Interview Pippa Brooks
Illustrations Alexa Coe
“…the commitment to the wellbeing of people and the planet is key to what we do.”
If you check the label in your knickers, the chances are it will say ‘made in China’. This is symptomatic of the demand for high production numbers and low unit price across the clothing and lingerie industries. So how fabulous to know that Lara Intimates lingerie is made not just in the UK, but right here in the heart of Soho. In fact, Cindy Liberman and Faith Leeves design, make and ship their products from their studio on Bateman Street – and they even hold private fit parties there too, which you access by invitation through a bar downstairs. How very Soho!
The two women met at the London College of Fashion, where they studied lingerie and swimwear design. Still in their early twenties, they believe that “anyone wanting to start a business today must take responsibility for their environmental and social impact”. I chatted with Cindy about how Lara Intimates balance their creative pursuits with their strong beliefs.
You met Faith at LCF, where you both worked in the lingerie industry as part of your studies. Lara came about due to the horrors you both witnessed in the industry, particularly in terms of the waste generated by factories. Please share some of the worst fashion crimes you have seen?
Working in fashion, it’s easy to see the disconnect between designers and products today. Everything is so rushed, so focused on efficiency and speed to achieve a lower price, that designers don’t have the opportunity to experiment and fit properly. Ultimately, the products are of lower quality. I think this is most obvious with complex products like lingerie.
While I was at university, I went to an interview for a design role at a beachwear company – a brand that is stocked in lots of major high street stores. During the interview, I asked if their team did pattern cutting in-house. The managing director replied: “No, not at all. Last year we bought a bikini off Victoria’s Secret online, mailed it to the factory in China and asked them to copy the pattern.” Today 60% of bras are made in one town in China that’s actually nicknamed ‘bra town’!
Last year we visited our fabric supplier’s warehouse, stocked with surplus fabrics from international lingerie factories. We expected a tiny room with scraps of materials. It turned out to be three massive storage units full of fabrics from floor to ceiling! It’s scary that so much material is wasted and the craftsmanship of garment-making is so often absent from today’s fashion industry.
It’s fantastic how you have rejected most of the common practices of lingerie and clothing manufacturing, firstly by using material that already exists – surplus, unused textiles which would otherwise be stuffed into landfill. How hard was it to source a supplier of the surplus luxury lingerie fabrics?
Thank you! Our fabric supplier used to own a lingerie factory here in England. When manufacturing moved overseas, he started buying up surplus from his former clients and selling it in smaller quantities to British brands. Not everything he sells now is surplus, but we’re careful to only work with reclaimed fabrics and materials.
There doesn’t appear to be a single underwire in any of your bras, despite the fact that you cater for all sizes. Are you against underwiring?
It’s a complete myth that wireless bras can’t be supportive. Wireless bras can extremely supportive, as long as they’re designed by a lingerie expert and engineered properly. That’s what we do at Lara. Every bra is made to fit an A cup, an E cup, and every size in between. We’re actually adding F and G cups soon too.
We have one wired bra, the Delilah Bra. The majority of our customers love our supportive wireless bras, but everyone likes something different. We’re listening to requests all the time and always thinking about the best items to add to our range. Next up is a nursing bra.
Despite the softness of the shape, the bras look ingenious, often with layers of stretch, but always with an elastic underbust. Is your magic in the elastic?
The magic is in the fit! Women should wear bras that fit perfectly in the band and the cup. Our bras fit and support so beautifully when women wear the correct size. That’s why we built our online sizing tool and also host bra fittings in our studio. It’s such a magical moment when women find their perfect size and wear a bra that actually fits.
How did you raise the funds to set up your studio/factory in Soho, where absolutely every garment is designed and made in-house?
Initially, we planned to manufacture with a factory in Wales. It’s the last specialist lingerie factory left in the UK, and they have a wonderful reputation. To manufacture our range (11 products in 30 bra sizes and 2-5 colours for each design) was going to cost £367,000! We would need to reduce the number of offerings or find another manufacturing solution. Faith and I knew how to make everything ourselves – and we worked out that for less than £10,000 we could set up our own factory.
We raised £23,850 on Kickstarter last May. In addition, we won £10,000 in grant funding from The University of the Arts London. That money went towards specialist lingerie sewing machines, renovating a studio space and hiring seamstresses.
Explain your ‘triple bottom line framework’?
Our triple bottom line framework is a promise to our customers that we consider profit, the planet and people in everything we do. These three elements need to coexist.
For example, we’d like to create sleep robes soon. Instead of conventional stuffing, we want to shred our excess material and stuff the robes. As we grow and need new seamstresses, we’re looking to set up an apprenticeship programme and train women in a unique skill set. As long as we keep making products people want, profit will come. But the commitment to the wellbeing of people and the planet is key to what we do.
Lara is the name of your brand, but you have also developed a personality for her. What’s she like?
Yes, absolutely! Lara is completely made up, but she embodies the brand. She’s creative and colourful with an effortless sophistication. Faith and I wanted a woman’s name for the brand, but didn’t want to use our own names, so we came up with Lara.
Your message is such a positive one – that as well as believing in sustainable fashion and creating opportunities for female makers, bright pink underwear is the BEST! What kind of women come to your underwear parties?
We are so proud that a variety of women attend our fittings and shop with us online. Some like the brand for the sustainability or style, but most shop with us because they want to find a properly sized bra. At fit parties we meet mother and daughter pairs, women that need specialist sizes like 28A or 26F (which we make custom), boyfriends and girlfriends and sisters shopping together.
I think women today want something different than conventional brands offer. Lingerie isn’t about impressing a boyfriend. It needs to comfortable and wearable every day, and bras actually need to fit properly. Underwear at Lara is practical and beautiful, and we’re happy our fittings attract a range of women of ages, sizes and styles.
To read more about Lara Intimates, go their website