How to make lingerie individual and special? How to provide every customer with exactly what she wants? And how to automate such lingerie production? These were the questions that Kali and Noelle, the founders of Impish Lee brand, were not going to shy away from. The girls changed the brand’s business model by launching Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign. As a result they reached the desired financial goal with fund raising and re-started their own brand, automating the process of individual garments creation.
Now the lingerie buyers can in just a few steps choose lingerie and apparel models of interest on the website. They can also select the fabrics these items will be made from. It can be transparent mesh with lace, or velvet with lace, or just mesh — you’re welcome to combine them any way you like. And, of course, fabrics go in lots of colors besides traditional black and white: crimson, yellow, blue, green, red and many others.
Besides, Impish Lee brand provides incredibly wide size range, which the brands, that use the traditional business model, can hardly afford.
I’ve interviewed Kali, one of the brand’s founders, to find out how the girls implement the new for the lingerie world customer interaction model, and how it all shakes out.
I know that your education is not related to lingerie. How did it happen that you created your brand and opened a store on Etsy? And did the education help to solve the tasks that the new business set for you?
It is true that neither Noelle or myself had backgrounds in lingerie or fashion before starting Impish Lee. Growing up we were both very creative, which lead us into creative field of study for college. Noelle attended the Berklee College of Music in Boston which she studied film scoring and music business, and I studied metals and jewelry making at SUNY New Paltz. After college Noelle continued to write music for film and I worked as a designer for an architectural design/build firm. Noelle started sewing as a hobby, and being drawn to photography my whole life, I began photographing her creations. At first Noelle made very simple accessories and lingerie pieces and we decided to put them up on Etsy. It was an easy partnership that progressed naturally in our spare time. We worked together, often at night, and in a way used Impish Lee as a way to escape from other jobs and work that was less inspiring and creative.
I would say that although our educations informed many decisions we’ve made along the way, we have taught ourselves much more necessary information for our business that we ever acquired at school. We are actively researching and learning from trial and error every day to build ourselves up.
Tell us about the story with Urban Outfitters. How did this experience contribute to the brand’s life?
After having our Etsy store up for a few years Urban Outfitters reached out to us for a few large orders. This was very exciting for us at the time as we had always sold directly to individual consumers. After a few orders with Urban Outfitters we felt a significant distinction between the large whole orders from Urban Outfitters and the small individual orders we made for our customers.
We realized that we loved to know where our product was ending up, we liked to deal with women one-on-one, and we liked when women could take part in the creation of their intimates.
This ability to customize garments for individual women was lost in the wholesale process, the individual connection that women had to our pieces was lost, and therefore, wholesaling decreased the value of our garments as well.
This marked a huge turning point for us and this is what inspired us to research Mass Customization and Personalization and the ways we could incorporate customization into our brand.
As far as I know, you were one of the first who automated underwear customizing, so that customers themselves can actually choose a style and a large number of fabric-color options. What prompted you to this idea?
After doing whole sale for a little we while we really wanted to increase direct sales to customers. So, we decided to bring our store and sole point of sale onto our own website.
We new that if we wanted to all women to design their own garments on our site that we would need a substantial investment to build out our customizer. We decided to crowd fund our project on Kickstarter and successful met our small goal of $10,000 and nearly made it to 15K!
With this money we were able to build our website/customizer and set up our own manufacturing house along with afford all the supplies and materials to launch.
How did you decide to take the risks of buying so many materials? Did you have a business plan, and who is responsible for the business part of Impish Lee?
We knew that if we were going to offer women the opportunity to deign there own garments we needed to have enough options for them to design with so that any women could design something they liked. It was less of a big decision and more of a necessity and simple obstacle that we needed to figure out how to overcome.
We afforded many of our materials with the money we raised from Kickstarter. As far as business and business decisions go, Noelle and I do everything together. We work side by side on nearly every aspect of our business including our business plan and our projections.
What are the most difficult / interesting tasks you have encountered before and are facing now?
Right now, as we are still mainly selling directly to consumer (b to c) we are constantly trying to expand our reach. We need to seek out each individual customer which takes up our time and resources.
So, at this point we are working on partnerships with small boutiques and buyers that will allow us to bring our Mass Customization business model into a wholesale relationship (b to b)
What does your typical workday look like?
It really depends on what is going on. Some days will be strictly manufacturing days, some are shipping and packing days, and sometimes we are prepping for a pane or presentation. Since it is just the two of us and we have our hands in every part of our business our role is constantly changing.
Right now, for the summer, we have several interns working with us so our day to day is largely revolved around their schedule and helping them learn about our business while giving us some extra hands.
What allows you to have such a truly wide size range? Was there any difficulty with the design for such a large size range and if so, how did you cope with these issues?
We are definitely able to offer the size range that we do because of Mass Customization. Companies or brands that are using mass production have minimums for production. A production house will require a certain quantity to be ordered per size. This limits the size range that brands can carry due to the financial abilities of the specific brand.
Since we only make a garment if an order comes in, and because we have our own manufacturing we have the freedom to carry a large size range without stocking “risky” inventory.
In your opinion, how much the desire to be individual and buy custom lingerie exceeds the wish to buy items with just one click?
I think that women come to us when they are looking for something specific or have trouble finding what they want other places. Buying from us could be as simple as one click for women who don’t want to design something themselves, however, we also offer the option to get something that is truly unique and your own.
What are your plans for the future?
Right now we are focusing on a few upcoming events. This year we will be attending the CRUVE expo in New York for the first time. This will be a great step for us in our long term goal of bringing mass customization to the mainstream of the Lingerie Industry.
Also you can get $25 discount for your first order if you subscribe to the newsletters.Look in Impish Lee online-shop
PS: If you don’t like bows, you can cancel them!
What do you think about the possibility to create your own lingerie in a few clicks?