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.


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


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.


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. 


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.


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.


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.

How a dream became a reality now becomes a name change

First came the book, then followed the website with the name "How to become a Lingerie Designer" . The idea came about after receiving requests for advice from people how to start their own label.

This was back when I was running my lingerie brand 'Vanjo', after researching what was out there I noticed that there were many fashion books but not relating solely on lingerie.

After returning back to the UK after lingerie designing in Melbourne, Australia; HTBALD grew allowing me to take it on full time whilst freelancing.

Four books later HTBALD was no longer just about becoming a Lingerie Designer, it was about all the different aspects of designing lingerie. About owning your designs and believing in them, and now my job is to support you, to do that. So it  seemed only natural to umbrella all the aspects of lingerie design under a different name.

This expansion has been not only with technical books "How to spec a bra and brief" and "How to write a bra and brief tech pack" but also with design sheets, to help you take the next step with the technical side of lingerie. Having been there before, I understand that it's those parts that can take your time researching and working them out.

'Van Jonsson Design' now guides you through every aspect of lingerie design, including patterns to get you started, and on the blog are "How to" tutorials and Advice about the industry.

van jonsson design logo lingerie

What's to come is further design sheets and another book is being drafted "How to grade a Bra and Brief" which is the third book in the trilogy of the "How to" books, also I've received such a great response to the patterns, that more will be released. 

If you have any ideas or suggestions on what you would like more knowledge on, then please let me know. 

Welcome to Van Jonsson Design. 


*This website can still be reached by

Boobs & bras after breastfeeding


Years ago when I met people and I talked about being a lingerie designer, the questions I always got asked "Did I see lots of boobs?" (guys) and "what was the best bra that I had designed and for who?" (ladies). The seeing lots of boobs question still gets asked a lot, but recently what ladies seem to what to know is what bra to go for after they've had children.

So through lingerie knowledge and personal experience here is what I usually end up talking about: boobs, bras to wear orto design and improving your appearance of your boobs.

Structure of your boobs

1. Your structure of your boobs change once your pregnant, that flatness that most women experience after breast feeding, has occurred during pregnancy, so breast feeding doesn't start to alter your boobs being pregnant in the first place does. Let me digress (puts technical hat on)

- When being pregnant your boobs go through a change that is called maturing (sounds equally as good as being called 'a geriatric mum' when you're pregnant over the age of 35! Whilst being pregnant your boobs become bigger and the fatty tissue is replaced by milk producing tissue, therefore changing the internal structure of the breast. The increase in size may cause the ligaments to stretch, and it's this stretching that may lead to saggier boobs. Think of it like holding a partially filled water balloon in your hand, if you filled it completely your hand would open up to accommodate the balloon, (your fingers represent your ligaments) then if you let water out, your hands are still splayed open but the fullness of the water (ie breast) is no longer apparent so the fullness has gone. There by the structure of your breast has changed.

2. Your bra size will most likely change, not everyones does, some peoples increase size, others decrease, just like whether you'll fit back into your pre-pregnancy clothes, some people will be bigger and other smaller than when they got pregnant.

3. Most likely your boob shape will have change, some people describe their boobs as empty, which means they have lost the fullness of their boobs at the top, and the fullness is more at the bottom of their boobs, this is usually more prominent for those with a bigger cup size.

after breastfeeding what about boobs

Bras after being pregnant and feeding

With the loss of the volume, many women find they have to change the shape of bra they wear, and that the underwire now digs in at the front. If this is the case with yourself, look for wires that don't come up between your boobs (ie balconette bras) and look for push up style, bras with shorter underwires or high apex bras in which the wire sits low, also soft cup triangle bras will be comfortable.

If you find you have no volume at the top of your breast and are a larger cup, the misconception is that you should go for a contour bra (a moulded cup shape with foam) but what mainly occurs is that the upper breast tissue will either look and be jiggly, or that it won't give you enough support , although there are some bras out there that will be tailored to your needs you may find a cut and sew bra (a 3-piece cup or 4-piece cup) more comfortable and give you a better silhouette. 

Designing a bra 

A few things to keep in mind to create a better lift of the boob (or to look out for if you're having trouble finding a bra that gives you a nice shape and lift)

- A vertical seam in the cup will give you more lift. 

- Side boning or denier panelling, will help keep the breast tissue forward and not creeping under the arms, especially on soft bras.

- Double line the cups if you are using stretch fabrics.

Ways to improve the appearance

Sadly once those ligaments are stretched there is not a lot that can be done about it (unless you're wanting to go down the path of surgery) however there are things that can be done to improve the situation.

- Strengthen your pec muscles, making them stronger will lift the chest wall upon where your boobs sit. Press up and bench presses are probably the two better ones to try.

- Alternate cold and warm water blasts in the shower, although only temporary that the cold water tightens the skin, it encourages blood flow.

- Massage oil, going from under the breast outwards to the armpit and over the breast back to where you started, this will over time improve the contour of the breast and get rid of toxins, plus the more you care the part of your body which you don;' like, the more acceptance and gratitude you have of that part of the body.

Though mainly the appearance of your boobs, will be down to genetics, hoping some of these will help.


Five pros and cons working as a freelancer

I often get asked which is better to work as a freelancer or In House. Personally working as a freelancer is most suited to me, I love it's freedom it gives though it's not without it's perils. If you're lucky to be in position to be choosing one route or the other I've highlighted what I think are the high and lows of each path.


There's no denying when I worked for a company I earned far far more than I do as a freelancer, at the peak of my earnings I was clearing 45K and that was with being a freelancer within that time as well. The main trouble I found hard when returning to work for a company was that my CV was viewed as that I didn't have much manger skills having worked by myself freelancing. Even though I know I can run teams of people have have done so in the past, I was up against people who had never left the industry to freelance so had consistent managerial experience. My first freelance job was in Thailand (which I never planned to get I had originally gone travelling) and I loved designing swimwear in the sunshine and the life I was living there, and on the plus side I didn't need much money. 


The major plus side being a freelancer I think has to be the freedom, pre-children being a freelancer enabled me to travel whenever I wished, within reason. When a project finished I could book cheap flights and spend as long or as little time in whatever country I flew to. But again having the ability to have that freedom, is weighed by having the actual funds whilst freelancing. Nowadays it's all about having the freedom to look after young children whilst working at different times than the normal workforce (ie at night with lots of coffee).

five pros and cons for being a freelance lingerie designer


With freelancing I think you have be great and time management, it can be easy to get caught up with social media. You have to find a schedule that works for you, I'm still working on this - sometimes I get up early to work and get loads don, other times (usually) it's at night. Also there's all the extras that you need to plan for, like accounts, filling in tax returns, looking for the next piece of work. Keeping up-to-date with everything current. Being a freelancer it's easy to feel like you are looking in on an industry rather than being involved and in the thick of it. If you like structure of a 9-5 (or there abouts) Then in house may be more suited to you, or you could get the best of both worlds and be a freelancer on contract - so you are based within a company but only for a set amount of time.


Depending what type of company you work for - will depend on what you are given to design, I was very fortunate in my first job (designing for high street stores in a UK manufacturer) in that as well have been given design briefs from the buyer, I also presented new designs from the fabrics that I sourced. In another company it was all buyer led, I would be given samples bought from other brands and asked to replicate them, it was very soul destroying, and something I didn't agree with. Working as a freelancer people are coming for you, for either new ideas or the technical side of the design so your never ripping off (well you shouldn't be) other peoples designs.  That's what I love the most about freelancing is that if you have the opportunity to work with someone who is just starting out, they are very willing to push boundaries and design ideas.


This is a major one that often occurs, you can be mental busy for ages, then suddenly you find yourself with a free calendar wondering where the next job is coming from. At the start of my freelancing, I continued to do part time work, as I knew that eventually this is what I wanted to do full time, but didn't want the added pressure of the freelancing supporting me at the beginning, I wanted to build up a client base with good strong work. I've done bar work, shop-work and even worked as a TA in a primary school, then worked freelancing in my spare time and also wrote the books. With freelancing I've never worked regular hours, even when I had a full time job designing I was always building up 'Vanjonsson Design' and worked evenings and weekends. Now having children my working hours are even more erratic, and I often work late into the night. 

A friend texted to see how my day was going, this was my face after being greeted with 102 emails that morning at work.

A friend texted to see how my day was going, this was my face after being greeted with 102 emails that morning at work.

Working in a company, especially at the start, I gained so much knowledge from everyone, and I loved the fast pace of the fashion side of things, producing collections, seeing them through to manufacturing whilst balancing the next season ahead, but with like most jobs, the further you go up the chain of your profession, the more away you move away from it, and are managing other people to do the job you loved and set out to do. I have before come into a previous work to be met with 70+ emails on a daily basis, enquiries from manufacturers, changes in tech packs that needed to be confirmed and altered, costings that needed be changed and suggestions back and forth how to do so. Along with future work that needed to be secured, errors on deliveries or stock. So transitioning to freelance full time was a very natural step for me especially now, as the nearest lingerie company is a daily 2 hour commute each way which is not feasible with two young children.

If you get the chance to work for companies then I would recommend it, you learn so much and the support and structure is there for you. If you find yourself out of university or in-between jobs and can't find yourself work, then make your own, go freelance, approach companies, do it in your spare time, or intern, and keep updating your portfolio because if you're static you're not trying anything new and your designs and knowledge won't progress.


Where it all began... with this soft bra

Where it all began.... I found this beauty amongst a pile of fabric the other day. It was from my first range of my label Vanjo, that was stocked by Topshop. It sold within a week on their website. 

The first ever soft bra to be stocked by them that went up to a FF cup. It was this style of bra that led me to launch my own label. Often labels come from seeing gaps in the market from personal experiences and mine was no different.

Whilst travelling I carried with me a pile of bikinis and two bras, both underwired, one which was padded. I longed for a soft bra, not a sports top, not a beige or white soft bra that was aimed at the older market. I wanted my lingerie to reflect who was, like my clothes did. I wanted to get on an aeroplane and sit in comfort, not to have to undo the bra half way into the flight. I was 30DD/E at the time and didn't really have the option of going braless.

What if I could find amazing printed fabric and make that soft bra I longed for, this was back in 2004 when small backs/bigger boobs didn't have such a market as it does today, and after many trials, I produced this design using Liberty fabric (red with black line drawings of unicorns).

beginning to design lingerie

Your USP of your lingerie brand

I have spent the last few weeks tailoring up new designs to launch into patterns, and looking back at this piece, it evokes memories of what Vanjo stood for. To give women the freedom and choice to have a piece of lingerie which caters for them, for fit and function and for their lingerie to be fun, whether you were a C cup (which Vanjo started at) or a FF cup. It was my USP I suppose.

And sometimes when you get knee deep in patterns, with day to day running of a business you sometimes forget of what you once began and what your business stood for. 

So in full circle I'm bringing back this piece to be able, to buy as a pattern in cup sizes. At present it only goes up to FF cup, so let me know if you are interested for it to be available in bigger sizes. And more importantly if you're struggling with your designs - go back to the beginning. Back to why you wanted to start your lingerie brand. Get reacquainted with your passion and your USP.