Interview with freelancer bra expert Kimberly from Kimbralisa

Finding advice about starting your own lingerie line, or simply becoming a lingerie designer can be time consuming and tiring. With conflicting information, or information that isn’t in depth enough. You can loose hours on the internet trawling through to find what you need.

  Grading a brief (image from van Jonsson Design).

Grading a brief (image from van Jonsson Design).

That was one of the reasons I began to freelance and support start up brands by writing about the technical side of lingerie, something that can be lost and taken over by just the design side.

It’s always lovely to meet fellow freelancer lingerie designers, there’s not many people out there you can talk about volumes of cups or debating how much the apex of a bra can grade by, but Kim from Kimbralisa (and Bra tutor) can talk about lingerie with such passion and knowledge that it’s encouraging to hear another person speak out about the technical side of lingerie without overwhelming you. (Kim usually does a live talk on Facebook and Instagram at 2pm GMT).

I caught up with her an put forward seven question to learn a bit more about what she does and what she can offer start up designers.



kim from kimbralisa

1. What year did you start on your own?

I started offering freelance services as 'Kimbralisa' in 2017. 


2. What's your most favourite part of working in the industry (technical side, designing, seeing a whole project through etc)?

I really enjoy the technical side of things like the pattern cutting and grading, as it's such an interesting challenge. I like experimenting with things in CAD and testing out the fit on the body to see what works, and what doesn't work. Getting feedback from customers after a product has launched is definitely the most rewarding part of the process. 


3. Did you have any formal lingerie design?

I started my career initially as a bra fitter and sewing bra alterations all the way back in 2002, then progressed to learn how to make bras at home before deciding to enroll on the Contour Fashion course at De Montfort University. Always more keen to know how things are made, I focused my studies on pattern cutting and understanding grading and CAD systems, rather than drawing and designing. 


4. What three things did you find hard when starting out?

Managing my time as a freelancer, securing new clients and finding my confidence. These three things are still challenges I constantly encounter. 



5. What services do you offer people?

With my broad experience, I can offer people anything from quick consulting calls to taking on the entire product development process, from finessing an idea all the way to delivering a finished garment in their hands. My previous retail experience and marketing career also come in very handy for small brands needing help understanding other areas of their businesses. 


6. Where do you see yourself in five years time in the industry?

If I could choose anything, it'd be helping brands develop new and exciting products for the G+ market. I think it's a segment of the market with tremendous growth opportunity as regions become more aware of bra size and fit, and it has the technical challenges that I enjoy. I also want to focus on education and training for young designers and startup brands to ensure they're getting the support they need to build better bras for their markets. 


7. What words of advice would you give aspiring designers?

My best advice is to learn as much as you can but to keep your focus on a select few areas. You can't master everything, so choose to excel in one to two key areas, and grow from there as you uncover your passions. If you want to be a designer, then understand trends and colour, and how to communicate these through your illustrations. If you want to be a pattern cutter and grader, you need to understand fit and construction and start making garments. These are very generalist statements, but sometimes, just getting started can seem overwhelming, so start with the one area that interests you and let it expand from there. 




Website: https://kimbralisa.com & https://bratutor.com/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/kimbralisa/ & https://www.instagram.com/bratutor/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/kimbralisa.design & https://www.facebook.com/bratutor




Finding your right bra size

Ever since I started fitting bras, I've been perplexed by the old measuring system of adding four or five inches onto the under-band to get your size and the more women I fitted, and the more bras I designed I began to question and research why we used a system that was obviously not working for so many women.

With Vanjo set to be re-leased this coming month, there will of course be a section on sizing, on how to find your correct size. As we know a 32D in one brand fits differently to another 32D, with there being no set standardisation in sizing. Team this with different brands using different measuring charts, you can see why us ladies are filled with frustration of the simply task of buying lingerie.

Whilst Vanjo might have a different measuring system to some companies (one company I worked for used a 1950s size chart much to my confusion). Slowly I have seen other companies rid of the old sizing system to a newer sizing way.

So whilst I'm not advocating that my system is the best, I'm hoping that by explaining my measuring system and why getting fitted for a bra it can be confusing I'm hoping that the information you take from this can help you with your own bra no matter where you buy your bras from.

There use to be a couple things that riled me about lingerie design, one being I couldn't often find my correct size (hence why I started Vanjo), and two being that ‘fitters’ measure me and tried to put me in my wrong size.

When I first started working as a designer for high street stores (ah hum eighteen years ago!) I questioned why, when we measured a lady we added four or even five inches to her rib cage to get her size, we don’t do this when we want a pair of jeans – why do we for bras? With no answer apart from, oh that’s how everyone does it, I began to look for the reason why.

When bras first started out, you needed to add around a women’s ribcage as the fabric had no stretch and it was a comfort issue. We’ve moved on with fabric considerably to the point where you can a laser-cut seam bra, yet we haven’t all moved on the system of measuring. 

getting fitted for a bra

It's a vicious circle really - with so many companies still sticking with the old way of measuring, women aren't being offered their correct band size (a woman measuring 28 inch will be offered a 32 inch bra) so as they are not being offered their correct size, they can't buy their correct size therefore there is no demand for those sizes, and if there is no demand then retailers won't bother to stock those sizes and only sell what they currently selling. And the circle begins.

Currently we are in a system where some retailers/brands measure (and fit) to what you measure and some still stand by the old system of adding four or five (if you measure an odd number) inches onto your size. No wonder you can come away with the wrong size. If you're going into store make sure that the fitter is fitting you not just measuring you. If you tried a pair of trousers on and they were too big you'd try a size down wouldn't you?  Your best size bra is the one that fits you. So if you tried a 34C on and the band rode up the back you'd try a 32D on (a 32C would be a whole cup size smaller). The key is to try and arm yourself with as much information as possible about what's a good fit.

Now like all things where there is a system, it may not work for everyone, so far with my personal experience when fitting a bra if the lady measured above a 36FF, the sizing sometimes didn't always ring true. But it was a great starting point to then look at what size they needed. Also below a B cup I found it more personal preference of how a woman wanted to wear her bra, as the less breast size and volume (so weight) you have, the less you have to support, so you may not want your bra to hold your ribcage snugly. 

Speaking from having been an array of sizes, (I was a 32DD/30E pre children, hit 32FF at the biggest of my pregnancy, went to a 30D afterwards then settled into a 30DD) and whilst being a 30D (measuring 30 inches around rib cage and 34 inches around fullest part of my boobs) I found that in some brands I could easily wear 32C.

 

SO what bra size am I?

If you want to start to work out your size in Vanjo lingerie measure around your ribcage – this will indicate your band size, so if you measure a 32, you will wear a 32 inch back.

Then measure around your fullest part of your breast either in a soft bra or crop top, and then subtract the band size measurement from the bust measurement and determine your cup size as follows: (for example if you measure a 32 band and measure 37 inches around the fullest part of your breast. Then the difference is 5 inches so that would give you a DD cup, a 32DD would be your size.

 

  • . less than 1 inch = AA cup

  • . 1 inch = A cup

  • . 2 inches = B cup

  • . 3 inches = C cup

  • . 4 inches = D cup

  • . 5 inches = DD cup

  • . 6 inches = E cup (US DDD)

  • . 7 inches = F cup (US DDDD)

  • . 8 inches = FF cup

So how are the cup sizes worked out? (the technical bit)

Well when a bra get graded from one size to the next 5cm is added in total around the body, so the projection of the cup increases by 2.5cm (approx 1 inch, this is why this method starts to wavier above a FF cup as 2.5cm is not exactly 1 inch). So a 32DD pair of boobs are projecting out further (by approx 1 inch) than a 32D pair of boobs. So your cup size is related to how it is graded. 

 

CHECKING A BRA SIZE 

When a bra get designed and made, a designer will measure the sample against a spec sheet, on that spec sheet is an under-band stretch, and it has to past a certain stretch, therefore measuring 32 around your under-band , a 32 bra depending on the brand/make will fit, yes it may feel tight, but like your trusty pair of jeans that stretch with wear, so will your bra.

If the old style of measuring is working for you, and you're happy with the fit of your bra by all means keep following that way. But if you're not happy with the fit of your bra, you're always adjusting it, or want to throw it off the moment you get home; then try the method of what you measure under-band is what bra size you wear. For whatever reason we are prepared to accept that in some shops we could be say a size 10 or a size 12 but few people are wanting to budge on their bra size.

To show how ludicrous the old system of measuring can be. I put my measurements into bra calculators for them to tell me my size. I measure (approx) under-band 31 inches, over bust 35 inches, I usually aim to wear, depending on the brand a 30DD/30E because i like the band to be tight,  or would wear a 32D/32DD if the band is too tight aka can’t breathe level!

So on:

http://www.whatsmybrasize.co.uk/ -  It’s states I’m a 36AA

http://www.calculator.net/bra-size-calculator.html - It states I’m a 36D

Which is a bit mind blowing really. Now there are some bra sites which get my bra size right, and some which mainly give me a 36D, but I've only shown a couple of sites which are not linked to being able to purchase lingerie from. The idea is not show brands that may or may not get it right, it's not about calling anyone out, this is about being more aware of your own body and bra size and what works for you. Don't worry if your cup size seems to go up, a well fitting bra will alter your silhouette and make you look slimmer, feel more comfortable and make clothes fit better.

It shocks me that on websites such as the above they tell you that wearing the right size bra is important, and sadly some shops don't get it much better either. So whether you are online shopping or store shopping, try on your new size and just check out how it feels. If you don't like how it feels, you've lost nothing in trying something new. But if it changes your world. Your welcome!

Vanjo lingerie will be out in late September.

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.

 

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". 

Designing the correct bra size for your lingerie brand

I got asked a few weeks ago, whether there are any standard measurements that you can use as a starting point when starting to design, so you achieve the correct bra size.

Unfortunately there are no standard bra size charts, each company does their own bra fitting and designs patterns for their own customer.

However I can give you some insight on measurements from different companies I've worked with and where some companies start.

I have worked with a company (2014) that had their own bra size chart where they begin each bra sample with the underband of a 34B measuring at 64cm andeach wing measuring 16cm and the bra cups with cradle measuring 32cm. 

When I design a pattern for my brand (aimed at women with smaller backs and a bigger bust size, so my measurements may be different from high street brands). I start with a pattern/bra that I'm happy with the fit then I use that as pattern block and with every design I use that pattern and alter that, to fit the new style.  Usually then, only a few bra measurements alter, depending on the fabrics or how much the design has altered.

 

Lingerie Specification sheets

Below are actually specification sheets from when I designed for UK high street stores, The first one is from Topshop (2001) and the second is from River Island (2003), originally they were presented with designs that were from the same pattern (different design), and due to how they do their bra fitting on their fitting models, they altered the fit therefore altered the measurements such as on the wing, the underband and also the centre front.

 Bra specification sheet for a Top Shop bra (2001)

Bra specification sheet for a Top Shop bra (2001)

 Bra specification sheet for a River Island bra

Bra specification sheet for a River Island bra

 

There are no correct or standard measurements for lingerie, and even different companies have different size charts and grade differently (the UK brands grade underbands on 5cm and the French brands grade underbands on 4cm); so even if you start at the same measurements by the time you reach 4 sizes bigger or smaller then each brand measurement will be different. The best thing you can do is stay consistent to your own brand, each bra fits each woman differently so what is favourable by one person may not to be so in another, so build your brand with your core customer in mind.

*For those who need advice on How to fill in a Specification sheet then the book "how to spec a bra and brief" is available to download or buy as a book. Also there are downloadable spec sheet that you can use as a template.

Helping you design lingerie with Technical design packs

Are you stuck with needing help and support with your lingerie designs?

Launching seven packs to propel your lingerie designing and label forward. Complied together from the most requests received in how I can help designers with their lingerie, that can be printed out and use as templates to transform your lingerie business

The following design packs are designed to save you time and giving  you the confidence and the freedom to set and achieve your goals within the lingerie industry.

The design sheets are self-explanatory, and quick and easy to use.

Design pack one: Fabric & Trim Design Packs

"Keep a track of all fabrics and trims in one place for future use"

This Fabric and trims sheet is a place to note down the cost and fabric supplier of everything you order, keeping it in one place. When you buy a fabric a fabric or trim, noting down where you received it from, what the fabric is made from and how much it cost will save you time in the future.  No more trawling through receipts to find the cost or supplier. It's no rocket science this form, but how many of us has stashed fabrics or trims to use later, and then not been able to find any information about it?

Once all the information is filled in, just file the sheet away to locate later.


Design Pack two: Style progress Pack

"Design and map out your lingerie ideas the technical way"

Note down lingerie designs on a style sheet

The Style progress sheet is designed so you can record your design idea progress, in one handy sheet. Noting down what fabrics are being used, any key construction or special measurements.This sheet is useful if you are an independent designer hand making your entire collection and don’t need the full Technical pack but all the information on one page.

The sheet is also important if you do decide to take your collection to the next stage and wish to get it manufactured by a factory. 


Design Pack Three: Cutting sheet Pack

"Plan, cut and sew you lingerie in order for each season"

cutting out lingerie

The cutting sheet has been created if you are an independent designer sewing your lingerie that you are producing. This is extremely helpful if you have orders coming through, working on orders ahead, or are planning to launch your own label. Work out how long it will take you to make the order, then you can plan for future orders.


Design Pack Four: Time Line Pack

"Track your lingerie progress from design to production"

This time line design pack, is invaluable for when, you want to track your design styles from start to finish. Sometimes when you're starting out it can be hard to know all the steps you may need to take to produce your lingerie so these information on the sheets are what I previously used in the industry. There are two types, one if you're an independent designer, designing and sewing up your own lingerie, and a sheet if you are going down the manufacturing route and outsourcing to a factory.


Design Pack Five: Specification Sheet Pack

"Map out your lingerie sizes the industry way"

These spec sheets are designed so you can write your key measurements from your sample, then work out and record the sizes for the full-size range. Included is an example of the "point of measurement", used in the industry, with an example of a bra, a soft bra and a brief with references to a picture with the corresponding measurements.

For those wanting an in-depth insight into how you spec a bra or brief, then the book "How to spec a bra and brief" is available to buy and will take you through step-by-step on how to complete this.


Design Pack Six: Tech Pack Sheets

"Get you lingerie manufactured the professional way"

The tech pack provides you with separate technical sheets for you to use, depending how detailed you need your tech pack to be. This tech pack provides sheets for either design labels who are outsourcing just the manufacturing, or those who are outsourcing everything including the make-up of the labels and packaging. Each sheet has a prompt for what you should write, and there are over 20+ blank sheets (all different degrees of blankness).

For those wanting an in-depth guide of writing a tech pack, there is the book "How to write a tech pack for a bra and brief" which is available to buy and will take you through step-by-step on how to complete this.


Design Pack Seven: Costing sheet Pack

"Calculate the cost price point for each piece of lingerie designed"

The cost sheet is designed so you can work out how much each piece of lingerie designed costs to make.  It requires you to work out and measure how much elastic is on each piece, and how much fabric is used. Including adding VAT if you're VAT registered.

Then importantly is the percentage that gets added when you want to sell to either wholesale or direct.

*For those wanting more advice on how to cost your lingerie, there is a section in the "How to to become a Lingerie Designer" book



 

 

 

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.