Lingerie design is a whole philosophy in itself. This article will help anyone interested in starting a lingerie brand understand some critical foundations.
1) Find the opportunity!
Being a six-foot man with little understanding of the lingerie industry, it was an eye-opening experience walking into a department/specialty store’s lingerie department for the first time. However, it was imperative for my team and I to understand the luxury intimate apparel market, buying habits and trends. On-site market research proved most effective in acquiring this knowledge.
Intimate apparel is an intimate experience, so I asked the associate as if I was purchasing a gift for a good friend of mine. Questions were asked based on knowing the price point of our line, the materials we used, and the clients we catered too; that way, we got specific experiences and advice from the people who knew the product the best.
3 Key Insights We Learned About the Lingerie Industry:
- Men purchase more luxury sets of lingerie then women do. They also purchase more color and more styles with lace.
- The quality that our competitors offered could have been higher warranting the price. The consumer does notice the difference, although they might not know the technical aspects.
- The majority of the intimate apparel lines carried in stores are not made in America or locally. This gave us a tremendous amount of insight on how to start rebranding the line and positioning it. We took all the information we found and started applying it to our brand. Our photography features more sets, focuses on details of quality, and displays our proud ability to manufacture in America.
Pro-Tip: Identify the areas of opportunity in your market so you can better penetrate a niche with your amazing idea.
2) Make sure your fabric is a good fit.
This is a crucial make or break of any apparel line in any part of the industry. It goes without saying, creating a product is not an overnight thing; it takes time, testing and several rounds of fit samples. Don’t be surprised when the concept you start with doesn’t end up being what you finish with. The design process is the best thing every brand will experience. Fabric sometimes plays the biggest catalyst to change in design and fit.
Since we are a luxury lingerie line, our bread and butter is 19mm Silk Charmeuse; we’ve experimented with other fabrics in the past. In trial and error, we’ve purchased fabric we thought would be amazing but turned out to be a disaster. To avoid costly mistakes, always test with sample yardage. If your line is going to be washable, make sure the integrity of the fabric holds up through washes. If your line is going to be dry clean only, make sure your material could withstand the process of dry cleaning. Bad experiences with fabric could make or break the success of your company.
Pro-Tips When Searching for Lingerie Fabric:
- Silk is a fiber. Charmeuse is the fabric. Fiber creates fabric. Don’t assume all Charmeuse will drape the same way. Polyester Charmeuse is denser and drapes differently than that of Silk. You could use Silk Charmeuse, Silk Chiffon, Silk Satin and so forth; all will have lives of their own.
- Just because the fabric stretches doesn’t mean that it will stretch the same way as others. Stretch material and working with it is an art of itself. Stretch ratios vary based on fiber, weave, and treatment. If you are making a garment that needs to stretch (ex. Panty), you might have to make alterations to your pattern. Stretch ratios are for every one inch of fabric it could stretch another two or three inches.
- The best way to check your stretch ratio is to cut a one-inch piece of the fabric and pull it on a ruler. If you only hit the two-inch mark, the stretch ratio indicates that one inch of fabric will stretch another one-inch. If you have a heavy stretch fabric, your size medium could accommodate a wider range than that of a lighter stretch.
3 Vital Questions to Ask Your Fabric Supplier:
- Is the fabric reorderable?
- Will the colors be available next season?
- What is the turnaround time and do you offer other fabrics?
Factories and suppliers are more willing to work with brands on minimums, prices, and terms if they order more fabrics with them. From experience, the best fabrics found are from vendors that specialize in that specific fabric and have loads of options available.
3) Know your Lace.
Lace constantly goes in and out of fashion. However, lace will always be a staple in the intimate apparel world. Knowing all the different types of laces and styles is essential. Not all laces are created equal, and there are major learning curves to working with them.
4 things To Look for When Choosing a Lace:
- The overall potential. It’s not always how decorated the lace is, we look at how we could cut it apart to lessen waste. Some lace has the ability to cut apart and create incredibly intricate designs. The less waste the better, and the better margins your company will have.
- Can it be dyed? That is a huge component for our company. If you could dye it, you could make it more individualized for people. This could help you develop more products that are fun and exciting.
- Will it shrink? Measure it, heavily steam it, and then measure it again. Even if your product is dry clean only, this is something for you to consider. If it shrinks, you’ll need to compensate for it. We don’t purchase lace that shrinks because it will alter our silk’s drape. There is no right or wrong, it is just critical to know.
- How well does it work through your production line? That is the major question. If our head seamstress says no to a lace, it doesn’t go into production. Sometimes we loose incredible lace we’d love to work with but it would be more problematic if we didn’t listen to our craftsmen. In the long run, using the wrong lace could lead to defective merchandise and production hiccups. If your manufacturer recommends a different lace, it isn’t to be argumentative or crush your design, it’s to help its’ efficiency down production. Efficiency equals better profit margins. Sample makers can make most designs come to life, but that doesn’t always mean that it’s going to work in production. That is one of the largest misconceptions when creating a product. Find a good manufacturer that you can establish great communication with and listen to the advice given.
Pro-Tip: Communication is key when it comes to production.
4) It’s an intimate experience.
This goes back to really knowing your market and who you’re trying to service. Test the product yourself, visualize how it works, and make alterations accordingly. Some intimate apparel lines trend toward costume styles, some gear toward shaping, and others are basic foundations (ex. Panty). There is no right or wrong in the intimate apparel world.
Attending trade shows like CURVEXPO will give you more exposure inside this market. You’ll learn why the presentation and product experience help communicate with your client. Intimate apparel shouldn’t just be functional and appealing, it should also empower the wearer. Confidence is insurmountable in the intimate apparel industry.
3 Strategies That Worked For Us:
- Gracious fits: Since our fits were established in the late 70s, body shapes have changed. Our size small could fit a medium. In the fashion industry, we consider it a missy fit, though we just find it practical. Gracious fits allow our clients to feel comfortable and confident. If you want the fit tighter, then you need to size down. Make sure you are comfortable with your fit before you debut your line, it’s not easy to re-establish after your initial appearance.
- Basics: What you see is what you get. We don’t have bells and whistles. We don’t rely on anything but our craftsmanship and quality. We’re not distracted with heavy hangtags, fussy things, and overly complicated design. Let your product speak for itself.
- Packaging: Though our packaging doesn’t make it to the client, it’s still an experience for the wholesale accounts who open them. Your product packaging is the best time to express something fun and unique about your brand. Each of our pieces is individually folded with tissue paper and then placed in a plastic wrap with our logo. From there, it’s placed in a beautiful white box and finished with reinforced white tape perfectly aligned on the box. It’s exciting for the vendor to open and they appreciate how much attention to detail we put into everything. In turn, they feel closer to the brand and are more passionate when selling to a client.
5) Simplicity (usually) wins.
Overly complicated designs can create product aversion, especially in the intimate apparel world. Some lines are successful in bridging practical with fashion forward; just keep proportions and purpose in mind. We release new styles every season, some are a hit, some are a miss, but all help us understand where our clients are going and the needs they might be seeking.
Don’t be surprised if your wholesale accounts purchase the basics of your collection. In today’s economy, people are purchasing more pieces that allow them more wear mileage opposed to something they would only wear once.
Sometimes it’s hard not to take it personally when an incredible piece isn’t bought. Remember, your vendor wants your line (that’s why they purchased it) and their purchasing patterns will give you insight into what is and isn’t working in your line.
- • Use design elements in important places.
- • Make sure your fits are on point.
- • Stay consistent to your foundations.
If you keep those points in mind, you’ll be well on your way to penetrating the intimate apparel industry successfully.
The Last Word.
Experiment, test, and always continue to develop. The fashion industry is intense, small business owners need to remember to have fun with it. Go to trade shows, experience how stores sell intimate apparel and ask questions to sales associates (they are the key to selling your product). Indulge in your competitors line and see how yours will stand out.
Remember, you can’t service everyone, even though we all try. Once you realize that, establish your fit, understand quality and quality control, and make sure your execution on every order is consistent. Service your market, clients and accounts consistently because brand equity is everything.
I hope that my experience has helped you understand a bit more of this incredible industry. Comment with your questions below!