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6 Things I Wish I Knew Before Starting My Own Lingerie Business

1 red-bra-open

Like fashion, the lingerie industry can at times be brutal. Working in the corporate lingerie world is often a competitive, stressful and exhausting experience leaving one with stories that can rival infamous scenes from The Devil Wears Prada! Though it is a smaller offshoot of the fashion industry, the intimates market has been growing and the demand for faster turn around rates and cutting-edge products are as high as ever. Big name brands are constantly stealing designs from smaller indie labels and offering them at lower prices (and usually compromised quality) to the masses. Quality and workmanship are suffering as companies rush to reach a bigger audience and gain more revenue. Time is of the essence and the race for the next perfect panty, "it" bra or innovative fit technique has become more competitive than ever, saturating the mainstream market with an overwhelming selection of mediocre lingerie. It's enough to make a die-hard lingerie designer want to quit!

Which is exactly what I did about a year ago this winter, when I decided that my passion for lingerie still burned bright, but my dedication to big business corporations did not. It was a tough decision to make as I'd always had big dreams of sketching gorgeous undies from a corner office, shopping the world for new fabrics and leading board meetings about the importance lace and satin. While my 12 years working for big chains and department stores allowed me a taste of this fantasy world, I found, more often than not, that the payoff was not always worth the sacrifice.



Through it all, my obsession with lingerie never wavered, so I decided to stay in the industry I love while trying my hand at my own business. After months of research and preparation I founded WonderLust Lingerie, an online lingerie boutique specializing in fun designer and indie labels and accessories. I now handle all aspects of the business on my own and am proud to be a small business owner, knowing that my hard work will benefit both my customers and myself without harming anyone in the process.

Launching my own lingerie business took a lot of prep time, some money and a commitment to lingerie, but now that I've made the transition I couldn't be happier doing what I love on a day-to-day basis. If you have ever thought about going into business for yourself, working in the lingerie industry, or are just curious about what it entails, I've put together a list of 6 vital things to know before embarking on that great journey. A well-informed owner is one of the most critical things needed to run a successful business, so keeping these tips in mind when considering a new venture may prove helpful down the line.

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1) Defining your target customer is key.

This may sound like a no-brainer, but if you don't know who your target customer is, you'll have a tough time retaining loyal consumers. I don't mean just knowing who your customer is, but really being attuned to everything he or she does, wants and thinks. How old are they? Where do they live? How much money do they make? What colors do they prefer? Where do they buy their clothes? A middle-aged housewife with a disposable income may not be looking to buy a sequin G-string with matching garter, and failing to tailor your product to her needs can quickly result in loads of missed opportunities.

Surveys, focus groups and research can be a great way to learn about your customer’s preferences and buying habits. Another helpful tool that worked for me was to identify an actual person (celebrity, athlete, musician) as my target customer. I got to know everything about that person, and was soon able to pick up on little cues and details of what they wore and where they shopped. Now, whenever I'm unsure if a certain style will resonate with my customers, I always refer back to that person and ask myself, "would they wear this or not?" to help me decide. Having a consistent vision across the board, from your product to your marketing, is invaluable these days and can save you a lot of money in the long run.

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2) Estimate how long it will take you to launch... then double it.

Once I knew what direction I wanted to go in with my new venture, I put together a business plan and a timeline. Between securing the financial start-up, registering the business, buying products, building a website, and getting the word out there, the task seemed daunting. "Two months" is what I told myself once I had registered the name and formed my business entity. I worked day and night to make it happen! But two months turned into three, and three into four... no matter how much I had prepared, there were constantly new obstacles popping up and tasks to add to the list. Legal issues took up more time than expected, the buying process seemed to drag on for months and before I knew it, my initial launch date had come and gone!

I tend to be a bit of a perfectionist, so it was hard for me to accept something as satisfactory when I was striving for the very best, but I soon learned what I had to prioritize and where I could make exceptions in order to keep the process moving along. If I hadn't learned to compromise I'd still be planning everything out today!

4 vintage woman purchasing lingerie privately

3) Don't be afraid to charge more.

You know those beautiful designer lingerie sets that are so expensive you'd have to take a loan out just to afford one? There's a reason they cost so much, and it's not just about the fine quality and craftsmanship. Often times you are paying for the brand itself and the experience that comes with it.

When doing my initial planning, I first aimed for a pricing structure that would place me lower than my competitors with comparable product. I thought that would be a great way to attract customers, and I couldn't understand why a bra would need to be marked up so high. But after months of number crunching and financial management courses I found that those products were marked up not just to make a profit, but to keep the business up and running on a daily basis. If I had dropped my prices as I had originally intended to do, I'd surely be out of business within a year. It is important to set each price for adequate accommodation of your business's overhead budget, taking into account employee salaries and the cost of goods, supplies, legal fees, advertising, etc. I learned that a smart pricing structure is directly related to the cost of doing business. If you price your goods accordingly, your customers are sure to understand and learn to view you as a respectable entity.

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4) Not everyone wants to help out a start-up business.

One of the most surprising things I realized in my early months is that not many people were interested in selling their product to a new online boutique. I thought that, as a small independent business, I'd be respected and supported by the brands I wanted to do business with, but that seemed to only be the case with a select few. After numerous unanswered emails and rejections, one sympathetic vendor finally told me that many brands only want to work with larger, established companies. These brands often hire agents to manage their sales and are very strict about how much money they bring in. Big retailers pay big bucks and buy big quantities, leaving us little guys to struggle with more limited options.

It was a disappointing fact to learn, but thankfully, most of the labels that will work with start-ups (many of them indie brands themselves) know the value of partnership and have been supportive from the get go. These are the brands I look forward to forming lasting relationships with, and remind me why I continue to love this industry so much.

6 girl on laptop

5) Social media can be your best friend.

When putting together a budget, don't neglect to allot funds for advertising and marketing to get your name out there and attract potential customers. However, smart budgeting is important and it can pay to get creative with your resources.

Social media is a great place to establish a presence and build a following for little or no money. Your target customer most likely uses social media every day - whether it's Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or any of the numerous others. So what better way to reach them than to appeal directly to their preferences? In fact, social media is such a daily part of our lives that not establishing a presence on one or more of these sites could potentially have a negative effect on your credibility as a reputable business!

I began spreading the word through friends and family on platforms that made the most sense to my business, like Pinterest and Tumblr, which are great places to visibly show off fashion products. Establishing my presence before I had even launched the business also proved helpful, as I had a base of followers already secured once my website finally launched. Being active on these sites and engaging other users can go a long way, and all it takes is a little bit of your time.

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6) Listen to your customers (but know when to say no).

With the lack of personal care and service plaguing many of the big name brands, it's no wonder so many people prefer to shop online. This makes customer service especially important in this day and age. Being able to reach a representative and be treated respectfully and in a timely manner is something all consumers can appreciate, especially when times are tough. And with multiple social media platforms available to them, an unhappy customer has more influence today than in the past.

But it can often be hard to distinguish between a concerned customer and a troublemaker. It's important to listen to suggestions and feedback and truly take it in and learn from your mistakes. Just make sure to find a healthy balance. I’ve received countless tips and advice from well-meaning friends and colleagues that have proven helpful throughout my launch. However, when some suggestions began to conflict with the vision of my business, I knew I had to draw the line. My commitment to customer service will always remain a priority, but I’ve learned that trusting my gut is what will keep me afloat in this competitive and ever-evolving market.

What are your thoughts about big business vs. independent start-ups? Do you have any other advice you would offer?


Last Updated on

Kristina
Kristina

Lingerie designer and founder of WonderLust Lingerie. I specialize in fashion and trend pertaining to lingerie, sleepwear, hosiery and everything in between. I believe that the right kind of underwear can change your entire outlook for the day so finding a balance between fashion and function is key.

25 Comments on this post

  1. Michelle C Smith says:

    I love your article especially the part that hit home was no one wants to help. I really don’t want to be a dream deferred. I know the type of lingerie and swim wear I would love to create. But if you cannot draw, and only have the ideas in your head what do you? I have planned to go to FIT in the fall so I can get maybe more direction and connect with with like minded people.

  2. Maryam says:

    Thanks so much for sharing. I wish to learn more.

  3. Lucky says:

    Hi it’s great article.your article provides all the required things facts which are essential to start a business especially lingerie business. Myself a Textile dress manufacturer and having great knowledge about all kinds of fabrics and their processing. Once again lovely article

  4. oluwatoyin says:

    hi Kristina, how will I start my lingerie line? I really don’t know how to go about it

  5. Reading your articles has given me so much hope (and a healthy dose of fear as well)! I want to open my own local brick & morter “lingerie” (BDSM gear, harnesses, kink lifestyle specifically, great example: CoCo De Mer) store sooo bad, I eat/sleep/breathe the idea and I’ve got ideas streamlined, right down to seasonal store displays…problem is I live in TN (bible belt south) thats more conservative (seriously, IF a school chooses to have a sex education class they are “encouraged” to teach abstinence only before marriage). I know there’s a kink community here (according to the nearly 5k active LOCAL accounts on FetLife.com) & currently have 2 LGBTQ clubs in our city as well, add to the fact that literally there aren’t any places in town to get descent lingerie (only options are big box store Victoria’s Secret, Lane Bryant, Soma or two local adult xxx stores selling cheap stripper wear), I believe I could either really really succed or fail astronomically…any advice you have I would greatly appreciate it beyond measure. Thanks!

  6. Patricia says:

    Very insightful article- not much information out there about how to start a lingerie brand. I have pinned this article so i can also read and re-read it for future reference. Thanks Kristine

  7. Kelly says:

    Hi Kristina, I’m very green in the industry coming from a psychology background and I’m looking to develop an underwear line focused on empowering women to feel more confident. Thank you for sharing these insights, I’ve found it a great launch point. I’m early in my start up but I’m nervous about your point that bigger companies can easily steal/copy your idea. Do you have any advice about how to protect your product before putting it out there to be exposed and vulnerable (much like myself in launching a business)?? :)

  8. Eke says:

    Hi Kristina, I’m a raw upstart getting acquainted with the industry as possible. #1/3 gives me the most concern. Sourcing global or quality brands at affordable rate is another. Any helpful links?

  9. Hi Kristina, I too run a small startup Lingerie line in India named Great Investigate along with my co-founder Liza. We 100% agree to all of the above. It’s a challenge everyday and nobody wants to help startups.

  10. Lelomaseko says:

    Thank you very much for such a great article helped so much made me think more and take time before jumping in.??

  11. Boluwasope says:

    Hello Kristina,

    You can not imagine how helpful I have found this Post! I have read it once a week, every week since June!!

    I recently moved from England to Nigeria to be closer to family and I intend to fill the gap in the Lingerie Market.

    Getting across to brands however is super hard. Any tips?

    • Kristina Kristina says:

      Wow, sounds like there’s some great potential in that market – that’s wonderful and I’m glad you found my post helpful! Getting across to brands can be tricky especially nowadays. I would just email as many as possible and don’t get discouraged if you only hear back from a small percentage of them. The ones who do partner with you will most likely become strong relationships that will foster over time. Lingerie trade shows are also a great place to start where you can get a lot done in a little time. If you have the financial means to do it I would definitely suggest attending one or two of those once you’re ready to launch. Good luck to you!!

  12. Aisha says:

    To my comment above, #5 sums it up!

  13. Aisha says:

    Kristina, thank you so much for sharing. In an echo to what you have already mentioned in #1, I would add to have a really strong marketing strategy. Because, really, if no one knows about you and your business, you might as well have a huge billboard in the desert.

  14. Sheryl says:

    #2 is the story of my life right now. You don’t know what you don’t know. I even knew this, but not well enough to double or triple my guess. Onward and upward! Good luck to your store!

  15. Nehita Dima-Dede says:

    Well has certainly been very helpful.

  16. Krista says:

    Best of luck!

  17. Right on! Smart hindsight :-) I would also add to estimate how much passion you’ll need, and then double THAT. I’m proud that we are partnering with you for Wanderlust and wish you the best of luck. xx

  18. Cristina says:

    Thank you so much for this! You girls are my guru of lingerie’s world :)

  19. Quinne says:

    Agree with everything. I’d also add: “Estimate how much money you will need…then double it.” (Or maybe triple it, if you’re as blindly optimistic as I was when I launched!)

  20. Jelani says:

    Hello, I loved your article and have found it to be the most helpful in finding a way to start my own lingerie line for nursing mothers! If you would like to give me more information on how and where to start please let me know. I am open to any advice, thank you so much.

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