DIY Lingerie: Can Customers Make It For Cheaper?
The internet is a wonderful thing. There’s so much information available for free (or at least cheap!) that was 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 making 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 take to directly copying the designs of others. I’ve seen a distressing number of individuals take to social media to comment about these designs, not only bragging about making knockoffs, but insisting they can make these pieces for less money.
This idea that you can create lingerie for cheaper than an original designer is not only be offensive, but 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 and of itself.
However, 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 why would I give these away for free to total strangers?
Setting the Stage
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.
Note: 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 my point is to try and illustrate some of the hidden cost issues you may not otherwise consider.
Costs of Fabrics and Materials
Lace is a tetchy subject when it comes to lingerie. High quality laces have a tendency to be expensive, 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), a white lace I found from Top Fabric 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.
You’ll need to line the gusset of your knickers with a lightweight cotton jersey to make them more comfortable. You don’t want lace directly against such a sensitive area. A lining fabric I found from Sewing Chest has a minimum purchase of 1m for £9.97/$15.20.
Cost so far: £134.47/$205.20.
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 knit in the UK and wouldn’t be available to purchase in small quantities at retail. An elastic I found from Sewing Chest is not like to be 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. That retails for £0.83/$1.26 from Sewing Chest.
Cost so far: £139.50/$212.86.
Sliders allow you to adjust straps to fit your body. This style uses three pairs: shoulder straps, decorative overbust straps, and hip straps. The sliders I use for my brand are usually high-quality, 18ct gold-plated, and have a rounded shape, taken from a mould. But these have minimum orders of 1000pcs. The sliders I found on Sewing Chest 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 need 6 for £1.32/$2.
Cost so far: £140.82/$214.86.
My design uses oversized O-rings to loop straps through. Like the sliders, I use high-quality components that are moulded, but the stamped rings I saw on Sewing Chest 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 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 (again from Sewing Chest). 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, threads and other miscellaneous expenses that would be considered costs for the original project.
So far, 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's hours that you have to spend trawling the internet and fabric shops. Fortunately, in this instance, I’ve done it all for you.
Moving Beyond Materials to Machines
The next obvious cost would be 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. That means you’d have to have 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 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 this 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 such as shears, thread snips, and pins. I won't include them in the calculations but these also need to be considered.
Cost so far: £173.35/$264.35.
Sewing Time and Skill
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 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.
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 around £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 - costs a DIY project can totally overlook - but you’ll have to wait for me to revisit this topic.