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.

 

 

What patterns do you want to see?

Well although it's been quiet on the blog front, the "How to become a Lingerie Designer" office has been a hive of activity. Moving office, taking on new projects, finalising the book "how to tech a bra and brief" (currently being laid out) which is a follow on book to "How to spec a bra and brief" and goes through all the information you need when wanting to send your designs to a factory.

Also I have been working on patterns to put on the website. Which then leads to the question - are there any patterns you would like like to see on the website? I've started with the basic brief, but can produce any style of bra or brief, I've even been looking back at my sketch book for inspiration.

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.