What I’d Tell My 22-Year-Old Self About Working In The Lingerie Industry
Fashion! Style! Lingerie! Sure, it sounds all glamorous and exciting -- but, like anything else, working in the lingerie industry comes with a barrage of drawbacks and disadvantages which, at times, push many a die hard lingerista to the edge of reason. And I have to admit – I’ve been there myself. Many times! This industry can be stressful, lonely and frustrating. However, it can also be rewarding, satisfying, and fulfilling to those who are able to navigate its complexities.
I blame my stubborn nature and unwavering love of lingerie for my ability to remain true to my vision for all these years. This has been my dream job since I was 11 years old and discovered my first vintage slip dress! For as determined as I am to stay true to my dreams, it would have been nice to have had a realistic idea of what the industry would be like once I graduated from fashion school and joined the workforce.
As I sit here sketching ideas for a new collection, I found myself thinking: if I could go back to that 22-year-old girl, what would I say to her? What words of advice would I give her? It’s virtually impossible for any newcomer to be completely prepared for the real world and no matter how much you study, having a base to start with and an arsenal of tips and tools at your disposal is a great way to prepare for future trip-ups. So here are a few pointers I’d give to that 22-year-old girl or anyone else looking to join the fashion industry.
Passion Makes Perfect
The fashion industry is infamous for demanding hard work and long hours. While I can’t guarantee the experience will be the same for everyone, if you don’t feel completely passionate about lingerie, then maybe it’s time to rethink your options.
The truth is that all of the lingerie companies I’ve experienced expect you to put in long hours each day, skip lunch breaks and sacrifice some of your weekends. This can all be pretty taxing when you’re trying to have a life outside of your career, which is why I’d advise any aspiring lingerista to have a true passion for what they’re doing and a belief in their product. After all, the average person spends about 90,000 hours at work in their lifetime… better make it something you love!
Begin With Thick Skin
Sugar coating is not practiced very often in the fashion world. Much of the learning process is sink-or-swim, and you are guaranteed to encounter negativity and harsh critiques on multiple levels. Some can actually be beneficial to your career if you are able to keep an open mind. But others can be downright hurtful and unnecessary, as the industry tends to attract a great deal of superficiality.
I’ve often had personal attributes such as my weight, hair, and clothing style critiqued, in addition to my designs and ideas. Although it was (and still is) painful to hear, I can say that each piece of negative criticism helped me grow a thicker skin and become more determined to succeed. Like anywhere else, it’s up to you to decide which feedback is worth taking in and which is worth shaking off.
Try Serving The Underserved
Big box stores today are taking over the retail world, pushing out smaller indie brands and designers. These stores cater to the masses with the main intent of gaining heavy profits, which determine their every move. But we know not all people are built alike, and it’s impossible to categorize them all in the same box. Everyone needs underwear, and just because you don’t fit the fashion “norm” doesn’t mean you deserve any less.
It wasn’t until my fifth year working in the industry that I tapped into the underserved plus size market. Within a couple of months, our business had doubled, and plus size retailers began seeking us out to produce sexy underwear for them! We soon realized there was (and still is) a need for lingerie for the growing population of women over a size 12, and the payoff was well worth it. The same holds true for other underserved communities such as pregnant/nursing mothers, smaller busted gals, mastectomy patients and the LGBT community. Catering to these overlooked groups can come with great rewards and really help to carve a name for yourself in such a competitive market.
Tweak Your “Pretty” Perspective
Like many young girls, I grew up with a case of Body Dysmorphic Syndrome. I was made to feel unattractive and undesirable by my peers because I didn’t fit the norm of what was considered beautiful at that time. Now looking back at it all, I realize how ridiculous and harmful this way of thinking was and it breaks my heart to see other girls today basing their self worth on how they compare to society’s “perfect” standard of beauty.
Contrary to what you may think, working in the lingerie industry has actually helped to improve my overall self-image instead of continuing to perpetuate the stereotype. It has opened my eyes to the many varying body types out there and has ultimately helped me to feel more confident in my own skin. Yes, I spend a lot of my time looking at gorgeous half-naked models, but working so closely with them also allows me to see their realness and how they look before the Photoshopping… with stretch marks, cellulite and acne just like the rest of us.
Working directly with customers has also been an eye opening experience as I’ve gotten much more familiar with the variety of shapes, sizes, and colors that exist out there. Seeing the real world for what it is, rather than just the perfection advertised by the fashion industry, has really helped me to put things into perspective. There are a million definitions of “pretty” in this world and the great thing is we’re all free to define our own.
It’s The Little Things
Throughout my thirteen years in this challenging industry, I’ve learned so much about myself and about human nature as a whole. I’ve come so far from that sweet naïve 22-year-old and discovered so much more strength in myself than ever before. This career has helped me to view life from a new vantage point, and while I know fashion is not going to help make the world a better place, there are little feats I experience everyday. Sure, I’m not curing cancer or anything, but sometimes all it takes is a smile from a customer who’s just discovered their perfect fitting bra, or a design that makes them feel more confident, that makes it all worth while... knowing that in a small way I’m making a difference in someone’s life.
Would you consider working in the fashion industry? How do other industries compare?