When it comes to buying underwear sustainably it can be a challenge to find brands that share the same principles as you, and also offer a wide range of sizes and have that longevity. Lara Intimates manages to tick all these boxes and more. A brand that embraces and celebrates the female body and all the beautiful shapes and sizes in comes in. The CEO, Cindy Liberman is a 26 year old powerhouse who has set up not only her own brand but also an all female run factory in London to make the underwear in the most sustainable way possible. I wanted to chat with Cindy to find out how her experience working in the fashion industry led her to want to do things a little differently, why material sourcing is a crucial part of being a sustainable brand and why it is so important to Cindy that the brand be size inclusive and accessible to the masses.
What made you decide to set up Lara Intimates?
"I moved from the United States to London when I was 18 and studied at London College of Fashion. While at LCF, I interned at several fashion businesses and I learned a lot about sustainability and human rights within fashion. I discovered that I liked fashion products, but I didn't feel at home in conventional industry settings. The outsourcing and complex, unethical supply chains really bothered me. In 2017, I graduated LCF with a degree in lingerie and swimwear design, so I decided to try making the intimate apparel industry more ethical, respectable and admirable."
Can you explain a little about the underwear design and creative process?
"At Lara, we always start with material sourcing first. (This is the most sustainable way to design because you're designing within the boundaries of eco-friendly materials from the beginning, so there's no temptation to compromise when going into production.) Our design process revolves around our customer, what products she needs and how to make them pretty and very functional. We spend a few weeks thinking about design and months in fit testing. Getting the fit right is the absolute most important thing to us. And sometimes we tweak designs as we fit test to improve the look and function of different bras. I think we're much more function driven than other companies - we never design for a season or trend."
The 'AVA' Bra
What was it like setting up your own factory in London to make the underwear?
"Our factory is the heart of our business, and I am so glad we set up in-house production. But it's also by far the most challenging part of our business to run. We do all our design, sampling, sourcing, fabric cutting, sewing, quality checking, packing and shipping in-house. We set up the factory from the very beginning, literally buying new and second hand sewing machines and building a fabric cutting table from plywood. We found a cheap studio space in Soho above a bar, hired a couple of machinists and started production in July 2017. Until recently, we made products to order with a small team. This year, we're scaling up our operations by growing our team of sewing machinists making larger volumes of products to keep up with growing demand."
"Running our own factory is the ultimate example of freedom and responsibility. We can run production however we want: with zero fabric waste, 4 day working week, proper training and a great team culture. It also means we're responsible for more people, product quality, production scheduling, machinery etc. I absolutely love running our factory because it's a chance to really do manufacturing differently than the status quo, but it's a massive undertaking that won't be right for a lot of companies. "
You are one of few sustainable underwear companies that is very size inclusive, was this the plan from the very beginning?
"Honestly, I have no clue why most size ranges are so limited. The traditional fashion schedule and supply chain doesn't make it easy to offer lots of sizes, but I'm surprised more retailers haven't innovated to find solutions."
"Before setting up our own factory, we spoke to one British lingerie factory. They said it would be £200k to make our product range in 36 bra sizes! Our solution was to set up our own factory, but most companies cut back on the number of sizes offered."
"When I started Lara Intimates, the goal was to be the an eco-friendly alternative to high street underwear. I asked people on Instagram what sizes they wanted, and our followers requested sizes up to 36E. I'm a 28B, so the size range we launched with was 28A-36E."
"After we launched, I met women in bra fittings that asked for small back, large cup sizes like 28F, 26DD, 34G etc. We expanded our range to 26A-36GG, and now we're the only lingerie retailer with 60 sizes and sustainability at the heart of what we do."
The 'HIPSTER' Brief
Why is it important to the brand that it be both sustainable and affordable and how did you make this possible?
"Thanks! It's always been a part of my mission to make real systemic change in fashion and manufacturing. I feel strongly that our bras need to be priced similar to premium high street offerings, so price conscious women are invited to shop with us. We worked with deadstock fabric from the beginning which is less expensive than a lot of eco fabrics. We invest nearly all our money into product quality and our factory, and we use low cost marketing like Instagram to sell products."
What inspires you creatively?
"I've really enjoyed Lara as a creative outlet. I collect a lot of images with a retro or vintage feel and think about how we can updates those looks with models of different sizes, looks and races. I also find cooking and food presentation a personal creative passion. I follow Laura Jackson and Fiona Leahy for inspiration. They're more food and interior focused, but they're work with texture and colour is really fun to see."
Why was it important to you to make your factory an all female workplace?
"It felt very natural to have Lara as an all female workspace. My intention isn't to exclude men, so maybe we'll have male employees in the future. Apparel manufacturing globally is done by women mostly, and the UK used to employ a lot of women as sewing machinists. Those jobs have gone offshores, so it felt right to bring sewing machinist jobs to women in Britain."
Why is slow fashion and sustainability important to you?
"I think the world is moving too fast in general. We scale companies fast, we produce clothing fast, we consume and dispose fast. We need a sustainable pace for all businesses and consumers. What's the point in running a business and selling a product if it destroys the planet you live on?"
The 'LIMITED EDITION' Ava Bra
The 'LIMITED EDITION' Thong
What advice would you give to someone who wanted to set up their own online shop?
"You need to have a great product. Once you have a great product, figure out what features matter most to the customer and tell that story through your marketing. Whatever you do, it needs to be authentic enough to cut through the noise of the millions of products available online."
What plans do you have in store next for Lara Intimates?
"This year, I want to expand our size range to include 38 and 40 bands and 18-22 briefs. Next year, I want to launch some new bra products and continue to grow our manufacturing team. I also want to push our marketing further to highlight our sewing machinists include a range women with more diversity in age, race and size."
Follow Lara Intimates on Instagram - @laraintimates
And check out their website - www.laraintimates.com
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