Discloure: Links with a * are affiliate links. This article contains images that may be NSFW.
I first saw the work of Jessica Ding, the designer behind Love Lorn Lingerie*, on Etsy. I was immediately drawn to her work. In particular, I fell in love with her lavender leather pieces, and how they bring delicate femininity to a deliciously edgy medium.
Ding’s business has grown since then and she now has her own website, though she’s still a one-woman show behind the company’s social media, lingerie design, and product construction. I interviewed her to learn more about her creative process, how feminism impacts her work, and how trying to start a small business while working full time can sometimes feel like a long-distance relationship.
Being an indie designer with your own label can be incredibly rewarding, but it’s not easy. I love how candidly Ding talks about her struggles with maintaining her brand through the hecticness of life. With original designs and strong values – Love Lorn has set out to help reshape the conversation around femininity and sexuality, and make BDSM seem more accessible – I see this brand going far.
Read on for my interview with one of my favourite indie designers in the industry!
Fashion is such a huge industry, and there are myriad different directions you can take as a designer, even within the scope of lingerie. How did you decide you wanted to get involved in designing lingerie and accessories made from leather?
A lot of how I ended up where I am can be attributed purely to chance and the curious circumstances of life. I graduated from art school with a focus on Costume Design, but costume design is difficult to get into, and relies heavily on having personal connections within the industry. I didn’t have any connections – but I did have rent that needed to be paid.
I happened to land a job at a mass-market lingerie design company. As I learned about lingerie and its design, I realised, “hey, I actually like this!”. Soon after, I rediscovered a shoe box full of leather scraps that an old friend had gifted me. Needing another creative outlet, I decided to play around with what I could make with it. Lingerie seemed like the logical choice as I was immersed in it for 8+ hours a day already. I threw what I made on Etsy as an experiment, and it went better than expected. That’s how it all began.
On your website, you say that Love Lorn is “an exploration into feminism, femininity, art, and fantasy”. There are really lovely feminine elements in your designs – I’m a huge fan of the orchid pieces. How would you say feminism and femininity influence your work?
Growing up, I was an incredibly insecure tomboy. I’m ashamed to admit it, but there was quite a bit of internalised misogyny mixed up in there as well. Despite that, I did still consider myself a feminist. The problem was that I thought equality meant an erasure of all the characteristics and attributes considered feminine.
In the past decade, I’ve made almost a 180 degree change. I’m a better feminist now (I hope), and I’ve come to realise that what we need in this world is more femininity and all the qualities associated with it. Sex-positivity, open mindedness, consensuality, freedom of expression, compassion and empathy… these are all things that I want to see more of, and I’m using my creativity to advocate for them as best as I can.
I didn’t use to see femininity as something that was powerful, but now I do and I’m trying to illustrate that through my designs. In many ways, Love Lorn Lingerie has become an ongoing, physical manifestation of me working out my own thoughts on feminism and femininity, and how it ties into sexuality.
Add in bondage, BDSM, and the kink culture, and it gets even more complicated. At first glance, bondage can seem anti-feminist – but it’s not and it shouldn’t be. In truth, it’s all about owning your sexuality, seeking out pleasure within consensual boundaries, even if those boundaries seem extreme to some. And taking care of your own wants and needs first, instead of always catering to others.
I think a lot of women are still afraid to embrace their sexuality, especially if it veers beyond the ‘socially acceptable’ norms. I’m hoping that by introducing more-feminine bondage designs, they’ll find it easier to try – a stepping stone to experimentation and self-fulfilment, if you will.
One thing I always wonder about people working in the kink industry – whether it’s kink- or fetish-based art, modelling, adult entertainment, anything – is how the people in their life respond to this career choice. It seems like something that could potentially shock people. What’s it like telling people you design leather lingerie for a living? What responses do you usually get?
You know, I was a little nervous about this in the beginning as well. But most of the responses I get have been quite positive! Perhaps it’s just the culture of NYC. I’m not sure if I would get the same responses out in say, the American midwest. People will often respond with something like “Oh! Okay, cool!” and then follow up with questions about the designs or work life balance. People take it in stride!
What have been the biggest difficulties of starting your business?
Starting the business wasn’t hard. Keeping it going as a hobby wasn’t too hard either, for the first few years. Falling in love with it, that was hard. Being passionate about it is hard. In some ways, it’s become its namesake – lovelorn. Going to my day job when all I can think about is working on this, filling notebooks full of designs I know I won’t have time to make, is hard. I hate to sound so incredibly cheesy, but it’s a little like being in a long distance relationship where you can only enjoy your love on the weekends.
Then you have those niggling little doubts about your love. Is it actually worth it? Am I not seeing this for what it truly is? I think artists in particular can be bogged down by self-doubts. Luckily, I’m incredibly stubborn and haven’t given up yet. I just keep reminding myself that there can never be too much art in the world.
And of course, I do struggle with more material difficulties like pricing (how do I keep it accessible without devaluing my own work and that of other handmade designers?), and trying to grow when you’re limited to creating in a small corner of your apartment. I’ve boot strapped everything with my own money, and it gets tough when you’re living in a place as expensive as New York.
In your opinion, what has been the brand’s biggest accomplishment?
Just staying alive! I’m proud of how the designs have evolved, how the brand has developed a philosophy of its own and how it can stand on its own legs now, so to speak. As long as it touches a few people, makes some people happy, then that’s good enough.
How long do some of your pieces typically take to make? We would love to hear about the physical process of constructing with leather, your part in that, and how that plays a role in your designs.
I had little to no experience with leather before I started this brand. Since then, it’s been a constant learning process. Constructing a garment generally takes between 1 and 6 hours, depending on the complexity of the design. Smaller items like collars and really simple harness bras might be a little under an hour. I actually find leather to be much easier to work with than finicky laces and delicate fabrics (although I like those too!).
I do everything in the production process: I buy the leather, cut out all the strips by hand using a rotary cutter, size it according to the customer/order, punch the holes and assemble everything. Something like the hand painted Orchid bra* could take 3-4 hours to make – the basic garment design might be simple but the hand painting takes a while.
I usually buy the leather before designing with it. I need to touch it and get an understanding of how one particular hide might stand or drape, and how it feels against the skin before I can know what to design. I’ll generally use ¼ of a hide to make the prototypes for one group or set and save the rest of it for any future orders. Depending on whether I can get that particular leather again, I’ll either invest more heavily in it or discontinue those designs after the roll runs out.
What are your personal favourite lingerie brands?
Are there any artists you would like to collaborate with in the future, be they models, photographers, or other designers?
I don’t have anyone specific in mind, but I would love to do more collaborations in general. I really enjoy seeing other people’s visions, their personal creative eye.
What is your current goal for Love Lorn Lingerie?
I’m trying to grow the brand into a full-time gig. Having more time to devote to the brand would really allow me to expand the range of products I can offer. I’d love to create a men’s section that still carries over the same kind of feminine sensibility that I currently have for women, and then work on further blending the line between cisgendered clothing. Femininity shouldn’t be considered something only cis women can embody.
What can we expect from Love Lorn in the future?
I’m planning to attend more markets and in-person events, particularly those in the kink realm. I’m excited to meet more people, make more connections, really get some feedback on what people are looking for. I’m hoping in 5 years I’ll have a proper studio to work in, where people can come in and have something custom made that really makes them feel good.
I’ve been inspired by so many amazing, passionate people who love what they’re doing. I hope to inspire someone else the same way. I want to mentor young designers as well, and show them that it’s okay to pursue what makes you happy, and that you need to have the grit and determination to make your dream work for you.
I think too many young artists are scared of striking out on their own, and end up stuck in a corporate art job that might not be truly fulfilling. It’s totally fine if that’s what makes you happy – but if it doesn’t, seek out something better. Just try it, even if you think you’ll fail, you’ll gain something from it no matter what.
Anything else you want readers to know?
I’m doing some live events in NYC and Las Vegas soon (details here), so if you happen to be in the area, I’d love to meet you!
In the meantime, you can use code Esty2018 to get 18% off in my website shop – no expiry date!