Luisa Loveday’s story sounds like a fairy tale written by the Brothers Grimm. But, Luisa is no Cinderella. What I respect about Luisa is that she is an ordinary modern woman who has not waited for a “prince” but spent years of hard graft and paid her dues in the lingerie industry to gain the knowledge, understanding, and most importantly, build the relationships required to create a solid business. A business to provide not only for herself, but for her small family, and her team. I spoke to Luisa to find out more about her journey as an independent designer. What follows is an incredibly candid, detailed response.
You come from a Fashion Retail/PR background, how did you move into design and construction?
My degree was 1st class Design Management for Fashion Retailing, which gave me a strong understanding of branding and marketing, as well as positioning within a market. I loved creating brands for projects and putting together presentations, it came so naturally to me. As part of this degree, I did a placement year with Fleur of England, (then known as Fleur T) luxury British lingerie label. I learned so much from Fleur about how the whole design process works and had such an incredible experience with her. Fleur is all about an exquisite fit, so I was learning from the best. When I returned to university in Manchester I worked for Agent Provocateur for a year in the store. My favourite part about this whole industry is helping women in the fitting room, seeing their reaction when they find something that makes them feel good, it’s so empowering!
I returned to work for Fleur of England after my degree and after a couple of years moved to London to begin my career with the pioneering brand Coco de Mer.
It was with Coco de Mer that I had the chance to evolve even further as a designer and was given the role of designing their own label lingerie as well as dress the windows and devise the marketing schedule. I worked with the same UK factory on both Fleur of England and Coco de Mer so knew the owner very well and was always so impressed with their attention to detail and expertise. In terms of patterns and technicality, this wasn’t something I could do so we employed a product development manager Frankie Goulden, who had a degree in Contour Fashion from De Montfort University. She is an absolute natural when it comes to patterns, and her first one is usually perfect! My designs were a success at Coco de Mer and I began to have my own inspirations – which is when I then realised I had to make the leap to launch my own brand, and Loveday London was born.
I still work with Frankie on patterns, but over the years have become more confident in my own ability, so do some myself too. Some of our sample machinists at the factory have over 45 years experience in sewing lingerie, so I rely heavily on them during the design process. During design development, I go to the factory for weeks at a time (leaving my 3-year-old daughter, which is heart breaking!) to make sure that everything is working together as it should. They are like fairy godmothers and I always listen to their advice – even down to if they like the whole collection or not, which they usually do thankfully!
It can be very daunting starting a small business. How did you approach funding? Bank loan, savings, venture capital?
Due to unfortunate life circumstances, (my mother died when I was 5, and my father suddenly when I was 22), I inherited enough money to start the business. That money quickly dried up after the launch as I also had to employ a full-time production manager for 6 months because my baby was born at the same time. I was 7 months pregnant when I launched the brand (like a mad woman!!) but I guess knowing I had this initial ‘pot of money’ helped me to feel it would be ok, at least in the short term. The brand has been financially self-supporting itself since the 3rd season (we are now in the 8th), which does come with a lot of cash flow stresses! We have amazing relationships with our suppliers, most of which feel like extended family, which helps a lot. In terms of a business plan, it is changing all the time as the brand evolves. I started off wanting everything – a store, famous photographers, models, a boudoir design service you name it… However I have learned to be realistic and work within the restraints of our budget for the time being.
And how much time and attention did you spend on creating a business plan?
The business was in the planning process for around 6 months before I launched it. Throughout this time, which was a massive learning curve, I researched everything from stock units to production costs, and realised that I’d have to start much smaller than I had planned to when I learned how much it was going to cost to ‘hold’ stock! I also had to document cash flow forecasts and profit and loss calculations – my sister is an accountant, so she helped me out too. I took my business plan to the bank in order to open a business account – it contained figures about cash flow, growth strategies, anticipated stockists etc. At this point, everything read really well and the bank manager was very impressed with my plans.
How important is it to have documentation available – Look Books, Media Kits, print ads and banners? They seem like a lot of time and focus – are they truly useful?
The look books are expensive. In the first season, I spent £3k on having luxury look books printed with a gold foiled logo on the front – this is a huge amount of money and investment. Some buyers at the trade shows preferred digital copies and wouldn’t even take it because their bags were already heavy. At this point, the voice in my head was saying “take it!!! TAKE IT!” However, I believe because we presented the brand so professionally in that first season, with luxury look books, packaging, roller banners etc, that the buyers took us seriously from the offset. Selfridges has been buying Loveday London from our first season which has certainly been a highlight of my career to-date!
In the third season, we couldn’t afford to get the look books printed, so we just did A5 post cards – this didn’t seem to have any effect on sales and the order book continued to grow. These days we produce posters which fold into leaflets, a great mix of the two!
35 stockists in the four years since the launch of Loveday London is an amazing achievement. What did you find most helpful in gaining the attention of buyers? Trade shows, print advertising, direct contact, or did they come to you?
We have shown at the Salon International de la Lingerie in Paris and the London show The Lingerie Edit (now Dessous London) every season since we launched and recently at Curve in New York. I think it’s so important to keep a brand presence at these shows, as you just don’t know who’s watching. Most of our clientele have come from these shows, however more and more we are being approached by people who have found us through other avenues such as Instagram!
We were lucky enough to have been 4 times voted as “Best Brand” by buyers that attended The Lingerie Edit, so this really helped in terms of press features post show and generated further interest in the brand.
Loveday London has a huge following on Instagram and more modest profiles on Facebook and Twitter. How important is social media?
We love Instagram! I have a fabulous PR, Natasha Keville who also manages our account @loveday_london – she has OCD about the vision of it (haha!). We never pay to advertise which is why our following on Facebook isn’t so huge, and with twitter, I’ve never really got the hang of it as it’s not really visual enough for us as a brand. Social media has been amazing for gaining web traffic and influencer introduction and as the seasons pass it only seems to get more and more important!
You have worked for Fleur of England and Coco de Mer, can you help explain why luxury brands only focus on core sizes when half the female population is a UK14+? It seems an odd financial decision to make.
I can’t speak for those brands directly as it’s been years since I worked for them, but I can, of course, explain about Loveday London’s core sizing. We offer S, M, L in both our bras and knickers with the L being 12-14 and a 32DD/34D/36C. I began in those sizes because they are what I know. I myself am a 10-12 and 34C I am 6ft tall so have a ‘long’ physique – my mother was 6ft1 and much slimmer than me!
Currently, at Loveday London the first size we sell out of is a small. At the end of a season, we usually have only size large left in our stock. The existing sales don’t indicate the demand for the larger sizes, at the moment – despite what we know about the average size in the UK. I am truly not sure why this is, but the Loveday London customer is currently on the smaller side.
*As the creator of RavenDreams/Abigail Tyrrell Plus Size Lingerie I completely empathise with Luisa. I don’t design for normal sizes for the same reasons. I design exclusively for curves because I have them and it is what I understand, down to the skin ; ) – Abi
There is a real issue in the plus size bra world of lack of tailoring for the many differences in body shapes. Your newly patented bra back construction with adjustable shoulder AND band straps could be revolutionary for plus size. Have you considered expanding your range upward to a 38/40? If not, what would help you to consider doing so?
If Loveday London were to expand into larger sizes, particularly in the bras we would want to please everyone and do it properly, ensuring that the correct research and product development is carried out at every stage. We would hate to develop a larger cupped bra that wasn’t supportive enough or was badly fitting.
There are already some really special luxury brands specialising in these cup sizes, for example, Harlow and Fox and Adina Reay. From what I’ve seen of their collections they have really mastered the art of support in combination with stunning design. Logistically for Loveday London to enter the DD-G market, it would be like starting a whole other brand. The amount of work that we would have to do to generate the new patterns and samples, both in terms of money and time would put added pressure on our teeny team. So for the moment, (whilst we hope it’s not too much of a disappointment!), we’re happy leaving it to these other fabulous companies to focus on these sizes.
There is a lot of speculation on the repercussions of the US leaving NAFTA and Brexit. A lot of small luxury brands are suffering already. Do you have any advice on preparing for working through what looks to be challenging times ahead?
My advice would be to continue what you are doing and try not to change too much for fear of the political changes that are looming. We work with mostly European fabrics and I am certain that Brexit will affect our financial approach with these suppliers but the relationships between Loveday London and the people in these companies will remain strong.
I have recently written an article on how difficult it is for a brand to claim that it is 100% ethical. How are your products produced and what efforts does your brand make in creating ethical lingerie?
100% Ethical is a very bold statement for any business to make. It’s not something that we put in our tagline, but I truly believe that Loveday London does what it can to be as ethical as possible. It’s important to me. We manufacture in the UK – which is a very important to our wholesale customers and also our relationship with the people at the factory (we know the machinists by name) and avoids costly overseas shipments and high carbon footprint!
We work with leather which is sourced as a by-product of the meat industry only – I would love to develop a vegan range one day! We recycle almost everything!
We have almost no waste – we order fabrics as minimally as possible and we don’t make masses and masses of stock. We often sell out of our collections wishing we had made more! We never throw away surplus stock, it gets sold to our lovely customers at sample sales and other events.
Is there anything, after four years, you would change? Mistakes to avoid? Risks you wish you had taken?
After three and a half years it’s an interesting time to be in business, Loveday London’s order book is growing every season which I’m thrilled about! But this growth presents new challenges. We need more people to keep operations flowing consistently and smoothly. There is so much that I feel we ‘could’ be doing but we simply don’t have the resources. In terms of mistakes, we are always learning!! One of my Dad’s sayings was “he knows everything who learns how to learn!” and we live by that every day. As long as you are doing your best on every level that is all you can do.
Finally: You were on CBBC’s Beat the Boss in 2009 where you advised a team of adults on creating mood boards and concepts for their (winning) fashion show. If you could come face to face with your former self what would you tell her?
Gosh, that’s a flash back to what feels like another life – I had forgotten about that! There are a few things I would tell my 22 yr old self:
1. To “go for it!” (the words of my Dad again).
2. Surround yourself with people that are supportive and loving, like your own nature, and ignore any negativity that may come your way. If it was easy everyone would do it, and those that support you are worth 10 of the odd individual who may try to make things difficult for you – (luckily I have only come across people like this on a couple of occasions!)
3. To every problem there is a solution, so don’t worry!
We’d like to thank Luisa of Loveday London for allowing us to interrogate her! If there is a moral to Luisa’s “tale”, it is that working your way up from the bottom supports your reach for the top. There is no fairy godmother of success. As much as we would all love to wave a magic wand and have instant success right from the kitchen table or university, spending those extra years learning the ropes, and creating business contacts and connections can be well worth it.
You can find Loveday London here:
and keep an eye on her Flash Sale Page!