It's finally spring! Which means floral prints, less coverage and silk and silk and silk! My favorite forever fabric. Violet and Wren is one of those timeless, yet modern brands that will keep you coming back to for years to come. The quality is superb, the fabric is well sourced and the patterns are hand drawn by one of the companies founders.
A small, woman-owned label, that is rockin it! I discovered Violet and Wren about a year ago from seeing their pieces on all the european it girls--it was so exciting to finally try some of their pieces for myself, and I was NOT disappointed! There is a reason for their cult following and you might just have to try the pieces for yourself to get the full effect!
I feel so lucky to have had the honor of interviewing the incredible women behind Violet and Wren, Helen and Louise, here's what they said:
Can you tell me where the name Violet and Wren comes from?
There is no quick way to describe where the name came from! We wanted a name which would reflect the core values of the brand – British Design, Botanical Prints, Luxury, Nonchalant Loungewear. Through our exploration of flowers and their meanings and discovered that the Violet is the flower of modesty – we don’t design ‘sexy’ pieces, we aim for a more relaxed appeal – so this reflected the design element of the brand, and the Wren is a small British bird, renowned for nest building, which reflected the home element of loungewear.
Helen, how did you first meet your partner Louise? Did you connect immediately?
Louise and I met at University in Newcastle upon Tyne in 2000 where we studies Fashion Marketing together. – I can’t remember exactly how we met, but the girls on our course were all really close and we spent a lot of time together (we still keep in touch with a lot of them!). I really started to get to know Louise when she room shared with me in London while we were on work placement, and we’ve been best friends pretty much ever since! We did connect immediately and work well together as we bring different skills and points of view to the brand while being able to be totally honest with each other!
What was the original impulse for you and Louise to create a lingerie loungewear line?
We had always talked about launching a line together since University, although we had always presumed it would be ready to wear. The initial idea for the loungewear came when I was designing bridal wear for a UK boutique – Louise designed our Magnolia print for a bespoke wedding dress, and we felt the print would make a beautiful kimono for the bridal boudoir, the morning of the wedding – I created a sample and we haven’t looked back!
I notice you have become known for your botanical prints. What inspired floras to be your signature look?
There has always been a strong love affair between fashion and flowers – floral prints always feature on the catwalk, and can be interpreted in so many ways. When we initially started discussing the brand, I was working in bridal so florals were an obvious print direction for me, and Louise has a natural affinity with botanical prints – she captures the fluidity and essence in such a beautiful and distinct way, and it is her signature style which really honed in on the identity of the brand. Through our research when starting the brand, we also wanted to establish a niche, and found that the floral element gave us an instant unique identity.
What do you find unique about working in the lingerie/loungewear community?
What we discovered instantly was the openness and welcoming attitude of the industry and brands. Ready to wear can be so competitive, but within lingerie and loungewear, there are so many smaller, independent and boutique brands, and everyone is so supportive! It is a niche area, but the popularity and coverage has really grown over the last couple of years – it’s a really exciting time for the intimates industry!
What was the hardest thing about launching your own brand?
I think launching the brand was quite easy – we had the time and money to do what we wanted, and everyday was exciting as we discovered new ideas and opportunites. It’s the development and maintenance of the brand that’s hard! As we are both from product design/ development backgrounds, the promotion and marketing of the brand has been the most challenging. We know how to make a good product, but getting out into the world for people to see and take notice is really hard! – when you are new you have none of the day to day running which drags you down – pr/ press/ production/ accounts/ legal. The creative part can quickly disappear to a tiny percentage of what you do so it is essential to us that we make time to step back, free our minds for a couple of days a month and be truly creative as this is when the best ideas flow!
What do you enjoy the most about what you do?
We both love the creative days when we are designing and developing the new collections – looking through catwalks, at colours, seeing the first print strike offs and samples – newness is what excites us, and the journey of getting there. The days when we shoot the collections are also fab! It is so wonderful to see the pieces come together in the ways you expected – or sometimes with a totally unexpected twist!
What would you say are three of the biggest challenges you've faced in running your own business?
The first challenge we faced was getting noticed – both being from a design background, the design and development of the product came naturally, as did the shoots, but getting the brand out there into the public arena is HARD! With no real press contacts, you are on a bit of a back foot – it’s all about contacts! But we are slowly getting there.
Finance is also a re-occurring issue! Everything has a cost, and choosing the right place to put your money is hard! Stock or press? Gift boxes or a new laptop? Factory visit or additional samples?
The last challenge is the work/ life balance – running your own business, with international customers, means that you could potentially work 24/7 – with customers from Japan to LA, you receive emails throughout the day and night, and learning when to turn off is really important, or it would drive you crazy!
If you could go back five years from now what advice would you have given yourself?
Make more contacts, save more money… start slowly and don’t rush into growth. Its better to be known for one fabulous product and build from there.
I’ve noticed you have been featured in some of the most prominent magazines around the world, what is the key to your PR success?
I think luck has paid a big part – we have made some great contacts through our history within the fashion industry, but with fashion it is always about having a great product at the right time so I’d say trusting your instinct to develop a product you feel in your gut is right and stand by it is also key to catching the press’ eye. Pieces that are beautiful and unique are far more likely to be picked up than pieces that echo something that has already been done.
What struggles, challenges or surprises did you face when introducing a new product to the market?
Our first and most prominent struggle was price. We originally launched as a Made in England brand – my family has a history in lingerie manufacture, and I believe strongly in promoting British manufacture and British brands, there is such a great history and it is fading. However, the re-occurring issue which resulted in uncommercial uptake in sales was price, so we re-sourced. We now use an off-shore manufacturing base, which enables us to offer a lower retail price which has resulted in an international customer base, and has ensured the longevity of the business. It was an incredibly difficult decision to make, but without sales, there would be no business. In the future we would like to re-visit the ‘Made in England’ element as the brand expands and offer a more couture, bespoke capsule that can react a lot faster than the traditional 6 month lead-time cycle associated with an off-shore product.
How do you come up with your unique and captivating prints for your pieces? Do you work with local English artists?
Louise is our resident artist! She uses a combination of photographic images, and hand painted illustrations, which are then digitally rendered to create each print. Each print is developed from a wide source of inspirations – art, nature, fashion. She always builds a story behind each collection to unify the designs and tell a story then interprets the motifs in these stories in her own unique handwriting, creating each and every one of our bespoke prints. Colour plays such a huge part in the unique identity of the collections and we choose our tones very carefully to be a little bit offbeat whilst maintaining the beautiful, feminine appeal.
I’ve noticed you use 100% silk in nearly all your designs. What was your process sourcing those materials?
When we established the concept of the brand, luxury was at the core. We wanted to create pieces which both looked and felt amazing, and this really works for loungewear – you want to feel relaxed and comfortable at home, and to feel luxurious is at the heart of this feeling. Silk has the most amazing feel on the skin, it keeps you cool in the summer, and it is a great base for prints as colour is intensified and looks glossy and rich.
What has been one of the greatest moments for Violet and Wren?
The real boost for us was securing Journelle NYC as a stockist. In our first season with them they featured us as one of their Emerging Designers which really boosted our confidence and gave us the belief we were onto something! Their belief in the brand, and their support, has really helped to put us on the map, particularly in the US, and we have just secured orders for our 3rd season with them.
What advice would you offer to other women entrepreneurs who want to start their own lingerie/loungewear company?
Firstly find your niche, and follow it – it’s very easy to follow other brands or trends, but then your customer doesn’t know who you are or what you are about. Because we have maintained the focus on bold and beautiful botanicals, and mixed this with a relaxed, sports luxe silhouette, we have carved out a niche and consequently have gained a loyal following of customers who are buying from us every season.
Don’t underestimate the amount of time it takes, to both run and build a brand, and the strain it has on your finances! We started 2 years ago – it is only in the last 12 months we have really started to see results, and even then, neither myself or Louise earn a wage from the business.
Having said this, enjoy what you do! Passion is infectious and customers buy into your passion and enjoyment of your products just as much as the physical attributes. Live life, enjoy friends and family and don’t lose sight of yourself in what can be a crazy journey!