch Vanjo and I've finally gotten in a groove with my working hours.

 New planning for 2018

New planning for 2018

For those who follow me on Instagram know that I balance work with looking after two little rugrats, and for a lot of 2017 I felt I hadn't gotten the work/family balance right. I tried getting up early to work before they awoke, working late, trying to squeeze in work in the day with them around, and I began to wonder how anyone else did it and worry that I was failing at both.

November I began to look at what would work for me and not what was idealistic in my head, (ideally I'd love to get up early, work and watch the sun rise then I've got a good head start in the day - realistically, children still wake in the night or get up early foiling my plan). And in Decmeber I took on a project which I wanted finished by January, and as simple as it sounds I worked out what two and a half days working week would look like to split over the working week in the evenings, and when that time came, that's it - I sometimes put headphones on, have a stack of drinks around me and try not move until I have blasted out what needs doing.

I still have a rough breakdown on what needed doing to keep me on track, (I'm still a lister) but with this new found freedom I had working on something, I began to find that planning too much tended to create problems rather than solve them. I wasn't doing work twice as I wasn't going through a list to tick it off, I was back to creating something. Passionately.

Over the Christmas time, I read that for each year you should choose one to two words which you kinda want to live by; in personal and work situations. Words that sum up what you are working for and words you use that get you through times when everything seems uncertain. To keep you on track.

So sit down, take a few moments, let the mind go blank and see what words comes to you. And don't question it. 

Mine for 2018 are "Elegance and Freedom"

 

What Bra components I use

Like many of you December seems the busiest yet shortest month, and with deadlines looming that I hope to smash by Christmas, todays blog is I hope information that will help you start designing. This week I'm looking at the different components I use when making a bra - there are so many out there, and this is one of the questions which I get asked quite a bit. 

 What bra components to use

What bra components to use

UNDERWIRE

The most important part of the bra, and what I design around, for past Vanjo and future Vanjo for under wire bras I use the MS20 wire. Personally I love this wire, it's great for the bigger cup as the wires don't come that high up in the Centre front, which eliminates he pressure and pain of when wires dig into the sternum especially when dealing with 28" backs. Previously I've gotten my wire from Prym Intimates  although each wire had the minimum of about 1,200.

ELASTICS

For the top and bottom of the wing I usually use the same width of brushed back elastic, although come companies use a narrower elastic for the top wing, the reason I use the same is that in some of the lingerie that has had a narrower elastic at the top of the wing, when it's been stretched around the body it's gotten too thin and caused irritation and marks on the body. On the cup I usually use a narrow khola, it's lighter than brushed back elastic and usually comes in a prettier version. In the past for the I've used Moll elastic, and bought it by the 500m roll. 

HOOK & EYES

My personal favourite is to use a 38mm hook and eye, it's a 2x3 (2 hooks and 3 rows of them) hook and eye, so not too chunky but offers more support that the 32mm version (who'd have thought 6mm could make such a difference?) I also quite like the 55mm (3x3) but some women seems to have an aversion to have such a big hook and eye on their bra, or that is my experience when selling the lingerie.

STRAPPING

I like to use 12mm strapping, 10mm seems to narrow for the larger sizes and 15mm is like the wide hook and eye, some women don't want the larger strap, although when I relaunch I am sampling up wider bra styles to see how that goes. In the past I used fancy bra straps, although that is harder to adjust your bra strap, but at the moment I'm loving the plain preferably matt style of the straps.

RINGS & SLIDES

For the slides you have to use the same width as your strap, but can go down a size for the rings, although don't go too small or your strap will curve around the ring. I always use metal based rings and slides, plastic ones don't cut it for me. they have a tendency to break.

If you have any questions about any of the components then drop me a line. The book "Anatomy of the bra" covers the components in greater detail.

 

Van Journal: Starting sewing and fits

 

If you bought (or remember) the soft bra from Vanjo the first time round, you'll be pleased to know that it's coming back but with a slight alteration to the pattern to ensure a better fit and support.

 Vanjo Soft bra 

Vanjo Soft bra 

Drafting out the patterns is one of my favourite things to do as it's the start of bringing a design from your mind into reality. Having worked with different designers I've noticed that lingerie designing usually falls into two camps; one where the design is drafted out exactly how it will be, and the other where the final design is designed until the pattern is right. I fall into the latter category. 

 Drafting out and sewing up the soft bra

Drafting out and sewing up the soft bra

Using the right fabric

I don't like to design the final piece (fabric wise) until I know that the pattern is exactly how I want it, there are a couple of reasons for this:

1. It uses up any old fabric.

2. It allows me to keep a track of each sample I made, I don't have to work out which is the first or second sample if they are in different fabrics.

3. It keep me excited to keep designing, I like to make the same thing over and over in the same fabric when it's not 100% right, as when I reach the final piece I'll be bored of making it.

So if i'm making a sample out of cotton jersey which is one of my favourite fabrics to work with, I'll make sure that the fabric content is exact to my final piece (usually 95/5 : 95% cotton, 5% elastane) and the stretch is the same and go from there. Then each time I fit the garment and re-make the it I change up the fabric, that way it seems like I'm designing more than I actually am and sometimes I come across colour combinations or trim ideas I probably wouldn't have thought of if I was just designing on paper.

At this I'm 80% certain of the designs and shapes, and although I have so many I want to do, I'm editing it down to the strongest few. 

"The Van Journal is all about starting Vanjo again and a honest look behind the scenes of how I'm going about starting the label again". 

Van Journal - The starting of Vanjo: Inspiration

Van Journal is all about the process of starting Vanjo; and a honest look behind the scenes of how I'm going about starting the label again. 

This month November, I have started to design and think about the colours and fabrics and also draft out the patterns, sew the pieces together and start fits.

When I ran Vanjo the first time around, I would have a loose idea of the colours I wanted each season and would totally go off the fabrics I had selected. I went on the ethos of not using any new fabrics and would buy rolls of left over fabric other lingerie/fashion companies didn't use. When you're a bigger fashion house, you have to buy over the fabric amount you need as there are flaws in fabrics and to allow for errors in manufacturing. And usually these fabrics would end up in land fill sites or sit for years in factories. 

This time around, I'm hoping to run that ethos when I'm up and running, when I have the time (and room to stock them) to source the speciality fabrics I need on rolls of fabrics that are no longer being used. What I am doing though is sourcing all fabrics from UK companies first. 

Anyway first time round I would design solely from the fabrics I had, this time around I'm having to loosely design what range I think I want then source components and fabrics.  I find this way much harder, as it feels like you can design anything and it's hard to start and narrow it down. Also I like to design after I have the fabric so can feel what seems right in the designs.  I always put together a mood board to get going, even if the collection doesn't end up like it at the end (and they rarely do) but it's a time to sit and think about what I want and get excited about where to start. 

Here are the first thoughts about Vanjo may look like when I re-launch.

 First look at inspiration of mood board for Vanjo Lingerie

First look at inspiration of mood board for Vanjo Lingerie

Vanjo is coming back

 Planning AW18 range of Vanjo Lingeire

Planning AW18 range of Vanjo Lingeire

Back in 2005 I launched my lingerie label "Vanjo" which specialised in the larger cups and smaller backs of the lingerie world. Mainly spurred on my need to find a 30E cup bra that wasn't black white or nude and I hadn't found one non wired back then in that size. Because lets face it when you're that size a S, M or L size isn't gonna cut it; either it's going to fit around your back or fit your boobs not both.

So after doing the game paper, scissors and stone I ended up in Belfast, with just a rucksack, and with there being no lingerie design jobs there, and with no responsibilities and no little people to support, it was the perfect (in my eyes) place to start my journey designing Vanjo.

Being an only and lonely lingerie designer in Belfast had it's advantages and disadvantages. The advantages being that I was featured on the BBC news on a programme about local designers, I won the NI Shell Entrepreneur award for small business; basically I had a great USP. The downsides was that I had to travel 'across the water' (to the UK) for meetings and shows. And all before social media influenced our lives in a big way (though I did have a 'My Space' page - remember those?) I wasn't side tracked, trawling through and losing a couple of hours here and there. 

 Last range of Vanjo Lingerie for SS'09

Last range of Vanjo Lingerie for SS'09

I closed Vanjo down in AW 2008 with the last orders going out for SS09, for a few reasons, one, at the time the orders were getting too big for me to sew myself, but too small to outsource, (though I did do one run with AJM, a UK manufacturers). I simply could no longer go at the speed I was working, working from 7am - 11pm most days. I still wanted to travel and work abroad and I'd been getting heaps of questions from people about advice on how to start their own lingerie label, and I wanted to write a book about this.

Basically I couldn't see how I could achieve all this, having only lived in a new place for four years and with the majority of that I'd been at home with only the postman I saw on a daily basis so didn't have a solid network at that point around me.

And when I closed 'Vanjo' down I was saddened but also excited about my next chapter in my life - I ended up staying in Belfast taking a part time job, moving in with a friend, writing "How to become a Lingerie Designer" then when I had about finished writing, I secured sponsorship with an Australian lingerie design company and generally the time I spent away from my label I had a blast.

But I missed it. 

Fast forward until now, and I love writing and freelancing, doing all the technical aspects of lingerie for different companies, but there is something about having your own design in your mind and being able to sew it into reality. So Vanjo is set to be launched for AW18.

Why now?  To be honest I don't know, I suppose it's the same reason that I closed down Vanjo, in that I didn't follow reason I just went with what felt right.

I can't put it better than Winston Churchill "Never give up on something that you can't go a day without thinking about". 

 

How many designs do you need to start your lingerie label?

Last week I was approached by a new label to provide the technical aspects of all their designs so they could launch their own lingerie label. This included mocking up spec sheets, writing up their tech sheets and support on measuring up their garments and getting them to manufacturing stage.

They had 13 individual designs! 

Having launched my own label previously, I know the amount of work that goes into producing each piece, getting each piece fitted, sourcing the fabric, and then manufacturing each piece with minimums that the factories want (or the amount of sewing you have to do by yourself). Working on the 13 pieces wouldn't have been a problem, but I told them to go back and re-look at each piece, and if possible come back with no more than five designs, (seven totally tops). 

I spoke to them about trying to create signature pieces for their label, and putting those designs into different colour ways for fabrics, for every piece you design, you are creating more work and if you're starting out, chances are it's probably just you doing everything. It's best to start out with five tight pieces, otherwise you are spreading yourself too thinly when problems crop up.

So if you are out there starting your own lingerie brand and have so many designs that you can't pick where to start, or want to produce all twenty!! Go back one step.

Who is your core customer?

Who are you pitching at? Please don't say everyone. Try to design for everyone and you'll end up designing for no-one. Your designs will be so watered down that no-one will glance at them. That's not to say that people out of your demographic you're aiming at won't buy your lingerie, you just need to be pitching at a certain group of people. In the book HTBALD it covers this and gives an example of profile questions that you can use to profile your customer.

It will take you far longer to launch if you have so many designs .If you look at independent designers, you will see that that the same design crops up each season in different colour-ways. Having smaller options of designs, you can see which designs work and sell and which don't. If you are still insistent on wanting to produce all of your designs why not check each season and introduce new designs and get rid of old ones that are not working. 

 The same pattern, put in different fabrics for each season for Vanjo.

The same pattern, put in different fabrics for each season for Vanjo.

My first meeting with Topshop I took 2 different style bras, and 2 different options of briefs and one thong, (over four stories) and that was it. The collection was tight, so the buyers didn't get distracted. Remember you only have a certain amount of time to wow them, if you're pulling out design after design then they might wander.

My meeting was in June, and I was showing the Spring/Summer collection for the following year, they wanted to see the collection for Autumn/Winter of that year, did I have one? "Of course I did" (I didn't) I told them that I was I was in London for two days and would be flying back to Ireland and when I got back I could send through images. Truth was I was flying back that night and sat and made a new collection and got it shot and sent through to them within the two days. Because I was only working on the 5 shapes, they had seen them and knew how they work, I offered to leave my samples there as a reference if they wanted so they could have a reference of the shapes, so they could off the images that I sent them. If I had had more designs, I wouldn't have been able to turn around a new collection so quick, and they wouldn't have know how the shapes of the lingerie would have worked.

Building loyalty of a customer By keeping the shapes consistent throughout your collection each season, means that shopping online is made easier for your customer, they can order in confidence knowing that that shape worked for them. Throughout Vanjo (for four years) I had two shapes of bra that I used, whilst I worked on a third.

Remember that one shapes has infinite ways of producing new designs, Below is an example of using the Betsy lingerie brief pattern in different fabrics. 

Lingerie digital pattern betsy
Betsy lingerie pattern

If you think you still need more than ten design of lingerie - then by all means go for it, no-one know your lingerie brand better than you, but try to remember the points above, and if you need  a hand with any of them, then please contact me.