When I launched my handmade lingerie brand Esty in 2009, I wanted it to be an affordable alternative to the expensive handmade brands that were around at the time. Since then, the indie lingerie industry has boomed and there are now hundreds of brands catering to all different budgets. Yet they all have one thing in common – they are, on average, more expensive than your typical high-street lingerie.
Of course, you get high-end, expensive lingerie that’s mass-produced, but there are very few handmade lingerie brands that are cheap. The question is, is it worth paying extra for something that’s handmade?
When you’re buying fabrics and trims in serious bulk you can get a huge discount, knocking down your production cost and allowing you to pass those savings onto the customer if you wish. An independent designer on the other hand wouldn’t have enough hours in the day to sew all that lingerie even if she (or he) could afford to buy that much material!
So, often the fabrics are no better. In fact, you could buy a handmade set and a mass-produced set in exactly the same fabric, and the handmade one would likely be more expensive because it had cost the designer more to procure that fabric. In this case, you’re paying extra for the same quality.
However, there are a few handmade brands that use very rare, beautiful fabrics such as hand-painted kimono silks or hand-embroidered laces, which are impossible for a large brand to use because there simply isn’t enough of that fabric around.
Is handmade lingerie higher-quality than mass-produced lingerie? Aside from fabrics and trims, the quality of a piece depends on two factors – the skill of the seamstress, and the time available to make the garment.
To work in a lingerie factory, you’ll need to prove you have adequate sewing and construction skills. Once you’ve worked in one for many years, making lingerie day-in-day-out, you’ll likely be an expert. However, factories have strict deadlines and quantity targets to meet, which means quality can sometimes take second place.
When it comes to independent designer lingerie, anyone can start up a brand. The designer you’re buying from may not have a contour degree or extensive experience. However, what they do have is time since they can concentrate on making just a few, perfect pieces rather than lots of lower-quality ones.
However, to make the same profit from fewer pieces you obviously need to price them higher, especially if you’re paying yourself an hourly wage and spend twice the time on each garment.
The vast majority of high-street lingerie brands outsource their production to countries such as China and India where the minimum wage is much lower, meaning they can drop their prices even further.
However, whilst a lot of these factories do pay their workers a fair wage, not all of them do. Plus, we’ve all heard horror stories of terrible working conditions. When you’re buying mass-produced lingerie it’s almost impossible to know if it’s been made in a good factory or not. You might be buying something that’s ethically-made, or you might not.
Handmade lingerie on the other hand is always ethically-produced. You know exactly who made that corset or pair of knickers, and exactly where your money is going.
So overall, what more are you getting for your money when you buy handmade lingerie? Well, sometimes unique fabrics but not normally. Sometimes better quality, but not always.
What you are getting is the certainty that your garment has been ethically produced and, of course, the knowledge that you’re buying something limited edition rather than the same lingerie set a thousand other women around the country are also wearing.
And I think those two points are well worth paying for. How about you?
Estelle Puleston is the founder of Esty Lingerie and is a lingerie maker and blogger. You can find her on Google+.