Earlier this year I wrote a post for Zathiya on why bras cost what they do, which mostly discussed materials and manufacturing, and briefly touched on overheads and other costs. I wanted to delve a little deeper into those less-obvious things which all affect the price you pay for lingerie when shopping with an independent designer or retailer, from a personal perspective, so this August just gone I recorded every minute of time I spent working on Esty Lingerie.
Esty Lingerie is a very small business (there’s 1 employee, me) but even so, I don’t just sit at my kitchen table sewing a few pairs of knickers and that’s that. It takes so much more to run a lingerie brand or online boutique than just having some products to sell – even the most beautiful lingerie doesn’t sell itself – and these other factors all impact the price tag.
A quick note on the figures below: I don’t run Esty Lingerie full-time, which is why the times below won’t add up to a full working month. I find it easy to believe that a lot of indie brands doing this as their one and only job spend a whole lot more than a standard 40-hour work week on their business just to stay afloat. The point of this post isn’t the total amount of time worked though, it’s to showcase that production is only one slice in the pie that is your lingerie’s price tag. Second quick note: this post is written from the perspective of a designer-maker because although Esty Lingerie is both a brand and a boutique selling other brands, my in-house collection makes up the bulk of my business.
Social Media – 31.5 hours
Posting & Scheduling Updates | Taking & Editing Photos | Curating Content to Share | Engagement
The part of running my business that took the largest amount of time in August was not, in fact, sewing. It was being active on social media, which takes more effort than it may seem! Products will first be styled, then photographed probably 10-20 times to get that perfect shot, and finally edited in Photoshop before I tweet them out or transfer them to my phone to upload to Instagram.
Sewing – 19 hours
Next we get to actually producing the lingerie, though this figure varies depending on whether I’m working on new products or not.
Whilst it’s not the be-all and end-all of deciding what to charge, my prices will always be somewhat based on how long something takes to put together. That’s why these lace tap pants and this elastic frame bra cost the same despite the former being made of more expensive materials; the knickers are machine sewn with only the bows and charms attached by hand, whereas the frame bra is entirely hand-sewn and ends up taking longer to make.
Emails – 7.5 hours
I honestly don’t remember the last time I had fewer than 100 unread emails in my inbox, there’s just a never-ending stream of things that need to be read and replied to! From asking for size advice to enquiring if I ship internationally (I feel like I can’t make this any clearer on the website, but the question still comes in regularly), a lot of it is customer service stuff. Being an online business though, I’m likely using email no matter who I’m speaking to – customer, supplier, service provider etc.
Processing Orders – 5.5 hours
Online Order Processing | Packing Orders | Going to the Post Office
From sending out tracking numbers to tissue-wrapping everything to ensure a good impression from the moment the parcel is opened, to physically going to the post office and waiting in line to send stuff (since I am a small business, it’s not cost-effective for me to pay Royal Mail to pick up the parcels from me), I continue to spend time on an order even after it’s been placed and paid for.
Oh, and this isn’t time-related but those packing materials aren’t free either. Tissue paper, branded Esty Lingerie stickers, waterproof envelopes, labels… it all has to be paid for, and since I offer free UK delivery the cost is instead built into the price of the product. You didn’t think any website with free P&P was paying for it out of their own pocket and the kindness of their heart did you? 😉
Website Design & Upkeep – 3 hours
Designing Banners | Updating Content
People just won’t buy from an ugly, outdated or poorly-designed website. The bulk of my website is obviously designed already, but I still need to design new banners every time there’s a new range in or a special offer to promote.
From a marketing perspective it’s also important to have content on your site alongside a shop, for all sorts of reasons. I’ve created various things over the years such as my lingerie blogger database which is certainly popular but needs updating at least monthly to make sure it doesn’t go out of date.
Admin – 2.5 hours
Creating Discount Codes | Buying Supplies | Stock-Taking | Adding New Products
This one’s a catch-all to cover all the little bits and pieces that I have to do which seem small on their own, but still add a few hours of work into each month. Adding new products is one example – before I can sell something I need to get it on my website, and that means photographing it, editing those photos, writing a description and more. I only added one new item in August, so when a new collection lands that could easily add 10-20 hours here!
Marketing – 2 hours
Customer Newsletter | Paid Advertisements
You might think that 2 hours is a phenomenally low amount of time to spend on marketing even for an indie business, but that’s only because I separated out social media which is my main way of promoting my brand – as a microbusiness, I’m working with an incredibly tight marketing budget so I like to focus on the things that will only cost me time, and not time + money!
I do however run paid advertisements too – currently on social media and on Google – and they take a bit of time to set up and manage. There’s also my customer newsletter which I send out roughly twice per month (basically whenever I have some news to share, such as an offer, giveaway or new products). As well as paying for this service, I spend probably 45 minutes to an hour writing and designing each newsletter.
Accounting – 1 hour
Finally – *yawn* – the most boring one. Keeping accurate records of all my income and expenditure is a faff but a legally-required one. There are receipts to be filed and spreadsheets to update, and depending on how close in the year we are to government filing deadlines this figure could be a good few hours higher.
Bonus Round! Blogging – 20 hours
Researching | Writing | Taking & Editing Photos
I debated whether to include this one or not, because I don’t approach blogging in the traditional retailer way. Especially over the past year, I’d say Esty Lingerie has morphed from a shop that has a blog, to a blog that has a shop. I don’t write promotional pieces about the products I’m selling – in fact, you’ll find plenty of posts here raving about brands that are technically my competitors!
That said, most online lingerie stores nowadays have a blog so if they were to create a list like this one, you’d likely find blogging on there. There’s also the undeniable brand awareness benefit that I get from people reading and sharing my posts, even if they don’t make a purchase there and then. Plus, if I didn’t spend so much time blogging I’d almost certainly be putting these hours into other marketing activities, such as more regular customer newsletters, so the overall figures in this article wouldn’t really change much.
So what does this all mean?
You might be thinking “okay, nice figures Estelle, but how does all this affect the price of my order?”. It’s obvious why the length of time it takes to sew your garment go into deciding its price tag, and hopefully it’s obvious why the price also covers things directly related to processing your order such as posting it.
But why should you pay for me to be uploading snaps of my latest creations to Instagram? Because, quite frankly, you likely wouldn’t have known about Esty Lingerie to make your purchase in the first place if I didn’t do this. Without investing time in things like web design and social media I’d sell far fewer things than I do, so the other items in this list aren’t optional extras that I can choose to do or not do – they are essential components of making each sale. No one would accept a job asking them to do all of the above but only be paid for the sewing portion of it, and self-employment should be no different.
This August, sewing products accounted for 20% of my time but selling them accounted for close to 100% of my revenue, so that revenue needs to cover the other 80% of the work too. Independent lingerie designer Angela Friedman (whose Tumblr post “My business is worth more than an hourly wage + materials“ was my inspiration for this blog post) summed it up nicely when she said:
“For every 1 hour that I spend sewing, I spent approximately another 4-5 hours doing all of these other things like social media, writing emails to customers and retailers, planning events, designing new styles, and paperwork paperwork paperwork. If I counted say $15 an hour for my sewing time in each price, but didn’t increase the prices to reflect these other expenses, I would in effect be earning $3 an hour”.*
Another great article on this topic is “The Real Value of Handmade Lingerie: Part II – Indirect Costs & Value“, also written by Friedman, if you’d like to find out more. Hopefully I’ve been able to give you a little more insight into what it takes to run a lingerie business, and persuaded you that you can’t expect even independent, working-from-home type designers to price their lingerie based on materials and manufacturing alone.
Are you surprised at how long any of the items on this list take? Do you think that a price based on time spent running the overall business is a fair way for designers to price their handmade lingerie?