DIY Lingerie: Can You Make It Cheaper? Part 1

The 'Ela' set in Ice by Karolina Laskowska. Modelled by Gestalta, photography by J Tuliniemi

The ‘Ela’ set in Ice by Karolina Laskowska. Modelled by Gestalta, photography by J Tuliniemi

The internet is a wonderful thing: there’s so much information available for free (or at least cheap!) that was near impossible to find before. One of the great consequences of this is the growing trend in DIY; there’s a new wave of people trying their hand at crafting their own clothing with an inevitable foray into lingerie. I truly think any growth of creativity and craftsmanship is a wonderful thing. However, I have seen some unfortunate and worrying behaviour in this movement. Rather than people trying to create their own designs, many are taking to directly copying those of designers; not just huge labels, but independent brands too. I’ve seen quite a disturbing number of individuals taking to social media to comment about these designs, not only bragging about actually making knockoffs, but also that they can make these pieces for less money. This idea that you can create lingerie for cheaper than an original designer can not only be offensive, but is often completely incorrect.

As a designer myself, I’ve lost count of how many messages I’ve received from individuals who can’t afford to purchase my lingerie and want to make it themselves instead. This wouldn’t be a problem in itself, except these messages almost always go on to ask where I purchase my fabrics from or whether I can send them my patterns. It goes without saying that I’ve invested a huge amount of time and money into sourcing my suppliers and developing my patterns so would never give these away for free to total strangers.



The Ela set in 'Ice' by Karolina Laskowska, created with exquisite (albeit expensive!) French leavers lace. Photography by Tigz Rice Studios.

The Ela set in ‘Ice’ by Karolina Laskowska, created with exquisite (albeit expensive!) French Leavers lace. Photography by Tigz Rice Studios.

Nevertheless, it got me thinking: most hobbyists wouldn’t even be able to use my suppliers. The majority of them have very high minimum orders: ordering 1000 metres or pieces of each component wouldn’t be on the cards for a single craft project. So I sat down with one of my best selling styles (the ‘Ela’ set, retailing at £130/$198 for the bra and £110/$167 for the knickers) and decided to work out what the cost would be at retail, just for the materials. (Everything has been calculated from UK suppliers and at core sizing, UK 8-12. It isn’t possible to source exactly identical colours or the same quality of materials as my wholesale suppliers, but I have done my best to get as close as possible). Please be aware that many of the costs listed below are approximate: in many instances it is not possible to be exact but I am trying to illustrate some of the hidden issues that you may not otherwise consider.

Another colourway of the French lace that I've used in the 'Ela' design: these colours and metallic threads are only available with bulk wholesale orders.

Another colourway of the French lace that I’ve used in the ‘Ela’ design: these colours and metallic threads are only available with bulk wholesale orders.

Lace: Lace is a tetchy subject when it comes to lingerie. High quality laces have a tendency to be on the expensive side, while cheaper laces simply aren’t comparable in quality or appearance. Although not quite the same colour as my design (which has an aqua base tulle and silver highlights), this white lace is the same pattern and made by the same manufacturer.  It is a French Leavers lace. It retails for £234/$357 per metre. I’d estimate that you’d need around half a metre of this lace to make a set. With UK sales tax and postage, that brings the cost of this lace up to £124.50/$190.

Cost so far: £124.50/$190.

Cotton jersey: You’ll need to line the gusset of your knickers with a lightweight cotton jersey to make them more comfortable; you won’t want lace directly against such a sensitive area. It has a minimum purchase of 1m. £9.97/$15.20.

Cost so far: £134.47/$205.20.

Elastic strapping: To recreate these styles you’ll need a minimum of 5m (and ideally a bit extra if you’re unfamiliar with sewing with elastic). My brand uses high-quality elastic that’s knitted in the UK which wouldn’t be available to purchase in small qualities at retail; this elastic is likely not of the same standard but would be good enough for a personal project. At £0.84/m, 5m of elastic would total at £4.20/$6.40.

Cost so far: £138.67/$211.60.

Hook and eye: You’ll need a single closure for the back of the bra. £0.83/$1.26.

Cost so far: £139.50/$212.86.

The cost of elastic and metal components can add up surprisingly quickly

The cost of elastic and metal components can add up surprisingly quickly

Bra slider: Sliders allow you to adjust straps to fit your body. In this style three pairs are used: shoulder straps, decorative overbust straps, and hip straps. The sliders that my brand uses are usually high-quality 18ct gold plated and have a rounded shape, taken from a mould, but these have minimum orders of 1000pcs. These sliders aren’t of the same quality: they are flat and stamped from sheets of metal and have a slightly sharper finish. At £0.22 a piece, you’d get 6 for £1.32/$2.

Cost so far: £140.82/$214.86.

O rings: This design uses oversized O-rings to loop straps through. Like the sliders, I use high-quality components that are moulded, but these stamped rings are the closest equivalent available at retail. At £0.31 a piece, you’d get 5 for £1.55/$2.37.

Cost so far: £142.37/$217.23.

Picot elastic: Picot edge elastic is used on the knicker leg, waist, and bra cup edges. You’ll need a minimum of 3m for this style, though if you’re unfamiliar with stitching elastic it may be worth ordering extra. At £0.53/m, you’d get 3m for £1.59/$2.42.

Cost so far: £143.96/$219.65.

The cheapest cost of delivery available for these components is £4.39/$6.70. I have not included the cost of labels, tags, bows, and threads that would be considered costs for the original project. Therefore, the basic cost of materials to recreate this set would be £148.35/$226.35.

However, even if you were making this lingerie set yourself, these would not be the only costs. Consider the time involved in sourcing your materials: unless you’re familiar with lingerie fabrics and suppliers, that would be hours that you’d have to spend trawling the internet and fabric shops. Fortunately in this instance, I’ve done it all for you.

This sewing machine is actually one of my cheaper machines: it set me back £800. Photo by A. Lindseth

This sewing machine is actually one of my cheaper machines: it set me back £800. Photo by A. Lindseth

The next obvious cost would be one of machinery. Do you have machines good enough to make lingerie? Lingerie requires incredibly accurate stitching (often within 1mm accuracy) and several specialised stitches (including but not limited to zigzag, 3-point, overlock). You’d need a minimum of two machines for this set: an overlocker and a good quality domestic that has options of a lockstitch, zigzag and 3-point.

To make this product well, you’d need to be a confident machinist and have appropriately good machinery: you’d have to have the experience applying elastic with an even and accurate tension. The machinery that I make my products on costs in the region of £2500/$3800 and cost around £200/$300 a year in maintenance and repairs. This is not machinery I’d expect a hobbyist to have access to. Most brands wouldn’t even own machinery: all of their production would go through a factory with high sampling costs and certain minimum orders.

To recreate this set at a decent standard, I’d expect you to own a midrange domestic multi-stitch machine and a domestic overlocker, costing a minimum of around £500/$763. But let’s be fair: the whole of this cost would not go into the cost of a single garment as you’d use these machines on all of your craft projects. For the sake of argument, let’s say you’re using £25/$38 worth of machinery for this set. Don’t forget the cost of other equipment that you might take for granted: shears, thread snips, pins… I won’t include them in the calculations but these also need to be considered.

Cost so far: £173.35/$264.35.

Are you truly confident in your stitching skills? Are you certain that you can construct this lingerie set to a high standard? As a hobbyist, there are no real consequence if your garments fall apart. A brand cannot take that sort of risk with their products. Everything has to be sturdily constructed and reliable, which has certain cost implications.

Another major consideration is one of time. Time costs money. How much do you price your labour at? At the very least it should be minimum wage. Saying you can make it cheaper yourself isn’t very fair when you’re not including the cost of labour – a brand can never bypass this. Let’s assume that you’re sewing at minimum wage.  In the UK, that’s £6.70/$10 an hour. If you’re reasonably speedy at sewing and pattern cutting, a brand new set could still take hours. Let’s assume five hours to be on the safe side: that’s  £33.50/$50.

Cost so far: £206.85/$314.35.

Soft bra sewing pattern by Ohhh Lulu

Soft bra sewing pattern by Ohhh Lulu

Even so, where did you learn to sew and pattern cut? Personally, I learned through a degree that left me with around £21,000/$32,000 of debt. Whilst I wouldn’t expect someone to go through a degree in the slightest, I would expect them to have taken the odd short course or maybe purchased books. Information about the making of lingerie isn’t freely available. Commercial bra patterns that are actually any good are few and far between. A commercial soft bra pattern and knicker pattern would set you back around £6/$9 apiece. A book about the construction of bras would cost £17.51/$24.89.

Cost so far: £236.36/$357.24.

Given that the initial cost of the garments was £240/$365 for the set, there truly doesn’t seem to be much of a saving here. None of this even begins to cover the multitude of hidden costs that a lingerie brand would have to consider that a DIY project can totally overlook; but you’ll have to wait for me to dig deeper into that in Part 2.

Readers: Do you ever make your own lingerie? Would you ever try to copy a piece from another designer?

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Karolina
Karolina

Lingerie designer. Spends most of her time sewing bras and getting excited by chantilly lace.

27 Comments on this post

  1. Jillian Johns says:

    Yup you hit the nail on the head with this article. I fully agree that “making one’s own lingerie cheaper” is no small feat. It’s not cheap in the slightest. And if you aren’t a ‘standard’ size, *exasperated face plant into desk*. It grates my nerves when you (the creator of a finished garment) can put so much research, effort, time and concentration into something and there’s a person or persons waiting in the wings to just swoop in and leech off your brand secrets like your efforts were just for their benefit.
    Now, having said that, to me it’s a different story when a person sees something they like but can’t afford/fit it, does an exhaustive research trek, comes up with nothing and asks for advice. For example, in the bra making and corsetry groups I participate in, we share knowledge but not brand secrets. If someone is having difficulty with a process and asks for help, we offer suggestions. No one asks for patented designs or things of that nature. That’s rude!

  2. lwop90 says:

    I feel like I have buckets for hands whenever I try to sew lingerie for myself. I can alter a dress and do some basic tailoring (and damn does it save me money) and occasionally make a glorious, flowy summer goddess dress (simple things only), but lingerie is far and away its own skill set! All those teeny folds and those bitty elastics baffle me, not to mention how to get an elastic’s end-loop to stay sewn to itself. Basics are tough.
    I do admit I have somehow managed to make myself a one-off knockoff of your Elzbieta piece, but using a pre-existing thong and with sliders and o-rings I was lucky enough to grab from Made By Niki’s ebay store (no idea where I’d find nice ones otherwise!). Of course I’d never *brag* about this since I’m sure it’s not nearly as nice as the real deal and I’m not going to fool myself into thinking I have the skills of a professional. Some people think they can watch a youtube tutorial and instantly “know” how to do the thing even though they haven’t even tried it.

    I can’t BELIEVE people ask someone for their own original patterns! And it was very generous of you to leave out the cost of thread. Adds up like crazy and a spool never lasts as long as you think it will.

  3. irene says:

    Kudos for writing this all out in crystal clear costing breakdowns!
    I always find myself reading your posts and nodding, thinking “yeap..yeap.. hell yes.. uh-huh.. yes yes yes..!”
    THANK YOU !!
    <3

  4. Victoria Y says:

    Thank you Karolina for such a succinct and thoughtful article. I am a lingerie designer as well, and I can’t even begin to place a value on the unseen costs of what has gotten me to where I am today.

    I am in middle of finishing my second collection now, and the time it takes to source the fabrics and trims, make patterns and grade them, and sew them to a certain standard…and then each time, when a new style is prototyped, going through the process all over again – all of that is built into the cost of what makes my lingerie ‘expensive’. The simple logistics of being a designer take so much more time than I ever could have imagined! I never would have thought that finding suppliers, meeting minimums, or importing/exporting could be so complicated or expensive. It’s not easy to understand as an outsider, without the perspective of being a professional designer (and even now there are so many things I am still learning about).

    Thankfully there is still much support and appreciation for smaller brands and it seems like there are interesting designs from new independent designers all the time. While a lot of it is even out of my own budget, it’s encouraging to see that there is a strong and outspoken market and I feel good knowing what my money is going toward when I choose to purchase and support these designs.

  5. Lillian E says:

    Funnily enough I’ve just recently been getting into the idea of making my own lingerie. I’m driven more by a desire to be able to make lingerie exactly how I want rather than having to trawl through website after website to find something really only similar to what I want and not even in my price range. I like the idea of having pieces exactly as I envisioned to exactly my fit. There’s definitely an element of my lingerie appetite outweighing my budget, but I don’t think I could ever delude myself into thinking I could make a piece to the highly quality of it’s own designer. Anything I make myself would definitely be of a personal use only quality. I think it’s pretty obnoxious to think you could recreate a designer’s piece for cheaper, and unthinkable to flat out ask for their patterns.

  6. Triona says:

    I’ve made a few bras (Bev Johnson’s Shelley) as plus size underwear is a mixed bag on a student budget. The kits work out about €30 from a supplier in Sweden, and they’re perfect everyday bras but not anywhere like designer. It takes me about 5 hours from cutting to snipping the last threads, though that’s after refining the fit which probably took 15hours initially.
    The only underwear I’ve tried to copy/draft my own is men’s trunks, I spent an afternoon at it, and I’ve a lot more work to do but my studies are keeping me from my sewing machine. So instead of buying €5 jocks, the labour probably means I made two only-ok pairs of €35 jocks.
    I’m stunned that people ask you for your patterns. Though thinking about it, it’d be nice if you could resell half metres of that rare lace and the gold findings…

  7. I’ve always been a fairly crafty person but I never had ‘it will be cheaper’ as a motivation to start a project, whether that be shoes or leatherwear or even underwear. There is a lot more satisfaction to being able to create your own things, and to learn in the process :)

  8. And from a designer’s perspective, this is the way it should be! Being able to create your own clothing is a wonderful thing! I wish more people had your attitude – though I suspect it’s just the upsetting people that bother getting in touch with me to tell me what they think of my pricing and their ‘superior’ skills ;)

  9. Funnily enough, the ‘No you don’t deserve…’ article came from a very similar place! There is very much a sense of entitlement that seems pervasive in every area of the industry… I’d like to think though that this is partially due to lack of education, but perhaps largely also down to the effects of the internet: people just don’t have the normal social barriers that they would otherwise and end up asking or saying things that they’d be embarrassed to in real life. Even so, it still sometimes surprises me at the volume of things that people want for free and how often they contact me, whether it be free underwear for ‘promotion’, supplier lists, lingerie lessons…

    I will always encourage picking up new skills for hobbies. I personally find a huge amount of satisfaction in acquiring new skillsets and learning new things- and not always for the sake of making ‘products’, but for personal satisfaction!

  10. Estelle Puleston says:

    I think when some people say “I can make that cheaper” they actually mean “I can make something that vaguely resembles that cheaper” – in cheaper materials most likely.

    I don’t have a problem with designs being copied if it’s for personal use / no financial gain. If someone wants to put the time, effort & money in to sew a copy of a designer’s piece for themselves, why not? Obviously copying for profit is a completely different issue.

    • Likewise I have no issue with the copying of items for personal use and education – I’ve done it more than enough times for university projects! The real issues start though when people try to brag about these abilities and bring the idea of cost into it. I’ve lost count at how many people see it as a business trying to ‘rip them off’ on the basis that they believe they can sew *the same* product for cheaper. But you’re also right there – it will never be the same, just something that vaguely resembles it…

      • Morgan Hyatt says:

        I don’t have enough money to by such a beautiful set, nor do I have the skills to make one. I am into doing DIY crafts and such of goods I can’t afford, but it is simply ridiculous that anyone would brag about making the goods themselves for a cheaper cost. I can definitely make it cheaper, but the quality will NEVER be the same when it comes to specialized products I have no skill in.
        I’ve thought of making my own lingerie in the past, but I know that what I make will have to be very simple and use cheap materials. It makes me so sad to see brands rip off Yeha Leung’s designs. I know that she puts immense time and money into creating her gorgeous designs. But while I’d love to buy from her I can’t afford her prices. And I’m not saying her prices aren’t reasonable! Her prices are extremely fair given the quality of her lingerie. I just don’t have the money for it, so I’ve been looking into buying much cheaper materials and making similar garments myself (obviously the simpler ones).
        Thank you for making this post! It makes me angry when I see people complain about artist’s “high” prices (this goes for clothing designers, visual artists, etc.) and then bragging about how they could easily recreate the product.

  11. Allison OH says:

    I do make my own lingerie, I have purchased commercial patterns, instruction books, and bra making kits from a company in Canada (I am in the U.S.). I personally love the creative outlet and have been sewing and designing clothes for years so I know more than the average hobbyist. What I was surprised by when I began making my own bras is how unbelievably difficult it is to find all of the small findings (rings, sliders, elastics of varying purpose) in general not to mention getting ones that are high quality (not plastic) and actually match. I searched for findings because I didn’t want to be limited to the preset kit that this Canadian company sells, but I gave up searching because after countless hours on the internet I could not find anything that compared to the kit. I would love to be a fly on the wall of any home sewer that thinks they can recreate at home what these designers do.

    • Finding supplies at retail in the UK is bad enough, I’m sorry to hear it’s that bad in Canada! It would be lovely to see better resources and suppliers to hobbyists, but I’m not sure if the industry is capable of taking that step just yet. I mean, I have to buy my elastic by the 1000m – and it’s boring styles at that! It would be a big undertaking for any small business to decide to start selling supplies, the costs involved would be unfathomable.

      Likewise, I’d love to be a fly on the wall of a home sewer attempting a complex bra… I suspect it would be an experience I’ve lived through many times myself ;)

      • Allison OH says:

        yes– I have fully completed bras only to find that the size was incorrect :( there is a bit of a learning curve there. Actually, you should have tripled your cost estimate to allow for fit trial and error! It’s not as easy when you have to make it completely before trying it on!

  12. Quinne Myers says:

    I CAN’T BELIEVE people directly ASK YOU how to make the things you sell. That blows my mind.
    Every time I buy something from an indie designer, the thought of someone looking at it and thinking it’s not worth the money is so upsetting.
    I recently got a custom leather harness from Creepyyeha and people are ALL over the internet constantly talking about making their own… the amount of unique materials, details, measurements and handwork that went into that thing are crazy, and getting one of her custom made pieces really drove home the fact that her stuff is priced entirely appropriately.
    The more you write about this stuff, the more people will start to get it, I hope.

    • I know a fair few indie designers that get this, particularly the ones who are ‘active’ in certain communities (e.g. corsetry) – I guess people just assume the barriers are removed because they’re talking to an actual person?!

      Urgh I totally get what you’re saying. I will fight to the death to defend a brand’s pricing – there are always *reasons* for why something costs what it does, even if they are invisible to you as a customer. If you can’t afford it, DON’T BUY IT, but don’t also insult and put the designer down for that sake.

      • lwop90 says:

        The stories that come from some of the custom corsetry people are, as one of my favorites likes to say, “just BEYOND.” For some reason a huge quantity of people think nothing should ever cost more than $100. A magic number for some reason.

  13. Abigail Tyrrell says:

    I think another question to ask is – it will cost you less to make it if you don’t count in all of the above, but how much would you charge someone else?

  14. we could if we wanted but we dont. we have this saying: man konkurerar inte med sina vänner.

  15. Sara says:

    So while I think the person asking for free patterns for your pieces is incredibly rude, have you ever considered designing lingerie patterns to sell? I would buy any pattern you designed in a heartbeat! There’s a huge deficit of lingerie designers in the indie pattern market, and an even larger deficit of designers that are skilled pattern drafters. Seems to be a growing and enthusiastic market for it, with the success of the Watson bra & knickers, Marlborough bra patterns, etc among the sewing community.
    Your pieces are beautiful!

    • Actually I have thought about selling patterns and lingerie tutorials, but that’s unfortunately still a project in the planning stages as all of my time is currently taken up with my own brand! Lingerie pattern drafting is a pretty tricky thing, particularly when it comes to bras so it’s something I’d want to put my full focus into rather than as an ‘aside’ to what I do currently. Thank you so for stopping by and sharing your thoughts! :)

      • wendybien says:

        In light of the other thread on how much lingerie designers make, I know there are a couple people in the vintage repro segment whose entire business is selling their own patterns,including lingerie. I wonder how the numbers break down for them, i.e. do they enjoy a better income for the time and money they invest? They do not seem to sell anything they make though,which speaks to your point about how creating patterns must take a lot of time. Possibly too much to also produce actual garments.

    • Abigail Tyrrell says:

      I too have had an on-again/off-again flirtation with the notion of selling my patterns. But is just like selling the lingerie itself… If a client does not fully understand the importance of accurate measurement of their own bodies they will purchase something that does not fit and then the designer gets the blame. So if they can’t follow the pattern or don’t have the skills required to create the piece… it’s our fault. I have followed the WONDERFUL Ninya Mikhaila and her trials and tribs creating her pattern line (albeit Tudor lingerie) and there are other concerns worth considering. It ain’t cheap to print. The instructions must be idiot proof and then there is the 24 hour (lmao) support that designers are expected to give. Because of course, the internet is world wide and someone is always awake and expectant (or in proper trouble having cut two fronts and two left sleeves.)

      Thank you Karolina! I have just talked myself out of it for this week :) BUT! If some bright spod or boffin would create a SIMPLE app to print off patterns from cad…

      We want there to be creativity in lingerie made by enthusiasts – honestly! And to anyone who does, welcome to the conversation! But! It ain’t easy, or quick and there is a lot of experimentation (I really mean failure and c*ckups) that you must be ready and happy to go through.

      • Malaika says:

        As an amateur lingerie-creator, I can tell you that I would very much buy contemporary patterns. As Karolina says, good lingerie-patterns are rare and it would be nice to see some variety. I consider myself to be a normal person who wouldn’t expect such a service from the seller (i.e: contacting them, using them as helpdesk, asking the patterns for free), but I can tell you that I would be quite interested in patterns :)

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