What is it that lead me to become a lingerie designer? Young girls dreams of showing a collection at Bryant Park or being featured in a high fashion publication like Vogue, and this is what leads them to go to fashion school, work in the industry, and so on. Not me. I don’t really want the glitz and glam involved with fashion week and while a spread in Vogue or Harper’s Bazaar would be amazing, it’s not what gets me going. What does? Real people, living life on their own terms. People with a myopic vision to live a life that doesn’t necessarily involve tons of money or publicity, but fulfillment.
Elma is one of those people. She is the designer behind Elma Lingerie and one of people who got me to where I am today. We met in August 2014 on Etsy. It was then that I sent her a message introducing myself and asking where she sourced her fabric! Ha! So typical of me. We started chatting, and fast forward to today, and Elma, Ying and I have an ongoing group text message where we talk about all things lace and elastics. At every step of the way in my journey, she has been there cheering me on, whether it’s sending me patterns, offering suggestions for wholesaling, factories, etc.
One of my goals for 2018 is to create more quality content. To not post just to post and to offer something in everything I publish. Today, we spend so much time scrolling through feeds on Facebook and Instagram, that I sometimes think that blog are becoming obsolete. I certainly read them less. I think blogs will survive, but for me, my blog will serve as my home base, offering the full version of what I tease on out social media.
As part of my quest to give more quality content, I’m starting a new series, called “Mes Filles” (my girls in French), that interviews lingerie enthusiasts, designers, sewists, and more. Elma is the inaugural post and just like she did to me, I hope they she (and the others to come) inspire you in your own lace-y endeavors.
What’s your story? Hi! I’m Elma, designer and owner of Elma Lingerie. I currently live in San Jose and I started my lingerie company 4 years ago. I always loved lingerie but didn’t ever think I’d make my own bras until I took a summer course at Central St. Martins in lingerie and swimwear design with Esme Young. If you’re not familiar with Esme, she worked on costumes for films like Trainspotting, and Bridget Jones Diary (her bunny outfit). She had some incredible stories from her experiences. She taught me how to draft a one piece swimsuit and bra for the first time. She also taught us how to work with stretch materials, from pattern making to finishing the edges. I learned some sewing tips from her that I still use today, like quick ways to turn a spaghetti strap tubing inside out, or finishing an edge with self fabric. I took what I learned from her at St. Martins and started making my own bralettes, taking apart old ones to understand the construction.
How did you learn to sew and when did you realize that lingerie was your passion? I’ve been sewing for as long as I can remember, but I think it was around the first grade when I started helping my grandma with her projects. She taught me everything from crocheting and knitting to cross stitching and making my own clothes. I’d spend my summers in Japan going through entire department stores of just haberdashery with my grandma. I was a sewing nerd even back then.
What made you start an Etsy shop? It was mainly out of necessity. I moved out to the boonies of Sacramento with my husband who got a new job. There were no fashion design jobs, so I started an Etsy shop selling petite clothing, mostly crop tops, maxi skirts, and a couple bralettes. The bralettes quickly became the popular item in my shop and I started selling exclusively lingerie and sleepwear within just a few months of opening my shop.
What lingerie brands do you look to for inspiration? I love brands that offer elegant, delicate, barely there lingerie. Like Kiki de Montparnasse, Carine Gilson, and La Perla. I love the attention to detail and the quality of laces that they use.
Who are your style icons? I’m a vintage lover and an old soul at heart. I love the cool 70’s styles of Jane Birkin, Francoise Hardy, Bianca Jagger, and also Catherine Baba who looks like she stepped out of a 1920’s cocktail party.
Generally, how many prototypes does it take for you to finalize a design? It really depends! Anywhere from 1-5. I don’t sketch much, so most of the design iteration happens by making mock ups. Sometimes it only takes 1 try to get it perfect, other times the fabric won’t stretch or lay flat the way i thought it would in my head and it takes a few mock ups to figure it out.
What has been the biggest lesson in growing your own business? You can’t do it alone, don’t forget to take care of yourself, and keep the ego out of the process. I still struggle with delegating, but I keep reminding myself of the goal and vision of my brand and the life I want to lead. Whether it’s in my personal life or work life, you will need the help from family, friends, and work partners to make your dreams happen. Rest is important and taking the occasional vacation to reevaluate your life and work is also a necessity. A step back from the thick of it gives you renewed perspective and focus for when you return to work. I love this quote from the buddhist nun Jeong Kwan on ego- “Creativity & ego cannot go together. If you free yourself from the comparing and jealous mind your creativity opens up endlessly.”