One thing I’m really passionate about here on The Lingerie Addict is supporting independent designers. I’ve tried to do that multiple ways…from Designer Interviews to the group Independent Lingerie Professionals to making myself personally available for designers to send their lookbooks and other press materials.
Still, there are some aspects of the industry I just don’t know very much about, and one of the questions I’m asked most often is “How, as an independent lingerie designer, can I break into the lingerie industry?”
I met Ellen Lewis, world-renowned lingerie consultant and founder of Lingerie Briefs, at this year’s CurveNY and asked if she’d be willing to share her expertise on the blog. Not only was she incredibly nice, she feels just as strongly that there should be a space for independent brands in the industry, and so she agreed to answer a few questions from readers. If you’re an independent designer or simply love independent lingerie, what are your thoughts on the place of indie brands within the lingerie industry?
1) What would you tell new lingerie designers looking to break into the industry?
Be patient. Network and shop the stores, the internet, catalogs, everything. Understand what people are buying and adapt your vision to that reality. This is difficult for many creative people but you must accept constructive criticism. Possibly, spend some time, if you can manage it, inside a larger venue in order to be exposed to larger sourcing markets and the requirements of efficient production. Many independent designers who are used to sewing individual items do not grasp the reality of profitable manufacturing and some of the compromises necessary to achieve this
2) What are 3 things any brand trying to establish a presence in the industry should know?
- It takes time, repetition, continuity and focus
- Less is more. You need a good concept and a cohesive merchandising approach. The product presentation needs to make an immediate statement
- Build a network of support: sales, accounting, manufacturing, distribution, marketing, customer service, etc.
3) What distinguishes the lingerie industry from the rest of the fashion industry?
First it is much smaller and more intimate ( no pun intended). Establishing a foot in the door is difficult because there are less outlets, but it is also easier to be seen. It is a microcosm of the larger fashion industry. It covers every aspect of a woman’s life under one umbrella.
4) Do you believe there’s a space for both independent designers/retailers and mainstream brands?
Yes, I would leave the industry if this were not true. It is this balance that I advocate. The independents are the petrie dish of ideas and what, in my opinion, inspires and challenges the entire business. It is difficult to always be creating the next new thing, but it is also what art is all about. That is why I think its a compliment when a designers original work is copied. An artist needs to move forward anyway.
5) Is it just enough to design beautiful lingerie? What else should a lingerie designer do to be noticed?
This is a major point. You have to be able to be seen as reliable in production quality, on time delivery and customer service. I have seen phenomenal designs that could never be delivered. This is very frustrating to a buyer.
6) What’s the role of digital media vs. traditional media in gaining clients, publicity, and exposure?
In my opinion, it is rapidly taking over the traditional media sector, but it also depends on the target audience. The reason I believe so strongly in the digital world is because for much less money, one can establish a presence that is ongoing. Traditional media comes and then it is gone.
7) What’s been the most significant change in the lingerie industry since you started working in it?
That’s a loaded question since I have been in it for 27 years. First of all, like anyone else in any business from my generation, there were no computers, no faxes, emails, cell phone internet etc. There were many, many more separate stores with individual customer and cultural identities.
When I was a buyer for Macys, it was a 23 store regional chain. I went to every branch personally, every month. I knew the innuendos between customer fit and taste by location. I knew my entire sale’s staff. Since I was part of a larger corporation, I had exposure to other parts of the country, but I was focused on my customer’s individual needs. I had to understand the operating logistics and the creative equally in order to build a profitable business. It was much more personal.
That being said, it was also less global. You had to travel to find alternative inspiration. There was also a very large made in the USA product base. Product was more utilitarian, meant to be useful and underneath. Today, the creative expression is so much more intense. Its a challenging conundrum because there is much greater bounty of original design in Lingerie and so many less outlets through which to channel it. In fact, this is another reason why I believe so much in the power of digital media.
8) How do you see the lingerie industry developing in the next decade?
On Line, big time
9) What are your three favorite pieces of lingerie?
- A great fitting bra with beautiful feminine details.
- A great fitting panty that disappears under my clothes
- A ultra soft, easy going go to lounge piece with a clean modern appeal
Thanks so much for sharing your time and expertise on The Lingerie Addict, Ellen! We appreciate it.