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.

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.

Five items to always be found in a lingerie designers tool box.

Ever wondered what's inside a toolbox of a lingerie designer? Well here's a quick look into mine.

1. Needles, needles, needles. You will always find a good supply of needles in the box. There is nothing as annoying as sewing up a sample and running out of them. I even have a container to put the blunt ones in, so  can keep a track of them i.e. not find them on the floor later and wonder if they are any good or not. 

2. Sewing machine attachment feet - I think my most used one apart from the standard foot, is the button holder foot. I put the bow underneath to hold it. Exactly how is here.

3. Little Scissors - I have more than one pair of little scissors, for some reason when I'm un-picking stitches I switch from one pair to the other ( and the stitch ripper) when I think my progress is slowing up. Whether it works or is all in my head - I don't know - I just know that un-picking stitches can be boring, tedious and plain annoying.

4. Big Scissors - The shears - pretty obvious - for cutting patterns from the fabric, I often use the cutting wheel as well, it depends what type of fabric I am using.

5. Screw Drivers - These are mainly used to tighten the bobbin case, and to open the side of the machine to get access to the bulb wen it goes.

Items not featured that are usually in the box, are thread, bobbins, accessories such as buttons, hooks and eyes, pens, and measuring tape.

Items that I have had in the past and need to re-stock on - magnetic wrist pin holder and a magnetic extendable pick-up tool. This is invaluable if you are a student, with so many pins that drop on the floor and never get picked up, you can whizz it around the floor and never need buy pins again for your duration in the studio.

 

 

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.