Van Journal: How to start a lingerie line

After a year of planning Vanjo launched a soft launch in October, which basically meant that not all the pieces were ready were to launch at the date, but a couple of the pieces were , so rather than wait until it was ready, and pushing the launch date back further. Launching with just a couple of pieces meant that I could keep an eye of any problems that may occur and handle them quickly, luckily non did, but it was great to release the pieces even if it wasn’t in the way that I thought it would be.

A year may seem a long while to get everything ready, but if you read “Why Vanjo nearly didn’t get launched” you’ll see all the problems I en-counted along the way.

First up to be released was Ottilie pink Wave bra in which the waves are never far away, a soft pink wave high apex print bra with yellow trims. And the high waisted Ella brief which is a black and white Bretton stripe brief, trimmed with yellow elastic to contrast yet match the pink wave bra.

high apex bra and stripe brief

Now the next set is ready to be launched, is the Harper navy liberty print tana lawn cotton with birds bra, mixed with French lace and dotty mesh. And the matching briefs.

french lace bra and liberty print briefs

There is another set in the wings waiting to be added to the collection, a yellow geometric sized crop top, a high waisted brief and low waisted gap detailed brief. Which hopefully will be added to the lingerie line before Xmas.

32dd yellow geometric crop top

Difference between launch and re-launch

The main difference between the launch this time around and this time around, is that the patterns will be available from the collection so everything is more accessible, also the collections are much smaller, which means that we can constantly be adding to the lines rather than relying on seasons. You can follow how this lingerie label started and where it’s at from following the blogs named ‘Van Journal’ this gives the insight of how I started my lingerie label, and the pitfalls I’ve encountered.

Also I have more of an idea of who my customer is this time, and what I want to achieve with the label, and I’m happy to continue the label this time, alongside writing and freelancing.

Unlike the first time around where there was an underwire in the collection, these bras will just be non wired. I released a soft bra first time round and had such a good response that it seemed to make sense to concentrate on that side of the market. Sometimes it’s hard to find a large size cup bra in a soft cup so hopefully Vanjo will bridge that gap offering fun pieces. This time around the soft bras have more structure, keeping the same style as the high apex bra from first time round, this time, the underband is built up between the cup and around the sides. This targets those with full volume breasts and also those who struggle say after breastfeeding where they feel that their breasts have changed shaped, some saggier, others with less volume. By having a non stretch underband at the front and sides, this allows the breasts to stay put and forward, and encases the breast rather than flatten them which some soft bras do. I wrote about boobs and breastfeeding on an earlier piece.

How to start a lingerie line

So if you’re at the start of wanting to begin your own lingerie line, and don’t know where to start or what order you need to complete everything, one thing I find helpful is to have a time line. A timeline of the lingerie you want to get completed by a certain date, and work back from there, You could plan it in then use the spaces for your actual dates of what is outstanding that you need to complete. By having something solid to work by, lets you plan ahead or highlights any areas in which you need to learn, know more about or to outsource.

Below is an example of a time line that is available in the design sheet pack, which allows you to track your lingerie from start to finish, so one glance and you know exactly where you are with it all. In the design sheets, is an example, how to fill in the sheet and blank examples for you to use. There is a different sheet if you are planning to outsource the manufacturing.

Example of a timeline (available in the design sheet pack)

Example of a timeline (available in the design sheet pack)

I have always worked with timelines, in my own business and definitely always in other companies, when you’re called into meetings to discuss where production is and what you are waiting for, you don’t want to be wading through notes of everything, having everything on a single piece of paper means you can pass over styles, and know exactly what is left to do.

If you’re got your design ideas ready, what now? Think about fabrics, where you might source them, including trims, also are you going to make them yourself, or manufacturer them. If you’re going to a factory then you will need a technical drawing at the least and maybe a tech pack so they can cost how much it will cost you manufacturer. Even if you don’t end up going with the factory you first thought of, making these contacts is invaluable for the future. Then you have think about patterns, samples, and getting your lingerie to a fit stage in which you are happy with. Don’t worry if it takes longer than first thought, along the way you will be solving problems or things you hadn’t thought of and this will put you in good steed for further down the line.

If you need help with producing a technical drawing then please contact me.



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". 

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.

Inspiration or Imitation? My first filmed photo shoot.

Whilst talking to another lingerie designer the other day, we got talking about whether any designs (in and out of lingerie) are ever really original. My take on design, is that nothing is ever original - the idea has to come from somewhere, however that's all it should stem from is an idea not a direct copy. 

For example when I was running my own lingerie label, I saw a video shoot from 'Ophelia Fancy',  (top film) and  when I did mine (bottom film) I took from it that I wanted  a similar retro vibe, so fuzzy images and movement on the camera.

Considering at the time I had no budget so filmed and edited it myself it was probably a wise move to want movement on the camera! Amateur as the film turned out, it did the job. And as there were hardly any independent lingerie brands back in 2008 then, doing filmed lingerie shoots got it noticed.

The key thing is to take your inspiration and use it as that - inspiration - and move it on to incorporate your final image of what you want your designs/vision to look like.

More information about Copy Right, and Inspiration can be found in "How to become a Lingerie Designer".