At a Snail’s Pace: Starting the Lingerie Brand ‘Karolina Laskowska’

The first lingerie set that I ever made, January 2011

Since I learned to sew in early 2011, I’ve turned into a bit of a lingerie making machine; the space under my bed is literally stuffed full with boxes of bras and knickers.  Those of you who’ve been following my antics will know that it all started in an attempt to get a place at De Montfort University for the Contour Fashion degree – a course that specialises in lingerie design and, quite frankly, my dream degree.

My first foray into lingerie (handsewn!)

I’ve always enjoyed making things – my mother used to joke that I was a ‘factory’.  Once the lingerie obsession took hold, it was pretty much inevitable that I’d be chaining myself to the sewing machine.  What made this obsession different to my previous ones, though (take greeting cards and candles as an example), was that it gave me a step into the fashion world.  People started to notice the creations that I shared online – or, more relevantly, photographers started to notice them.  They liked what I was doing and soon enough I was collaborating with people whose work I’d previously only admired from afar, well before I’d even started my degree.

Padded silk chiffon bra with freshwater pearls.  Model is Sundal, photographed by Simon Crinks

It may be strange to admit, but seeing such gorgeous and professional photos of my designs gave me a sense of confidence and almost validated my decision to study lingerie.  It also meant that more people saw my work  – soon enough I was seeing my work reblogged all over the place and people contacting me to make things for them.  The idea of starting my own ‘brand’ began to play on my mind…

Yet it was an event at the beginning of this Summer that really made my mind up.  I’d been told repeatedly by all sorts off people in the industry that starting a brand was a terrible idea, that there was no money in it, that my ideas weren’t original… Yet one day I received an email from a certain boutique asking if I did wholesale.

The pentagram thong playsuit and frame bra, two of the items requested for wholesale.  Model is Miss Miranda, photography by Anna Swiczeniuk.

When I first read it, I wasn’t too hopeful.  I’d had enquiries before but they’d all fallen through.  After all, I wasn’t a proper ‘brand’. I didn’t have anything established. As far as I was concerned, I was just a girl on the internet who occasionally posted photos with some knickers that she’d made.  Yet, as it turned out, this was a serious enquiry – I began to consider it, and a burst of unseasonal confidence made me agree to it – styles and quantities were discussed, and before I knew it, I’d given a delivery date and had a deposit in my bank account.

Then the realisation hit me that I was responsible for making 26 garments to retail standard.  As did the realisation that I was responsible for all of the small things that come with clothing in retail – labels, tags, packaging… All of a sudden it seemed like a mountain of work.  I didn’t have time to hang around.

Straight away, I set about buying materials, designing labels and ordering samples. And then I set about the real hard work – grading my samples into different sizes and making sure that they fit. My poor friends had to suffer my incessant requests to cover them in elastic straps, all in a bid to make sure that garments actually looked good on the body!  Eventually, I’d got everything into a state that I was happy with – lingerie that I’d want to own.

Copious amounts of components and elastic

And so, production began. For several weeks, I confined myself to my room.  I got through literally hundreds of metres of elastic and endless amounts of gold rings and sliders.  I seemed to have a panic attack nearly every day (the worst being when I thought my sewing machine had broken, with just one week to go), yet eventually, I managed to get everything sewn.

Pentagram thongs, packaged up with instructions attached

Soon enough, I was labelling everything and packing it up in plastic bags, ready for shipping.  It was quite a surreal experience, seeing everything packaged up and actually looking professional.  As if these garments actually belonged in a shop.  Before I knew it, I was handing a big box full of knickers over to a FedEx man, ready to be shipped to a boutique far, far away.

Packaged frame bras

I spent the next few days worrying – what if they didn’t like what I’d made?  What if it was all a big mistake?  Luckily, my worrying was all assuaged soon enough. I received a lovely email from the retailer, and soon enough I realised – if my designs are considered good enough for an actual shop, they’re good enough for the rest of the world too. Starting my own brand – the dream I’d had for a while but was always a bit too scared to pursue – was actually happening.

My ready-to-wear range of lingerie

So what can you expect from my brand? Well, that’s a question I’ve been puzzling over myself, and one that I still haven’t thought of a proper answer to! I’ve ended up deciding to have three different ‘ranges’ of products – with the main theme running through them being that it’s lingerie that I’d like to own myself.

Some of the kimono silks that I can’t wait to start working with

The first is my ‘ready-to-wear’ range which is based around my most popular designs – strappy frame bras and my pentagram playsuit.  The second is the ‘limited edition’ range – this will contain the one-off designs that I get most excited about, using rare and luxurious fabrics and embellishment.  My current plan is to use my recently acquired vintage kimono silks – each piece will be truly unique as I only have so much of each fabric!  I’m also dreaming of one day getting my hands on some couture lace and pairing them with some of my more bondage-inspired influences…

An example of a one-off design

Finally, I want to give my customers of having something truly unique, made just for them – bespoke lingerie sets.  Bespoke lingerie is something that I can get incredibly excited and passionate about – there’s something so satisfying creating something for an individual, knowing it’s going to something truly special for them.  The experiences I’ve had so far with people approaching me for bespoke lingerie have all been wonderful, and I want more people to know it’s a service that’s available instead of just being scared to ask!

I’ve finally got round to making my own website, finally giving people a chance to buy my garments and to showcase my work so far – from my one-off designs to all the lingerie and fashion photoshoots I’ve been lucky enough to participate in.  Everything that I’m doing is still at an incredibly small scale – after all, I’m only just about to go into my second year of university.  I know with all the work that I’ll have to do in the forthcoming year means that I simply won’t have time to expand things, on top of which there’s no way I’d be able to get the money together to have things manufactured in a factory!  Yet I’d still like to think that I’ve made my first small step into joining the lingerie industry.  I know it’s not something that I’ll be able to pursue at any serious business level until I’ve finished my studies, but until then, it’s a good feeling to know that people genuinely want to buy my lingerie and admire my work!

As a thank you to all of the readers who’ve been following my work, I’d like to offer a 15% discount code for my shop on all individual items!  Code: lingerie-love (expires on 09-12-12, not valid on sets or bespoke orders).

Readers:  What do you think of my foray into becoming a lingerie brand?  Are my designs something that you’d like to own yourself?

Karolina

Karolina

Student at De Montfort University's world-renowned Contour Fashion course. Makes many knickers in her spare time.

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30 Comments

  1. 05/09/12 at 0:41

    I have to say, I know the feeling of trying to get started and being afraid things won’t turn out, or that people won’t like what you’ve sent them. Today I was lucky enough to hear back from a customer saying she wanted to order more of my thongs for a friend of hers-that’s really the best feeling and one I’m sure you’re going to get a lot! Beautiful work!

    • 05/09/12 at 6:38

      Thank you so much! It really is a wonderful feeling, it helps sweep away so many doubts! :)

  2. Thursday
    05/09/12 at 6:09

    This is exciting news, Karolina – I love the idea of finally being able to get my hands on some of your designs! I am sure there are others who feel the same:)

    • 05/09/12 at 6:39

      Thank you so much, I certainly hope that will be the case! :)

  3. Amaryllis
    05/09/12 at 6:14

    Wow, I’m really glad (and privilaged) to see someone making that big “first step” – and I do hope you’ll share your progress, ups and downs, along the way. It makes the whole end product of a pair of knickers so much richer, if you have an idea of what goes into it – and you start thinking about and valuing the process once you’ve read someone’s journey.

    I have been in awe of the pentagram bodysuit since I first saw it – it’s amazing. And I’m not even a fan of thongs, but this one is just brilliant. I think it might have to make it into my wardrobe to be worn over the top of something!

    Really looking forward to watching your progress – good luck!

    • 05/09/12 at 6:41

      Thank you Amaryllis, that means a lot! I’m certainly hoping the share the rest of my journey, I’m going back to school in a few weeks so even if I’m not ‘building my brand’ there’ll still be plenty to show! Glad you like the bodysuit, I’m still tempted to wear my own one out styled as ‘outerwear’ one day!

  4. Laura
    05/09/12 at 7:17

    Karolina,

    I only came to leave you with this:

    YOU ARE AMAZING!!

    I enjoy reading your posts and can’t wait until the collections start to roll out. xx

  5. 05/09/12 at 10:29

    I’m a huge fan of your work, and it is awesome to read this and see you doing so well! I found you thanks to the awesome photography of your designs and I hope one day I’ll get to collaborate with you too. The pentagram knickers are just so unique!

  6. Jewel
    05/09/12 at 14:49

    I think it’d be awesome as a lingerie brand. I could definitely see myself buying some of those things if they were to come in my size.

    • 06/09/12 at 5:14

      Thanks Jewel! I’m always happy to do custom orders so your size may well be available :)

  7. 05/09/12 at 15:43

    I know I for one will be purchasing the Aniela Demi & possibly even the Pentagram Playsuit, maybe not in time to use your generous code, but I will have them soon! Thankyou so much for sharing with us :)

    • 06/09/12 at 5:15

      You’re very welcome, thank you so much for reading! I’m sure there’ll be other codes in the future ;)

  8. 05/09/12 at 17:17

    Darling, don’t ever ever doubt or second guess yourself. You obviously have enormous talent. The Aniela Set is making me shiver and it will definitely be in my closet within a week and a half. It’s absolutely stunning and only $150 USD (including shipping)!!! Your pieces are nothing short of works of art. Congrats on everything you’ve done and will do ;)

    • 06/09/12 at 5:15

      Thank you so much Tiara, that’s incredibly sweet of you, it means a lot :D

  9. 05/09/12 at 19:21

    Oh, wow, I’m a HUGE fan of the high-waisted briefs that you have here: http://www.karolinalaskowska.co.uk/shop-2/bespoke-lingerie-set/ just wow. :D I love the bow in the back and the design in front, just incredible.

    Out of curiosity, would you make just high-waisted briefs, especially for those outside of bra size range?

    • 06/09/12 at 5:16

      Hi June, thanks so much! :) I would indeed be happy to make just a pair of briefs, feel free to get in touch if you want to discuss it in more detail!

  10. Calamity Amelie
    06/09/12 at 7:48

    Your designs are EXACTLY what I want! I’m so glad to see a small label challenge the big ones.
    I have a hate/love relationship with Agent Provocateur because their designs are so amazing (unfortunately I haven’t seen anything similar from other brands..until now), but the quality and “made in china” labels does not make up for their prices. They even throw away the old collections in stores to make room for new! How luxurious can that be..

    Even though I mostly shop during the AP-sale, I’d be happy to put some extra money any time to buy your designs because they are waaay prettier, have reasonable prices and stands up to the mass-produced, cheaply-made-but-expensive garments! Keep up the amazing work!

    • 06/09/12 at 11:01

      Thank you so much! It’s nice to know that people do actually want to support smaller brands instead of going for the convenience of the big labels! :D

  11. 06/09/12 at 13:25

    It will be my DREAM to model for you someday and perhaps own a bespoke set for myself! LOVE LOVE LOVE all your harness style designs :D

  12. Estelle
    06/09/12 at 15:07

    I love hearing about new brand start-ups! It seems like such a massive task to start your own brand (which it is) but stories like this prove it’s more than possible too.

    • 08/09/12 at 4:59

      Estelle – it is a lot of work, far more than I expected! At least I’ve got a lot of the ground work out of the way though :)

  13. Emily
    07/09/12 at 19:24

    do you have a time frame for when the kimono silk pieces will be out? I am in love with the fabric.

    • 08/09/12 at 5:00

      I’m afraid not Emily – I still haven’t been able to get started on them as other things keep coming up! If you want to be kept updated as to when they’ll be out then maybe sign up to my newsletter?

  14. Ksenia
    08/09/12 at 0:20

    Kimono silks, can’t wait! You’re living a dream of mine, I always wanted to start a clothing line and have plenty of ideas (especially kimono silks and embroidery), can’t seem to flesh out half of those, I keep messing up on sewing unrelated simple things, sadly it all seems beyond me.
    And I can’t imagine anyone saying it’s not original, your designs are some of the most original I’ve seen.

    • 08/09/12 at 5:01

      I can’t wait to get started on them either! :) Aww I’m sure you’ll get there eventually! And thank you, it’s a nice feeling when people tell me that!

  15. Evija
    18/10/12 at 2:57

    Are you really in your first year of Uni? This is amazing, I wish you all the best and hope to see more of your work in the future :)

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