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The Look for Less: The View from the Designer

Today's guest post is by the very lovely Gaby of the luxury, handmade label Hopeless Lingerie out of Australia. My last Look for Less feature, featuring Frederick's of Hollywood and Bordelle Lingerie, caused a lot of controversy over on my Facebook and Twitter.
In an effort to present both sides of the story, I asked Gaby to share her perspective as a lingerie designer with my readers. Her post is presented in its entirety with no edits. If you enjoy Gaby's writing, you can also check out her behind-the-scenes blog Spokes 'n' Daggers.



Hi fans and lovers of The Lingerie Addict!

My name is Gaby and I am the lady behind Hopeless Lingerie. I have been running my small business for almost 3 years and love every part of what I do. I was incredibly honored when Treacle asked me to address the issues concerning her 'Look for Less' posts, after an interesting discussion about it all on Twitter. Treacle has been a supporter of me and what I do for a long time, and I have also been a fan and reader of her blog for years!
From the outset I will say that the idea does not sit comfortably with me as both a designer and consumer of lingerie. I expect this to be a controversial topic and would like to share my reasons for disagreeing. I do not expect everyone to agree with me but would love to engage in discussion about it.
The first reason I find 'Look for Less' problematic concerns the theft of intellectual property. I know first-hand the blood, sweat and tears that goes into creating a range of garments.  From the initial idea making its way from your mind to a piece of paper, to the research into a theme, selecting the appropriate fabric and trimmings, meticulously drafting a paper pattern, draping the garment on a model, machine stitching and then hand sewing the final details - what we small business owners in the fashion industry do is an absolute labour of love. Some garments can be months or even years in the making. When you have an idea but are not sure how to execute it, it might be 5 or 6 attempts until you get it just right. Resources of course are not endless, as well as the cost of materials during the sampling stage, you are also at the same time promoting your business, posting your orders, doing made to measure and many more tasks to keep things running.
Can you imagine then, what the feeling must be for some national company with hundreds of employees and a comparatively astronomical budget to come along, send a picture of one of your pieces to a factory in China, and get them to copy it, for mass reproduction and sales nation wide? You can guarantee they will get it made as cheaply as possible, cutting corners so they can pass the savings onto the consumer. There is nothing wrong with taking inspiration from other designers, but when a garment is identical apart from 1 or 2 points, it is just theft.
But remember most of these sort of companies, who do not think twice about stealing from the little guy, also may not care who makes their product. You can never be sure that the company with questionable morals concerning theft of intellectual property, might also have questionable morals concerning the treatment of workers in foreign countries. This is a separate issue but worth mentioning when discussing lower priced and mass produced garments.
What I cannot understand is why these large companies with so many more resources, choose to steal original ideas when they could easily afford to employ a talented designer and create something truly amazing. Well maybe I can understand - its just about making money. Of course it is easier to steal designs than pay someone to create them. And that is the difference between these huge companies and small business - department store brands are profit driven, it is all about the bottom line. Niche brands are usually in it for the art and for the love. Money will often come lower on the list of priorities.
The other important point to me is difference between high quality and mass production. This is a personal preference that I know not everyone agrees with, but this is a large reason I have a problem with the 'Look for Less' posts. I have always believed I would rather have fewer, well made, well fitting, beautiful things to treasure, than more less special things that will get thrown away in a few months. I do believe that chain stores and mass produced items have a place in the industry, but I prefer to support the ones that support designers. And I also know that not everyone's budget is suited to higher priced items even after a lot of saving. But all consumers have the power to choose what sort of companies they will support. Of the 'Big Guys' in the fashion world there are some who conduct business more respectably than others and I think it is important to encourage that.  Good quality does not always equate to a high price, just as the reverse is true.
Find out more about who you shop from, think about where your clothes and underwear come from, and just be educated. Of course I am incredibly biased on this topic, but even if I did not own a small lingerie business I would not want to support the theft of anything. Just because an idea is not a tangible thing, that does not mean it has no value. It is for this reason that consumers need to be much more discerning about what they buy.
And if you think this doesn't happen that often I urge you to check out this site: Pages of little guy after little guy getting ripped off....
I am sure this will ruffle some feathers but it is because I am really passionate about this topic, I urge you all to debate and discuss! Thank you Treacle and readers for having me! Gaby xoxo
Photo Credit: All images from Hopeless Lingerie.

Cora Harrington

Founder and Editor in Chief of The Lingerie Addict. Author of In Intimate Detail: How to Choose, Wear, and Love Lingerie. I believe lingerie is fashion too, and that everyone who wants it deserves gorgeous lingerie.

10 Comments on this post

  1. Lisa says:

    I don’t really feel bad for the independent designers. I understand you wholesale to retail stores, who often mark up products more than intended. However, as a designer, you can control who you sell to. If a store isn’t abiding by a product markup norm (and I don’t know what it is, maybe if you make something for $10, sell wholesale for $20, and retail sells for $40), make sure they don’t carry your product. Clothing markups generally are INSANE (see If all of you independent designers decided to band together and control the market price instead of whining that people steal your ideas because the retail value of your original garments is too high, there would be a lot less copying bc people could afford to buy what you sell. Your clothing union could also probably start to afford going after big companies that violate your designs, and set a precedent so it wouldn’t happen again. The key here is to stop complaining about knockoffs, because they’re going to happen until there is an incentive not to, and do something.

  2. Mona says:

    Gaby makes a strong and valid point, and as a designer in training, I am behind her 100% …I know how easy it is to make a living strategically altering an original design just enough to avoid a lawsuit, since Primark actually came to our college recently and gave us a talk about job opportunities with their company. I must admit that I did somewhat admire the frank manner in which they addressed the issues Gaby writes about so passionately here. But the idea of intellectual theft and blatant inoriginality repulses me. I could never justify it as a way of life. When you just consider how HARD it is to be original, and how very hard designers work to bring the people something fresh and wonderful… having that wonderful thing stolen from you and reproduced cheaply and tastelessly is nothing short of sacrilege.

  3. SoCalMan says:

    My question is when does an IP cease being an IP in the fashion industry? How much of the design must be changed for it no longer to be a "knock-off" of the original. Is the IP solely a look-and-feel, or does it include method of manufacturing, materials used?

    I look at the Bordelle and Frederick's examples, and I see enough differences between the two where I don't see Fredericks as a knock-off. At best, it was inspired by Bordelle. And no doubt when you have both of them in front of you, you'd be able to discern one from another based on visual quality, stitching and feel.

    Let's be honest here: the lingerie industry is one where the business, big or small, sells a thong made with a few dollars worth of material for a premium based on the perceived cache of their label. Even if you add in labor, you are not talking about that much more of a markup based on the time it takes to make.

    The minute you take The Swoosh off a $80 golf shirt, it goes back to being a $10 shirt.

  4. Gabfran says:

    After our Twitter chat a few weeks back Treacle, I had a long conversation with someone in the fashion industry here.

    Arguable for well known designers, knock offs increase the cachet and desirability of the original.

    Copyright should protect small designers but in my experience these are the people who cannot afford to police either their designs or brands. Time and again I have seen chain stores rip off new designers. It makes my blood boil and is one of the main reasons that I became an IP lawyer. I just wish we could find some way of funding deterrent litigation for people like Gaby.

  5. Tights Lover says:

    Certainly a lot of food for thought here, Gaby, excellent post.

    I can't really argue with much of the argument Gaby presents here. I can't imagine there are too many people who wouldn't be personally offended when they see something they worked hard on cheaply mass-produced by someone else. Gaby certainly has every right to feel this way.

    As someone who's bought from virtually all price points along the lingerie spectrum, I wholeheartedly agree that you most often get what you pay for. Price aside, I also feel much better about supporting my local built-from-the-ground-up lingerie shop where I know all of the employees as opposed to being just another drop in the bucket at VS.

    All of this said…we all have budgets and I believe, in most cases, that not buying the 'look for less' so to speak, does not necessarily equate to buying the original.

    In my blog. I talk a lot about Wolford. I buy a lot of Wolford. I review a lot of Wolford. When I'm not buying Wolford, I'm invariably comparing what I did buy to Wolford. When I'm not buying Wolford I fully realize that I'm sacrificing a certain level of quality. I'm not doing it because I believe the alternative is just as good, I'm doing it because I have a budget, and cheap tights are better than no tights.

    I believe the same applies here. When someone wants quality hand-crafted lingerie, they'll shop at Hopeless. A reasonable person would know why they're paying the premium and would agree to pay for it. As such, I'm not really sure that dollars spent on the cheaper alternative equate with dollars lost for Hopeless. It simply means the consumer can't afford, or is unwilling to pay, the premium, despite all the things the premium provides. If there were no cheaper alternative, the consumer likely wouldn't buy lingerie at all, in most cases.

    I'm not sure any of this makes Gaby feel better, but it is what it is. Sorry if I sound like an Economics textbook :).

  6. Kirsten Moore says:

    Thank you for this post! I feel like I spend an inordinate amount of time trying to explain to people why my prices are what they are, the process of bringing a design to market, and what the real cost of cheap is. I know that it is not always possible to afford to support independents, but even making small efforts makes a huge difference. A wardrobe is a process; an investment in key pieces that you love is far more satisfying than a plethora of the trendy and disposable.

    The other part of this that makes me crazy is the waning of creativity and lack of emphasis on personal style. We do not need to emulate the famous. It is far better to take inspiration! Seek out the styles that are most figure flattering, the colours that look best with your skin tone, make you feel the most comfortable in your own skin, and above all make you feel the most beautiful rather than opting for a carbon copy of the starlet du jour.

  7. Courtney says:

    I think this was a great post on a controversial topic. I'm torn because I don't think stealing something that is clearly intellectual property (though not legally, at least not int he US yet) is wrong yet there's so many who cannot afford a $500 bra. Myself included.


  8. MJ says:

    I agree with comment #2- when I look for a less-expensive "look", I'm not looking for a stolen idea executed more cheaply, but something to give me the general effect of the "look". For instance, I look at designer catalogues to see how they style their current offerings, then look at my own closet to see how to re-create the effect, I don't go looking for cheap knock-offs.

    And honestly, with my financial situation, I will never be able to afford Agent Provocateur, ever. If I look hard at places like TJ Maxx, I can sometimes find the good stuff at prices my budget can handle…

  9. Evija says:

    Well, I think the subject, *look* for less pretty much explains everything. We're not looking for the exact style, really, or the quality – it's more like the overall feel of the garment.
    Plus, I think most of the "Look for less" features are for designer items that, albeit great, are overpriced even for designer stuff. Like the Agent Provocateur featured here on the blog.

  10. Darlene C. says:

    Very beautifully expressed. I think the large knock-off companies would rely more on their own designers if they could be assured of amazing results, but there's less risk if they can simply scour the landscape for the creative results of the more nimble independent designer. You are the one who puts everything on the line for something you believe in. You believe in it so strongly that you clear all obstacles to bring it to market. They can't recreate that passion in their own designers, so they steal it from you.

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