your questions that I answer: How do i design without ripping off other designers.

February 14th: How do I design without feeling like I'm ripping off other designers?

Q I Found your website this evening and yay it is just what I needed! I've only recently started getting into making my own lingerie and I feel like I've finally found my passion. I'm very keen to work on my own designs but have one question that I continually return to (one for #transformationtuesday maybe?).  Designing something like a bra or knickers is not exactly reinventing the wheel so how do you go about doing this without feeling as though you're ripping off someone else's design. Essentially there are only so many ways you can make a bra for example??!!

Hope you can help. Ordering a book this week - would you suggest the How to Become a Lingerie Designer as first port of call?

A: Okay in answer to your question: You don't have to re-invent the wheel, unless you are planning to bring a new concept to lingerie, and lets be honest it's not changed a lot in the past decades of years. But then so hasn't a lot of clothing apparel. I would start by setting up a private Pinterest board and add lingerie designs that inspire you every day, and by the end of a couple of weeks if you have a look back you should be able to see a style of what you want to design - your style. 

Look at all the strappy bras and briefs there are about at the moment, I'm even working on a pattern for one. There are many about but there are still so many changes you can do - fabrics: mesh, lace, bamboo, cotton, lycra, and colours, prints, placement of straps, sizing of bras etc.

When I had Vanjo I concentrated of a two piece cup for the bigger boobed , smalled backed ladies, but there is lots of companies and brands that use the three piece cup shape, the exact same shape yet they all look different because they have a strong brand look. Take a look at for example Freya, Miss Mandalay, Love Claudette and Curvy Kate - all of these use the same/similar shape, obviously the fits will be different as each fits to their brand, but just by looking at them you will be able to see that they are completely different.  The picture shown is the final collection of Vanjo which was my take on the three piece cup.

ripping other lingerie designers off

Once you start designing you may find that your style naturally changes as you go on, you may start being inspired by certain designers, then find your own rhythm of what works for you, but only by trial and error of starting will you reach that. 

Also I think you'll know when you start to design whether you're ripping off someones else's design off, you'll feel it, you'll know.

In answer to your second question, I'd order,"how to become a lingerie designer" it covers this topic and the gives an overview of a lot of concepts to do with lingerie design.

Hope that helps.

(and yup your question is about to go on transformational tuesday)



January 16th: Where do i start?

This weeks #transformationtuesday is a question that I think hounds us all.

Q: Hellllpppppp me! For the past year or so I have been researching designing and starting my own line, but I still don't know where to start? I have so many ideas, I want to design for the bigger sized market, design sports bras and have ideas for maternity wear. Which do I do first? Where do I start? It feels like I start then change direction and get nothing done. Any advice would be great Arrggghhhh so many questions I would like to ask you.

A: Firstly, this problem is very common. I know I have many a half finished project, or designs that didn't make the cut. Sometimes you have to work through what doesn't work to see what does. That said I think you need to narrow down your designs, leave wanting to cater to everyone to the big companies, they have the money and can hire many designers for each area of expertise. So in which area does your passion or skills arise? I think you need to sit down and work out your customer, and your unique selling point, also by doing this when you approach people about your brand or if they find you , you have a strong brand from the outset. Also make a list of what you need to learn or can do. Do you want to make and sew your own lingerie? If so do you have the skills you need, if not what is your next step? By breaking everything down it should give you a clear picture of your strengths and weaknesses. I would also suggest setting up a private pinterest board, begin every night adding lingerie and non lingerie images that you like then after say a week or so, look at the board on a whole and you should see a theme. This is the direction of your brand or theme of your designs. Are you images bright or muted colours? Try to see a link between them all. By placing everything in one place should keep you on the right track when you begin to want to wander on to the next thing. Lastly when you find something that is not working, question why. By looking back on what doesn't work will allow you to move on to what does. 


December 13th: How can I become a lingerie designer with no experience?

#transformationtuesday to getting you one step closer to becoming a designer. Todays question: You blog has given me inspiration, zeal and motivation to go ahead with improving myself and learning new things. But i have a little problem. My friend and I want to start our own lingerie brand but we have no design experience whatsoever. My question is how can become a lingerie designer and own my own brand when I have no design experience? is it possible at all?

designing lingerie with no experience

Answer: This is the most common question I must get asked. Yes it is possible to become a lingerie designer without any prior lingerie design knowledge, there are lingerie companies out there who have successful lingerie brands, it just takes a lot more time. "Negative Underwear" took four years working on their brand whilst they had other jobs, neither had lingerie design experience before they started they just wanted to offer ladies sleek lingerie wasn't over the top with frills. I think the most important thing is to get a strong brand together to start. What are you offering? I started Vanjo with the niche of catering for women who had small backs and big boobs, mainly in bright Liberty prints and colours that at the time weren't being offered to women. Next thing would be to work out what you want to outsource and what you want to do yourself, if you don't plan to sew them yourself then you need to look for a sample machinist/factory. Do you need your drawings drawn up? Graded? etc. Once you know which direction you want to go in it's easier to start to move in that direction.

*Transformation Tuesday is published every week on Instagram. if you have a question please email me. laurie@howtobecomealingeriedesigner.com or use the contact form on the 'my story' page.

 

Interview with ... WELL ME!

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. 

lingerie interviews laurie van jonsson

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.

Make the most of your time

Whether you have to juggle full time work with working on your dream job in your spare time or whether you're juggling work with looking after children, time is something that seems to slip away. Over the years I've found what works for me. A question I got asked recently is how do I fit everything in so I thought I'd share an insight into how I manage it all.

I am a list maker, if i have it written down on paper what I have to do then it's out of my head and then when I get to my desk I know exactly what I have to do.

Usually what stops us is the thought that we'd never finish what we need to do in one sitting. Too often we have a list of projects we need to complete rather than list of tasks. 

After making my list I now break each part down into tasks - a task I class as completing in a certain amount of time - mine is anywhere from 15-25 mins. Before I had distractions (i.e. children) I would just work through each part of the list but give myself only 30 mins which made sure I had to concentrate and just go for it. Nowadays though each part is broken down so when I reach my desk I know exactly what I have to do. I now aim for the completion of at least five things (tasks) on my list which is do-able and makes me feel like I've completed something and moved closer to my goal/dream, even on the days when it feels like I'm getting nowhere. 

For example - if I'm designing a new style of brief and need to make a sample, on my list would be: Make brief sample - a way to break that down would be:

- cut front, cut back, cut gusset, sew gusset in, sew side seam, attach elastic to leg, attach elastic to leg, attach elastic to waist, trim. 

So if you follow the five-a-day task completing, that sample of briefs that you want to make, will be completed in two days, and you've been probably putting it off for weeks. Also by breaking everything down you can see where you either need more help in a certain area, or if you have to complete something else first - like buying elastic.

If you're still having trouble making time, sit down and re-draft where you want to be, by focusing on the end point, it can keep you going when everything seems to be going slowly or wrong! Remember a year will pass whether you are working towards something or not, better to be closer to our dream than stood with just your thoughts of where you want to be.

Below is an example of how my diary looks most weeks. It includes all work for the week, personal things I need to complete and also the time in which I spend on clients work.

make most your time designing

START your lingerie label - use the resources you have

A tidy up around the office led me to find the first copy of the book "How to become a Lingerie Designer" and let me remember how far I had come with this business, and how it all started, telling people that I was going to write a book before I had even attempted or started it.

I think that we all need to be reminded that sometimes you need to remember you have all the resources to need to start. If you are waiting for your life to be less busy, have more money, more time, better ideas or more experience then you are forever going to be waiting. It's been seven years from when I first started to write "How to become a Lingerie Designer" and if I had of waited for conditions to be right then I would have just been seven years older. Full stop.

The truth is there is never enough time and the timing will never be right. Fact. You never see what goes on behind someone's creation of their work, you just see a finished product and wish you had the resources to be where they are. Well you do.

Use the resources you already have

I had the idea for the book for 2009 and it took me three years of writing, re-writing it, and questioning myself over it. Working in a non lingerie based job and writing before or after work. 2012 came around and I got sponsorship to move to Melbourne, Australia to lingerie design, so new country, new work, shock to the system about my lack of internet where I lived, but I managed to finish the book. Now what? Keep going. Yes it's hard, yes you may want to stop, yes you may question it all and problems will occur that you think you don't know how to solve but remember....

Use the resources you already have

being a lingerie designer using resources you have

For example: I needed a front cover and didn't really know anyone enough in Australia to design me one - so I used a model shot I had previously done from my label and the wording - well in all honestly there are fridge magnets, I wrote "How to become a Lingerie Designer" on the fridge, took a picture and then used photoshop.  Not the idea I had in mind when I first started the book, but since then I've been able to get the book re-drafted, and have a new shiny front cover which is more in line of the ethos of the brand and far more professional, but if I hadn't have started and kept going, I would never have been able to update, re-brand and write more books, I would have just been looking for more time, more money and more ideas to write the first. 

Your lingerie label that you keep wanting to start, will always be in the future if you don't simply don't start it, be that either ordering fabrics, practising sewing, or attempting to make a pattern. It's easier to keep things moving than it is to start, so if you start tonight - well you've done the hard part.

*How to become a lingerie designer"  book available here

 

 

 

Don't have the Ideal Lingerie Studio?

Don't be put off by not starting work on your own designs by not having the perfect studio/workspace. I take look back at all the places I have worked in.

Over the years I have worked in many a studio. My first job was as a T-shirt designer for a UK lingerie manufacturer, just me and a sample machinist in a cold, cold room. I remember in Winter standing so close to the electric heater that my coated jeans (it was the year 2000) melted and cracked!

My second job was with the same company, I kept showing them my lingerie portfolio and helping out in the lingerie studio in my own time, and after a few months I was moved. I was next to a radiator - bliss, a large window and with two other designers, who helped me and taught me about the lingerie trade.

My next job was in Thailand, I had no desk, I positioned myself on Koh Tao using Thai beach restaurants as my workspace. Their tables were big enough to spread out, and the restaurants were cheap enough to pitch myself their most of the day with intermittent swims to cool down. Was it amazing as it sounds - one word yes.

Upon returning to the UK, I set up Vanjo, in my spare bedroom, I started off working around the spare bed with a small desk in the corner, over the years the bed went and office furniture replaced it. Though I never had a desk that big enough; so all my cutting involved me cutting the pattern out of the rolls of fabric on the floor.

After Vanjo, I took a part time job and started to write "How to become a Lingerie Designer", here  I found the joys of working in libraries, (Amsterdam Library in my opinion has been the best, followed by Melbourne), coffee shops and Wine bars. I use to make sure I always had work in my bag so after or before working my part-time job, I could concentrate on it, as rarely did I find the motivation to work at home.

My view behind me in the Australian studio.

My view behind me in the Australian studio.

 

Working back full time in the Lingerie trade was the next port of call in Melbourne Australia, unfortunately the studio space wasn't what I expect, I had no windows and was surrounded by boxes upon boxes of samples, with quite a strict regime about not being to listen to music. 

 

Then I returned to freelance, designing and writing where I mainly work from home, I now have a large table that's situated near big windows and doors so it's wonderfully bright.

 

But one day when the children are school age, I hope to have the most beautiful inspiring studio.  I wouldn't say no to these.....

Joy Cho's studio from Oh Joy.

Joy Cho's studio from Oh Joy.

Maddie Flanigan's studio from Madalynn

Maddie Flanigan's studio from Madalynn

Six traits successful lingerie designers have in common

Lingerie Edit contacted me and asked me to do a piece on becoming a Lingerie Designer, so I thought I'd take you through the six traits which I think successful lingerie designers have.

Below is a copy of the piece.....

Author of ‘How To Become A Lingerie Designer’, Laurie van Jonsson had an un-extraordinary start to her lingerie design career; graduating with a BA HONS in Fashion & Textiles in 2000 she went on to run a successful lingerie brand. Everything was text-book perfect. Until life took a rather extraordinary turn and Laurie found herself at a career cross road. Today, she is sharing with you some of her personal experiences in the industry, some start-up brand top tips, and, six things you NEED to become a successful lingerie designer…


So, you have an idea that you think will change the world of lingerie. Or, you are simply so infatuated with lingerie that you dream, sleep and want to design it.

How do you become a Lingerie Designer and showcase your brand at Lingerie shows like The Lingerie Edit? Do you need any sewing experience? Do you need the ability to draw? Do you need any knowledge of the industry? Where do you start?

Before I answer those questions, let’s go back a few steps. From my experience of running my own brand, freelancing for start ups, providing one-to-one tuition and giving talks in universities; I have noticed that those who make it tend to have a six things in common.

Have a PLAN

So where do you start? The main advice I give to people is to start out with a plan; something written down that can start you on your path to achieve your dreams.

My plan/my dream was to have my own label and I started on the very traditional route – I studied contour at Demontfort University, then worked in a UK manufacturer design studio designing for UK high streets. Then from working abroad I went on to produce my own label Vanjo catering for smaller backs and bigger boobs.

After 8 years of dreaming of my label I finally had it. I worked feverishly to grow the brand and then it seemed I had hit all my goals. I don’t say this to be big-headed, I say this as a warning; keep extending your plan, always have a bigger dream. I went on to close down my label as I had arrived at crossroads where my brand was too big for just me but maybe too small to extend – I didn’t know as I didn’t have a strategy.

Make a plan of all the things you need to know and research, read, attend shows, attend workshops and if you don’t have the ability in a certain section, seek out a professional to help you.

Have a MARKET

Do your research – what do you like or don’t like about the lingerie that is already out there? What will your brand offer? What value are you adding to the market? Working out exactly what your brand is or offering, will save you time and money and give you a stronger sense of your brand.

You will never conquer TIME

This is still one I struggle with, I have a list of all the things I want to complete (my plan!!), a list that I map out in my diary. And whilst I hit the majority of my timeline, many things slip through and get pushed further and further back.

Life happens; new projects take over, other work is done so bills can be paid. For example before my son was born I wrote a three part book series, ‘How to spec a Bra and Brief,’ ‘How write a Bra and Brief tech pack’ and ‘How to grade a Bra and Brief,’ I just needed to add all the diagrams, edit and artwork the book. My son turns two at the start of the New Year and it’s only just the second book that’s about to be released.

As I’m doing other things though, I never panic about it, I know from my plan how to get there, and it’s a question of my timing and work timing and trying to get the two of them to meet. Talk to any independent lingerie brand, and I bet all of them will tell you that it took a lot longer than they thought to get where they are now.

Remember there are no shorts cuts to any place worth going.

Learn the TERMINOLOGY

I work a lot with start up brands or do one-to-one tutorials with people wanting to start their own brand. Those who I meet, that have sorted fabrics; have made a few contacts, or know the difference between a zig-zag stitch and straight stitch are more likely to get further, than the ones I meet, that just have a vague sketch and no idea of which direction they want to end up in.

 

Feel it and take a LEAP

Sometimes you have to take a leap, you’ve followed the first point and got that plan – great, but now I’m throwing you a curve ball, all that planning will hold you in good stead when you land that first gig but sometimes you just have to feel it and go for it.

Its time to take action, remember you only have to know how to take the next step, if you go in a different direction than your plan, change it. It doesn’t have to be drastic actions, it could be ordering fabric, attending a show, making a contact but it has to be some action.

Though when you do take drastic leaps the world does become better place, you are pushed out of your comfort zone and you have to keep going.

The two major times in my life I’ve taken that leap.

1. Selling my house, quitting my design job and buying a one-way ticket to Thailand, I just thought I’d travel, return back and get a job. I ended up not returning to live in England for 10 years and worked around the world designing for different lingerie companies.

2. Closing down Vanjo – this was such a hard one, with no plan to hand I did so many brainstorms, and pros and cons lists that it made my head spin. Upon answering yet another email from a person asking me how I started my brand and for advice, I realised that there wasn’t anything out there at the time regarding lingerie, there was plenty of Fashion start up books but not lingerie.

I closed down Vanjo, moved in with a friend, took a part time job at Urban Outfitters and began to write. Six months was my plan, but that pesky thing called time got me again, re-writing, researching, and doing interviews with other UK brands meant the book was another three years in the making. I guess the point I’m trying to make is that, keep going, time will pass no matter what, so you might as well be working towards something amazing.

Surround yourself with INSPIRATION

Inspirational words can get you through times of doubt, look on Instagram and you’ll see quotes or inspirational words appear on many designer’s feeds. At my desk I personally have these:

Dare to be you?

Come to the cliffs he said.

They said – we are afraid.

Come to the cliff he said.

They came.

He pushed them. And they flew.

-Guillaume Apollinaire

And in brief the answers to those questions previously –

1. Do you need any sewing experience? No

2. Do you need the ability to draw? No

3. Do you need any knowledge of the industry? Learn as much as you can.

4. Where do you start? Those wishing to start and know more about becoming a Lingerie Designer, but don’t know where to start the website has tips, trends and tutorials covering all aspects of the lingerie industry. Also the books are available to buy to get you started.

inspiration not imitation

a couple years ago I wrote an article about 'Are the high street taking a step too close' sighting that the high street were imitating designers, rather than being inspired by them. It is a thing that happens, in the past I had a company do an exact copy of the Vanjo soft bra. 

When I enquired about it, they replied that their designs were their own, in situations like that, you'll never know if you were right or they were. 

Then last week, I noticed on Instagram that someone had taken my sketches and stated, that they were their own. I have been messaged since when I questioned it,  that it was done in an error.

BLOGCOPY1.jpg

However  I can not state enough - if you are thinking of becoming a lingerie designer, have conviction and self belief in your own designs. You are obviously thinking of becoming a designer because you believe you have an idea which the world needs to see. You don't need to copy anyone else, otherwise you won't get that far. 

Know where you are heading - How to keep your lingerie label alive.

Recently I have been getting a few enquiries from designers who want to start their own label but are wanting advice on how to keep their label going once they've started. I wrote a piece about this back in 2012 for Lingerie Talk. For those who didn't see it, the piece is below with some of the lingerie that made it into the Vanjo Range, (2005-2009)

keeping your lingerie design label going

What can make one lingerie company successful and yet another close it doors?

I had survived the dreaded first four years of running a business, was being stocked internationally, and when I finally rolled up that last bit of elastic and turned off my machines I had just been approached by Bravissimo. I had exceeded far more than I ever thought I would.

So why close it down?

THIS WAS FROM SEASON TWO OF VANJO - AT THIS POINT I DIDN'T HAVE ANY MONEY FOR A PHOTO SHOOT - SO AN ONLINE RETAILER SHOT THE IMAGES FOR THE SAMPLES. I DIDN;T HAVE ANY CONTROL OVER THE SHOOTS, AND WHEN I RECEIVED THEM BACK, IT DIDN'T REALLY KEEP IN ETHOS OF THE BRAND. I WOULDN'T CHOOSE THIS PATH AGAIN.

THIS WAS FROM SEASON TWO OF VANJO - AT THIS POINT I DIDN'T HAVE ANY MONEY FOR A PHOTO SHOOT - SO AN ONLINE RETAILER SHOT THE IMAGES FOR THE SAMPLES. I DIDN;T HAVE ANY CONTROL OVER THE SHOOTS, AND WHEN I RECEIVED THEM BACK, IT DIDN'T REALLY KEEP IN ETHOS OF THE BRAND. I WOULDN'T CHOOSE THIS PATH AGAIN.

There’s no straightforward answer, but I do have the luxury of hindsight so I can share what I would do differently if I could do it all over again. Though it’s not all black and white, my mistakes are tightly woven with the best decisions I ever made. But there are certain things I have learned:

 

Have a good network of people around you.
I started my label when I left Thailand and moved straight to Northern Ireland, arriving with just a backpack and knowing only a couple of people. Financially it worked, as there were many grants I was able to apply for. Plus there were no jobs for lingerie design there, flights to London were cheap and I could tackle the international market with Dublin just being over a two-train ride away.

But at the start, when I was working from home from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m., it became lonely and I had only the postman to distract me!

Although I didn’t have anyone close at hand, what I did have was a godsend — a friend in a similar boat who had started her own grading company in her home town in Wales. She became my lifeline, because no one else really understands (or cares) that your second batch of overlocking thread doesn’t match the first and the dilemma of whether to unpick the whole lot or just to carry on.

Never try to be bigger than you are at the start.
This is one I found hardest to sit with, having already worked for large high street stores, where everything was done fast and on a big scale. I found myself working as a one-man band, and because of the speed I knew I could go, I wanted things done quicker and better than I could physically do them.

I sometimes envied the designers who had no experience in the trade as they couldn’t compare themselves to what they had previously done. Instead of relishing the fact that I hand-made all my lingerie to start with, and needed to build slowly, to build and establish my brand, I headed straight to the top and started saying yes to all stockists who wanted me — including Topshop, which told me that they didn’t want next season’s range, they wanted this one, and soon. Then they kept upping their order and I kept saying yes, working seven days a week on the dreaded 7 a.m.-11 p.m. shift for three months solid.

If I was aiming to go high again so soon, I would make sure I have the goods to back it up with. 

THIS WAS FROM SEASON THREE, AGAIN I DIDN'T REALLY HAVE ANY BUDGET FOR THE PHOTO SHOOT (SEE A PATTERN EMERGING?) I HAD COMPLETED A BUSINESS COURSE FROM INVEST NI AT THIS STAGE, AND ONE OF THE PERKS FORM COMPLETING THIS COURSE WAS 15 HOURS FROM SOMEONE IN THE INDUSTRY, I CHOSE PR AND THE SHOOT WAS AGAIN DONE FOR ME, WITH MODELS CHOSEN. THE BRA MODELLED WAS ONE OF THE BEST SELLERS FOR THAT SEASON.

THIS WAS FROM SEASON THREE, AGAIN I DIDN'T REALLY HAVE ANY BUDGET FOR THE PHOTO SHOOT (SEE A PATTERN EMERGING?) I HAD COMPLETED A BUSINESS COURSE FROM INVEST NI AT THIS STAGE, AND ONE OF THE PERKS FORM COMPLETING THIS COURSE WAS 15 HOURS FROM SOMEONE IN THE INDUSTRY, I CHOSE PR AND THE SHOOT WAS AGAIN DONE FOR ME, WITH MODELS CHOSEN. THE BRA MODELLED WAS ONE OF THE BEST SELLERS FOR THAT SEASON.

Don’t spend money you don’t have.
Sounds pretty simple, but when you’re in a big warehouse with every shade of elastic and trim, you do end up going crazy. Did I really need to buy 500 metres of black brushed back elastic in two varieties? 

Decide the style of your brand.
When I first started my brand not only did I design lingerie, I also did men’s trunks (under the name Vanjon) and just for good measure I did men’s and women’s T-shirts. Looking back I do wonder, what the hell was I thinking? The time and money I spent on that I could have spent on the lingerie.

Save money where it counts.
Yes, another one about money, but without a cash flow you have no business. Be realistic where you can save money, and where you should spend it. To start with, I paid my model with underwear, as well as the make-up artist. I also managed to get a shoot done in a vintage shop for free by using some of the shop’s jewellery and mentioning her shop in my local press releases. 

Have a business plan.
Even if you don’t have an accurate vision at the start, ensure you update your plan yearly. My first business plan was basic: who I was aiming at, a list of magazines or blogs I wanted to cover me, what shops I wanted to be stocked in. I also had a rough cash flow plan, wildly inaccurate in the first year, but each year I came back to it and I could see how and where I needed to improve. 

That said, trust your instinct.
Don’t be scared if it feels right or it’s a last-minute decision to do something outside your business plan, this gets easier the longer you go on. Many people told me from the start not to include 28-inch backs in my size range because they wouldn’t sell, so I’d be wasting my time getting the fit right. From the start 28FF was one of my best sellers, and I’m glad I didn’t listen to them. 

Know where you are heading.
Where do you want to end up finally? Four years in, I found myself wondering if I’d ever get out of the cycle of having not enough time or money. Self-doubt started to creep in, mixed with the fact that I was a crossroads where the label was too big for me to do by myself, but not big enough to outsource. And since I didn’t know where I finally wanted to be, I didn’t know what to do next.

 

THIS IS SEASON FIVE (I THINK), AND IS IN THE VINTAGE SHOP THAT I MENTIONED PREVIOUSLY. FROM THE SHOOT DONE ON SEASON THREE, I KEPT IN CONTACT WITH THE PHOTOGRAPHER AND HE WENT ON TO DO ALL MY SHOOTS. THIS WAS THE FIRST TIME I HAD WORKED WITH THE LADIES MODELLING. THE WOMAN SAT DOWN I WENT ON TO WORK WITH HER FOR ALL THE VANJO LINGERIE. 

THIS IS SEASON FIVE (I THINK), AND IS IN THE VINTAGE SHOP THAT I MENTIONED PREVIOUSLY. FROM THE SHOOT DONE ON SEASON THREE, I KEPT IN CONTACT WITH THE PHOTOGRAPHER AND HE WENT ON TO DO ALL MY SHOOTS. THIS WAS THE FIRST TIME I HAD WORKED WITH THE LADIES MODELLING. THE WOMAN SAT DOWN I WENT ON TO WORK WITH HER FOR ALL THE VANJO LINGERIE. 

Knowing I couldn’t keep up the momentum of working the hours I did with the little I paid myself, I closed down the label.

Did I regret it at the time? Yes and no. When I saw lingerie magazines covering designers I felt a stab of envy and wondered what I would do next.

Now, though, I have no regrets. If I hadn’t closed Vanjo, I would never have gotten the chance to follow my other passion and write (How To Become A Lingerie Designer has finally been finished and is available to buy). And I would never have gotten the chance to spend my time after I closed Vanjo down traveling to different parts of Europe. And also designing lingerie in Australia.

Running Vanjo made me aware of how much I could achieve. I never flourished in money, but the thrill of a stockist wanting to stock your brand, or a magazine choosing to showcase your lingerie, or a customer writing to thank you for your designs — they’re the highs that you seek.

Would I do it again knowing how hard it is?

Without a shadow of a doubt. Just next time I’ll make sure that I’m where I want to be in life first, and have a plan of where I want to end up.

Is UK Manufacturing coming back?

When the opportunity to visit UK Manufacturer Fashion Capital arose. I jumped at the chance. Having started my first job in Lingerie Design in a UK manufacturer, in 2000, as a supplier for the high streets. I've watched over the years the decline of making garments in Britain. So I am in full support of the rise, that UK manufacturing in the past few years has been receiving.

 

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There is a  buzz when you walk through the factory and within the depths of the fabrics are highly skilled pattern cutters and machinists, sewing to meet the demands of independent designers, high street retailers such as Marks and Spencers and online retail giant ASOS.

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With manufacturing skills being lost over the years, ASOS have teamed together with Fashion Capital to produce a 'Stitching Academy'.  Where by you can undertake a 6 week internship and gain a level one qualification in stitching skills. Providing  the skills and opportunities within the British Manufacturing sector.

Although we might never gain back the full potential of UK manufacturing, I think this factory is on it's way to putting back what we once lost. 

For details about the factory services email: thefactory@fashion-enter.com

For details about the Stitching Academy email: stitching.academy@fashion-enter.com

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