Lingerie business: my production design process

The 'Ara' bralet and harness brief by Karolina Laskowska
The ‘Ara’ bralet and harness brief by Karolina Laskowska

I’m still rather overexcited about the launch of pre-orders for my first major factory-produced collection! Yesterday’s post tackled my reasons for moving away from sewing solely in-house and today I’ll be addressing the creative process behind my ‘Ara’ and ‘Carina’ collections’.

The Ara wired bra, suspender and cut-out brief by Karolina Laskowska
The Ara wired bra, suspender and cut-out brief by Karolina Laskowska

Admittedly, the title of this blog post is a little misleading; there wasn’t a vast amount of designing involved in these collections. All of the garment patterns and shapes are based on previous designs. This isn’t out of laziness, so much as practicality and avoiding risk as much. These are garments that I know fit well and that have sold well in the past. Cutting, grading and fitting garments from scratch would have been a costly and, all things considered, unnecessary. I know that these styles can be relied on as they’ve been continually perfected and improved upon every season. Preparing designs for production is incredibly time consuming; unlike when I sew something myself, a factory requires extensive technical files, detailing every single individual stitch, measurement, elastic tension of every garment. The technical packs alone for this run took me weeks to complete.  Working with familiar garments made life a lot easier!

The first ever incarnation of the 'Sayuri' set. Design by Karolina Laskowska
The first ever incarnation of the ‘Sayuri’ set. Design by Karolina Laskowska

The shapes that informed this collection include the ‘Sayuri’ set from my AW14 collection and what originated as the ‘Monika’ set from my AW13 (though the latter differs quite dramatically in its current incarnation!).  These are all shapes that are somewhat ‘signature’ to my brand and it was important for me that this first major run still be recognizable as ‘Karolina Laskowska’ pieces.

Although the 'Ara' bralet set looks very different to my AW13 'Monika' set, the patterns and measurements are based on the same tried and tested blocks. Design by Karolina Laskowska
Although the ‘Ara’ bralet set looks very different to my AW13 ‘Monika’ set, the patterns and measurements are based on the same tried and tested blocks. Design by Karolina Laskowska

One of the most important areas of design to me is the choice of fabrics; this has always been crucial to my brand and what I truly believe sets me aside from other designers at a similar market level. Although I wanted to bring customers lingerie at a lower price point, I didn’t want to do it at the expense of beautiful fabrics. I decided that rather than continuing with kimono silks, as I previously used in the ‘Sayuri’ collections, I wanted to focus on beautiful lace.

The same English leavers lace was used in my SS15 'Ela' set. Design by Karolina Laskowska
The same English leavers lace was used in my SS15 ‘Ela’ set.
Design by Karolina Laskowska

The black and gold lace used in the ‘Ara’ sets is quite possibly my favourite lace in the entire contemporary lace market. It’s made in the UK by the last remaining leavers lace manufacturer: Cluny, who are still owned by the same family in its 6th and 7th generations. Cluny specialise in cotton laces, which are typically heavier and arguably a little more ‘dated’ in appearance than the lace usually used in lingerie. It’s the fact that it’s considered so atypical that initially drew me to this lace design: the cotton is soft against the skin, unlike so many scratchy modern metallic laces. The floral design is lush and dense, with the bright gold lurex highlights giving it the most wonderful opulent feel. I hope to continue using this lace for many collections to come; it’s used in several pieces in my next season and had relatively extensive use in my SS15 designs!

This Italian leavers lace is beautifully delicate and sheer! Quite a contrast to the heavy black cotton and gold threads.
This Italian leavers lace is beautifully delicate and sheer! Quite a contrast to the heavy black cotton and gold threads.

Meanwhile, the ‘Carina’ sets use a much lighter and more delicate chantilly lace, made in Italy. There’s not quite the same profound heritage behind it, but that fact remains that it’s a pretty design and is offset perfectly with the harness inspired strapping of these shapes. Both colourways are trimmed with a delicate Cluny cotton lace trim.

Although the harness trend is on its way out, I still opted for ‘strappy’ designs. This was out of practicality rather than trying to make any dramatic fashion statement. The adjustable bands of my bras make it possible for me to even offer wired bras by sidestepping the minimum order quantities incurred by traditional bra sizing. Bra sizes that use a bra/band incur a huge amount of variants, even for a narrow range.  As my factory sets its minimums by sizes, it would have been impossible for me to afford to produce wired bras with the traditional sizing method.

I’m rather fond of the fact that the adjustability of the bra designs allow the wearer to make the bra fit them rather than trying to fit their body into a prescribed size. I will admit that it’s impossible to make one bra fit every band size, but this design does also make for relatively easy alterations.  It is dramatically more complicated and expensive to produce than traditionally built bras with wings, but I’d like to think that the benefits outweigh the additional cost!

The adjustable bands of my bra designs allow for much more fit flexibility! Design by Karolina Laskowska
The adjustable bands of my bra designs allow for much more fit flexibility!
Design by Karolina Laskowska

My designs’ heavy reliance on elastic has led to me getting rather obsessive with my sourcing. For this range, all of the elastic has been sourced and knitted in the UK. It’s immensely important for me to be able to guarantee its quality and to continue supporting industry in my home country, even though it realistically costs almost 6 times what it could have done by sourcing from Asia.  Another area I wasn’t willing to cut back on was my metal components: all the sliders and rings are gold plated. These metal components add up to a fairly healthy chunk of each garment costs, purely because there’s so many of them: the wired bra uses 18 of them! Nevertheless, they add a lovely aesthetic to each piece and plastic or enameled rings and sliders just wouldn’t have the same effect.

The 'Carina' set by Karolina Laskowska. Photography by J. Tuliniemi. Modelled by Ceci Zhang. MUA by Anitka Kwiat.
The ‘Carina’ set by Karolina Laskowska.
Photography by J. Tuliniemi. Modelled by Ceci Zhang. MUA by Anitka Kwiat.

All this considered, I am so pleased that I’ve managed to keep the prices of these pieces so comparatively low without compromising on quality of materials. These are designs that I’m proud to sell under my name, which is saying a lot given how much of a perfectionist I am! I’m keeping all of my fingers and toes crossed that this first run does well commercially so that I can bring the styles back in new colourways and increased size ranges.  Oh, and of course make some brand new things. Though there’s very little that will stop me from doing that 😉

Which is your favourite from the new designs?  Have you ever thought about the design process behind your lingerie?

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