Van Journal: Navigate your way home - the first collection

The first collection of the re-launch is nearly finalised, fabrics have been picked, fits are all but two are signed off and now i'm in the process of sewing them up. There still seems a lot to get done but I think I'm going to make it.

The first collection is called "Navigate your way home" taken from inspiration from the first time I launched Vanjo where the idea came from when I sat on a plane (2003)  and fed up of un-hooking my bra for comfort on long haul flights, I wanted a soft bra that was cup sized and I wanted one that comfortable. Rolling in at a size 30E back then, there was nothing in the market for my size, soft bras back then were bralettes in small sizes or generic sizes. 

Having also travelled and probably used my entire carbon footprint in the sky, I wanted the fabrics and trims I used to reclaimed fabrics, which basically is end of roll fabrics or trims that would have ended up in the landfill sites, fabrics that larger companies didn't want. So I vowed not to produce new fabrics or trims and just use stock fabrics and trims, and if I couldn't source that then use organic fabrics. A practise which I think is important today, however with more awareness about this now, ironically it's harder to source this ethos as there are many companies now doing the same.

vanjo lingerie collection - navigate your way home

Navigate your way home - is also not just about physical travel, it's also about navigating to the true you, it's a reminder that it's okay to be yourself. To ignore the comments that may crop up about you or your designs. Having been told when I first started that I shouldn't do 28 inch backs, previously 28FF became my best seller.

Having what feels like I've come full circle (Vanjo was the first business I launched when I came back to the UK) it feels like I'm coming home, there was always part of me that missed having my own brand and producing great fitting comfortable lingerie that's not just black or white. 

By closing Vanjo down the first time, it allowed me to work for companies I wanted to work for, allowed me to get sponsorship to work in Melbourne Australia, and allowed me to write books about lingerie design. And more importantly it allowed me to follow my dreams at every stage of my career only to come back to it 10 years later.

Vanjo will be releasing in mid September

Producing Ethical and Sustainable Lingerie

In a world where we are constantly reminded (and so we should be) about the planet, producing ethical or sustainable lingerie has become quite a thing, with quite a few independent brands getting on board.

When I produced 'Vanjo' the first time around (2005) I used remnants of fabrics and trims and organic cotton. Not a lot has changed with the vision apart from back then it was classed as 'Eco-friendly' Lingerie. Although there has been always been lingerie labels following this path it has increased by tenfold in the recent years, more people are aware and knowledgeable about ethical and sustainable lingerie and want to buy lingerie that not only supports them but supports the planet as well.

vanjo ethical and sustainable lingerie

There is i think, still a long way to go within the ethical and sustainable sector of the fashion market including lingerie, although I provide like other companies do, organically sourced cotton, I am still aware of the amount of water that is used to produce it, and I am currently sourcing a bamboo supplier that I am happy with, with the amounts that I want to buy. 

Producing ethical and sustainable lingerie, is no easy feat that companies take on, you need to look at where you source fabrics and trims, the fabrics's content and also how it's manufactured and by whom.  One of my favourite brands is Ayten Gasson, I met Ayten, at the Harrogate Lingerie show where we both were showcasing our brand, her designs have always been about using UK lace suppliers and manufacturing in the UK (currently made in her shop in Brighton) all without ever compromising her style or her brand.

Although I don't what the full answer is for producing ethical or sustainable clothing or lingerie, but buying less and buying well helps. If you're ensure where to start then it's not about buying the most expensive, but buying what fits you well, and something whether that is outerwear or lingerie that you will want to wear again and again.

This article is gives great examples of ethical and sustainable lingerie brands.

And goes to show that that whatever your taste or size if you want to buy into ethical and sustainable lingerie then there is a whole vast of brands out there offering you the choice.

Need help with your lingerie drawings?

Eighteen years ago, when I designed for a lingerie manufacturer based in the UK, we did all our tech drawings by hand. When I started out I was embarrassed by what I produced. In my first job with meetings with buyers when I sketched their ideas, I would often utter ‘Obviously, this is just a quick sketch’, and when I got back to my desk I would often not be able to understand everything, my drawings failed me and I hadn’t asked enough questions about the design they wanted.

Lingerie drawings

Through out the years though I've perfected my style of lingerie drawing and learnt CAD to produce technical drawings to draw up lingerie and send to factories so they know what the designer is wanting to produce.

 Practising - What my drawings looked like when I first started out

Practising - What my drawings looked like when I first started out

In the past couple of weeks, I have been working on technical drawings, stripping them back, drawing on them by hand, to show you how simple it is to design your lingerie. By using the templates you can concentrate on your designs, and no longer be worried about how they look especially when you pass them on to get drawn up into CAD.

I'm just in the stages of putting everything together so it will be out shortly.

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

Drafting the curve of a cradle pattern from your wire

When I first started out designing, I didn't understand the concept of designing a bra around a wire, most of my designing was done using pattern blocks that were already available and I just altered maybe the style line or fabrics but never the shape of the bra where the underwire sat.

It wasn't until I started my own brand that I began to understand the true importance of designing the bra around the wire, it was a concept I hadn't grasped before, yet it's the first thing I start with.

Every time.

You start with finding the balance point of the wire from there you can draft your cradle pattern.

The balance point is the deepest part of the wire. If you draw an 'x' axis and 'y' axis and put the wire on it, the deepest part is the balance point, with the CF of the wire (the shorter part) against the 'y' axis.

If you're new to finding the balance point, I'd draw a line on the wire with permanent pen so you can locate it easily throughout your design. If you are designing a bra with a cradle, where the centre front piece joins the wing, the join of those pieces should be where the balance point of the wire is.

 Drafting out a cradle pattern from an underwire

Drafting out a cradle pattern from an underwire

Draw around the wire (pictured is a balconette wire), then draw in a new line 15mm away from the original wire. 

WHY 15mm?

At the underarm the cradle should sit anywhere from 15mm away from the wire to approx 25mm though I have known some people's patterns to sit further out if they are designing for plus sizes. Having a wire to splay out is so when the bra is worn the wire is sitting at the root of the breast not on it. I usually start my patterns at 15mm and alter it after fit. If there was no splay in the wire then the support wouldn't be there, the wire would be just sitting there and not have any tension on it.

Some pattern makers splay the wire at the centre front (usually by 5mm) and the wing by 15mm, by personal choice when I'm designing for my brand Vanjo, I tend to only splay at the side, as my core customer are women with big cup sizes and small backs, so I use quite firm wires and find working with a smaller backs this worked best for me. 

Another thing to take into consideration, is wire play, this is the amount left at the end of the wires. This is not seam allowance, this is the finished amount left. Wires need some room to move, with no wire play (room at the end of the wire) what is likely to occur is that the wire will come through the wire casing after repeated wear, as it's pushed up against the fabric with no wear (pun intended)  to go.

On average leave 5mm at each end of the wire and approx 3mm where the bar tacking will go. So all in all draw in approx 8mm at the end of each wire. 

Depending what type of centre front you are looking to have, to draft the pattern I would draw the centre front piece at a 90 degree angle coming off the wire. All these are suggestions are starting points, and can be altered after fits.