Previously on the Lingerie Industry Experts column we’ve been talking about trends and fit issues, but for this next piece I wanted to focus on something a little closer to home – independent designer lingerie. I asked a bunch of lingerie bloggers, designers and other experts to chime in with tips for indie designers just starting out with their brand. The response was so overwhelming that I’ve decided to split their advice down into a mini-series of three articles. The first, here, is looking at how you should price your products for success…
Getting your prices right is crucial to any start-up business and lingerie is no exception. Price yourself too high and you might find you make few or no sales, and price yourself too low and you might sell-out without making a profit. You’ve put weeks, if not months, into creating the conception for your collection. You’ve slaved away over a sewing machine to get the pieces just right. You’ll probably think each item is worth millions after all that, but how do you realistically pick a price?
Research The Competition
Heather Joie, owner of lingerie and fashion store for breast cancer survivors Clothing With A Kiss, says you should “work backwards. Know retail prices of competitors, know retail mark-up“. Every brand has competitors (yes, even if you’ve created something innovative and unique!) so you need to work out who they are and price accordingly.
Laura George, a business coach for artisans such as lingerie designers, advises that you “never price as the least or most expensive designer when you first start-out. It’s hard to gain traction at an extreme end of the spectrum – it gives potential customers just another reason to decide your lingerie isn’t what they’re looking for“.
Research The Customer
“In today’s world of being hit with messages wherever we go, knowing your audience means that you should have a strong picture in your mind about who your perfect customer is” says Ali Cudby from Fab Foundations. Once you’ve worked out who that customer is, you can work out how much they’ll be willing to spend. And don’t forget, just because you’re the designer doesn’t mean that you are your typical customer!
“Never think that because money is tight for you, money must be tight for your customer. Just because you wouldn’t spend $120 on a new bra doesn’t mean your customer isn’t ready to make that purchase. They may be looking for something lavish to splurge on themselves, or they just might not think $120 is as much money as you think it is” says Laura George.
Charge For Your Time…
“I think people fall into a couple of pitfalls with pricing. The first is thinking that their cost is just cost of materials. The second mistake is confusing ‘paying oneself for labor and maybe having a bit left over’ with profit“, says corset patternmaker Marianna Faulkner from Dark Garden. “I would break it down roughly as follows: Cost of goods = cost of materials + labor. Wholesale pricing = cost of goods + manufacturing overheads + profit. Retail pricing = wholesale pricing + retailing overheads (including sales staff) + profit. So by the end of that, your actual cost of goods is probably not more than 36% of the price a client pays, maybe as low as 10% depending on perceived value.”
“Lots of designers I work with only factor in minimum wage for themselves, or sometimes even less! Paying yourself fairly is important” adds Holly Jackson, a lingerie copywriter and founder of The Full Figured Chest. If you’re not earning a fair wage from selling your lingerie, you’ll never make enough money to run your brand full time – which is the end goal and dream for most independent designers out there.
…But Don’t Just Charge Based On Time
Paying yourself a fair wage is important, but you can’t base your pricing model solely on how long it takes you to sew each piece.
“Materials and construction are three times more important than your time,” argues Laura George, “especially for those of you who hand-make each piece – you might feel tempted to price based on how long it took you. But that model doesn’t work in the world of art and design. It would make no sense for someone just starting out to sell a corset for twice as much as you can just because it took them twice as long to make – it’s probably only half as well-made!“.
Don’t Sell Yourself Short
Ashlee Coln, the designer behind Cheeky Aprons, has one crucial piece of advice for lingerie start-ups: “Charge until you’re embarrassed and don’t embarrass easily! … Cheeky was approached several times by the adult toy industry to be sold in mass quantities. If I chose to go down this path, I would have needed to use lower quality, less expensive fabric and remove a lot of the detail from my work. Most of all, I would have had to let go of my vision for the brand and the integrity of the product that I envisioned.”
Heather Joie adds that you should “always remember everything that you do should be about making money. Don’t do all the free goofy stuff just to ‘get your name out there’ if it isn’t going to sell your product.”
Marianna Faulkner describes another common error lingerie designers make as “pricing goods as if they were wholesale but acting as a retailer (selling directly to clients at wholesale pricing), which doesn’t leave any room to actually wholesale to a retailer and allow both parties a sustainable profit margin.” Plus, sales and offers can drive lots of purchases and if you price too low to start with, you leave no breathing space to knock down prices.
I hope you’ve found these tips helpful, and feel free to add your own below. If you’re an independent lingerie designer, how do you decide on prices?