This original took place with Esty Lingerie, interviewing me from a freelance lingerie designer perspective. Here is a copy of it.
EL:You studied Contour at DeMontfort University so I imagine you knew from the start that you wanted to design intimates. What drew you to lingerie over other areas of fashion design?
LVJ:When I was leaving school I had secured a place at Loughborough Art college, as I didn't really know what direction I wanted to head in, I loved altering clothes (my poor wardrobe didn't survive my love of using scissors and re-sewing/re-hashing garments back to together) and playing around with fabrics and I toyed with getting into fashion but at 18 yrs old, the industry intimidated me a little and I didn't view myself as fashionable and the clothes I tried to make, I never had enough floor space to cut them out or ended up spending so much on fabric for the garment not to turn out right.
The Spring before I left school I saw a programme about lingerie design and knew that was what I wanted to do, I loved the way that you change the whole way you could feel just by garments that no-one else saw. I also liked the idea that it wasn't just about designing pretty lingerie it was about how it fitted as well. I loved the technical aspect side of things. I ended up writing a letter to Demontfort and found out you could do a late entry application and it would be on a points based system to get in not on a portfolio viewing or interview which was a good thing as when I told my art/sewing teacher I was changing my mind and going to Demontfort University she told me it was a bad idea as my sewing was awful and I didn't know anything about the industry - she was right but that didn't stop me.
EL: Would you recommend the same course for other hopeful lingerie designers?
LVJ: Yes. Although I don't think it's necessary to do a degree, a degree gives you the space to try out new ideas, have the resources to use and the time to gain knowledge from people who have worked previous in the industry. It also gives youth chance to build up your portfolio.
What I also think it does which is important is give you a time structure for when to complete things. If you don't have the money to do a degree then you should plan out your time to get things done, how many of us have dreamed about a new career and realised that a couple of years have passed from having the original idea of a career change. Although I don't think you always need a degree, I do think that some sort of course is helpful, like making patterns as it will save you time in the long run and working out everything yourself can be very time consuming and disheartening if you're not getting it right.
EL:I'm sure some people think lingerie designers just sit around drawing pretty pictures of bras all day, but more goes into it than that! For those wondering if lingerie design is the right career path for them, what can they expect to be doing exactly once they land a job?
LVJ: Drawing/planning out next seasons range including trend boards is such a small part of being a lingerie designer, your day is spent juggling future seasons, getting them sampled up, getting them fitted, altering the patterns, going for second fits etc... Costing the garment, going back and forth with the buyer and factory to settle on a cost, altering a design so it fits the cost. Then you're juggling with the orders that are to be delivered, making sure they are on time, and sorting out everything when it goes wrong, deliveries late, wrong fabrics, different fits from the first sample, wrong shade of components to the one that was chose. A buyer changing their mind over a colour. With everything moving so fast and in some cases with a three month turn around you do spend a long time on your time-line spread sheet making sure everything is where it needs to be, you need to be able to build good relationships with the buyer you're working with and the factories. Some mornings I would get to work and there would be 50+ emails waiting for me to be answered, you need to be able to make decisions quickly and have a good organisation system.
EL:Is there anything that's surprised you, that you didn't know would be part of the role of a lingerie designer?
LVJ: When I started out it was quite easy to move between positions, i.e. designer to grader to account manager, but nowadays it seems rarer to be able to do that, also I found it near impossible as an employee to switch between different styles of being a designer. For example my roles have been mainly supplier based - which means the company you work is an independent company and provides lingerie to different shops/brands etc. So you're not working for just one company, so if I've ever applied for a job opening of working for just one brand the feedback I've had received is that I've not the experience of being dedicated to working for one brand, also having been mainly designing high street has meant that applying for designer lingerie brands hasn't been successful. Working though as a freelancer has worked opposite, my CV shows that I can design in a multitude of styles so this has opened doors for different companies. So if you are planning to be a designer for a certain area of lingerie it's best to try and secure that area near the start of your career as it's hard to near impossible to change it later unless you freelance.
EL:Having worked both in house and freelance, how do the two differ in terms of a typical working day, regularity of work/income, responsibilities etc.?
LVJ: In house you have the security of a wage, but the higher you progress the more you delegate the work so you're responsible for a lot more as you're seeing everything from start to finish season after season, where as freelance you may be bought in for just one section or one season. In House you're working hours are regular, you have your nights free and you;re weekend, where as freelance it's more of a balancing act. I like freelance as you seem to work on lots of different work, my main clients employ me usually for the technical side, they have the design already done and I work out their spec sheets, write up their tech packs, draw up their designs, attend fit sessions etc.
I have two small children at the minute so freelance works perfectly, although in house I earned far more (peaking at 45K+) freelance allows me to have flexibility to look after both of them and still work. I also have more creativity satisfaction working freelance.
EL: You also had your own lingerie brand, Vanjo, from 2005 to 2009. Have you preferred running your own brand or designing for other companies, and why?
LVJ: Having my own brand was amazing, I don't think I realised how well I was doing at the time, I was the first independent brand to be stocked by Topshop that provided bras above a DD cup. But having worked in the industry prior, at the the time I always thought I should be doing more, I was so use to the fast paced fashion side of things, it was a bit of a shock to be the one doing everything and the time it took to do it all. Having your own brand though you are responsible for everything, one thing I did miss was other people, but when people wrote to me saying how much they loved my brand and how it fitted it did make it all worth while. I did learn a lot doing it all myself, and would definitely do it again.
EL: Obviously, to become a lingerie designer you need a certain amount of knowledge about how bras are constructed. Aside from technical expertise though, what do you think it takes to be a successful lingerie designer?
LVJ: Flexibility. Sometimes you have a great design and you have to be prepared to let it go and be altered or criticised. When you design something there are so many people who have their opinion, the buyer, the fitter, the sample machinist, the factory even your boss who may not have any knowledge about designing!! You need to pick the best advice and be prepared to alter your design, or be prepared to state your case why what you designed doesn't need altering. You also need to be always keeping an eye on the market and constantly be knowledgeable about what's going on around you.