There’s that old saying: “Behind every successful man, there’s a strong woman.” Similarly, in my 20-plus years with the lingerie industry, I’ve learned this: Behind every successful lingerie brand, there’s a strong woman designer. They’re gifted, dedicated, and passionate about designing outstanding products for you to wear.
This Tomima Talk will be the first of many future Talks dedicated to the women behind the lingerie brands you may or may not be familiar with. After learning more about their approach to design along with their compulsive attention to every detail, it’s my hope you’ll evaluate their brand through “new eyes.”
I am very excited to introduce you to Liesl, the designer behind Elomi – one of the most successful full figure lingerie and swimwear brands in the world. Whether she makes your size or not (32-48 bands and; B-K(D12) cups), her story is inspirational and worth the read.
Years Designing: 30
Location: Northamptonshire, UK
Bra Size: “At the upper end of the Elomi size range.”
TOMIMA: How did you get into the lingerie designing industry?
LIESL: My interest in lingerie and swimwear fashion started as a teenager working in my mum’s dancewear shop where I was designing leotards at the height of the 80’s aerobic craze. I went on to complete a degree in Fashion Design at Durban University of Technology.
Although I set my heart on designing swimwear, my first role included lingerie designing too. I quickly discovered that I relished the technical side of lingerie. Also, not being able to find bras in my true bra size, I was drawn to specializing first in fuller busted, and then later fuller figure lingerie and swimwear.
TOMIMA: How do you approach a new Elomi bra style, and are you part of that process?
LIESL: Elomi bras are developed first in sizes 36G(D6) and 40JJ(D11), before we grade† them to create the smaller/in between/larger bra sizes for the style. Everything I design is specifically engineered for larger band and cup sizes – I don’t start with the industry sample size of 34B and use grading to make our larger bra sizes. This common industry approach simply doesn’t work in my opinion.
Once we are happy with a concept bra style, we fit and amend, tweak patterns, and remake the development samples. This cycle repeats on average 17 times, but can be repeated more than 50, until we are satisfied with the fit. Once the final development samples are determined, they are passed out to our army of fit models to wear, wash and report back any issues not seen in the initial fitting. I personally wear-test every new bra design – I want to understand exactly how they feel and perform.
TOMIMA: Any fun story about field-testing a style where you found a better solution?
LIESL: Our Smooth Underwire Moulded Convertible Strapless Bra was the most epic design project I have ever worked on. It took three years to develop and enlisted the help and feedback of many wear-testers. Originally, it was to be a cut-and-sew style††, but after working on it for over a year I could never get the firmness of fit in the cups. So, I scrapped a year’s worth of work, went back to the drawing board, and decided to think about a molded contour cup style††† instead. I re-started by reviewing the fit of our existing molded strapless and highlighting aspects I wanted to improve. Those included: lower center front, more forward cup shape, more secure strap connectors, and more comfortable side boning.
Year two into the development, it was determined that Elomi’s existing molds, which are used to shape our molded bra cups, were unable to achieve the cup shape I wanted. We decided to develop a completely new shape, which meant creating and fabricating new cup molds. More testing found that the essential side boning, needed to prevent the back panel from rolling and provide an important fit, was digging in when our wear-testers would bend to the side. We, therefore, questioned their side placement and discovered that by moving the boning towards the back, the back stayed flat, and the bones did not dig. We also achieved all of the other targets we set for ourselves, including slide-and-lock strap connectors.
Smooth Underwire Moulded Convertible Strapless Bra
TOMIMA: Speaking of strapless bras, where are your design limitations size-wise?
LIESL: This question made me giggle. It reminds me of a tv advertisement here in the UK where a man is feeling so empowered, he decides to pick a fight with gravity. He tries to dunk a basketball but misses the hoop by a foot – disappearing off the bottom of the screen. Strapless bras are a feat of anti-gravity engineering. The challenge is to develop something firm enough to hold the bust, but soft enough to be comfortable. The larger the size, the more supporting “girders” are needed. And, if we make the cup firm enough to hold our top cup sizes, it’s uncomfortable. That said, we at Elomi love a challenge, and we have been able to get our recent strapless bra to work up to a 38J(D10).
TOMIMA: Elomi bra styles are all given women’s names. How did this start?
LIESL: Each bra range is given an actual female name for “personality”. Along the way, we discovered our customers also find it easier to remember. We often pick names to suit the range. For example, our Eugenie range was embellished with an opulent gilded embroidery that made us think of royalty, including Empress Eugenie of France, and Princess Eugenie of Britain.
TOMIMA: Are there any new or unique design elements in full figure lingerie?
LIESL: Designing for fuller figures is all about creating the look of an effortlessly light and beautiful product, while building in the structure to make it work. We use more powerful back fabrics and specially developed powerful stretch laces. We have developed non-roll, limited stretch, strapping elastics. They have just enough stretch for comfort, but enough stability to give excellent uplift. (Tomima: HerRoom calls these straps “restricted stretch” in our feature filter.) We use a very sheer stabilized tricot for linings, which allows us to add support to delicate embroideries, laces, and tulles without looking cumbersome.
TOMIMA: Is there anything unique about the underwires Elomi uses?
LIESL: Underwires need to have a specific amount of flex. That flex amount is a balance between comfort and support. We found the perfect way to achieve this was to use three different thicknesses of wires, which vary according to bra size. Some manufacturers use a coated underwire because it’s easier to insert into the casing. But we have developed a custom triple layer casing to slip our underwires into. It’s durable, comfortable, and lets our uncoated underwires slip in perfectly.
TOMIMA: Are there any new fabrics or fabric contents you are using?
LIESL: Our favorite fabric at the moment is the TENCEL™ micromodal used in our Smooth briefs, which will launch in July (2021). Although briefs are usually quick to develop, this was a big project for the Elomi design team. We tasked ourselves with developing the most comfortable brief ever for plus sizes. Micromodal is sustainably derived from trees, and the fabric is super soft and stretchy. The team spent months trying different seaming locations and finishing techniques to develop a brief that does not ride up, looks invisible under clothing, and with plenty of stretch to avoid elastic edges pinching. Our wear-testers are telling us they are so comfortable, they forget they are wearing them!
TOMIMA: Do you have a personal favorite Elomi bra style?
LIESL: My favorite bra is always the one I happen to be developing at the time. But my everyday favorite is admittedly the Morgan because of its comfort and easy wearability. It has also seen incredible sales growth, so count on seeing future Elomi bra styles based on the Morgan bra frame. My “feel-gorgeous” bra is the Matilda (sheer and plunging, yet uplifting) or any of the other styles based on the Matilda frame such as Sachi, Eugenie, Brianna, and the Kelsey – coming soon.
TOMIMA: How do you keep your designing exciting with each new season?
LIESL: The start of a new season is always the most exciting time on my calendar. I like studying emerging key shapes in the market then figuring out ways to interpret these looks for larger sizes. Fresh new color palettes and trends spark ideas, and I enjoy seeing the newest lace and embroidery ranges, as these often inspire new collections. Feedback from customers and sales teams is vital, too – discussions and requests often trigger inspiration. Time out of the normal office environment is important to flex those creative muscles and spark new ideas. Design doesn’t stop at work though, creativity spills over into hobbies and almost everything I do. I love to challenge myself and find better ways to do things.
TOMIMA: Is it true that once an Elomi bra style is on the market, no future design changes are made?
LIESL: Elomi has a loyal following, and our consumers trust our brand. Consistency is really important to maintain that trust, so we don’t change existing styles. We are aware, too, of the importance of consistency in fit between different styles within the brand, so we use the Matilda bra style as our “fit standard bra” and use it to evaluate the bra size of all our wear-testers. Sometimes we expand a successful existing bra style with a new shape, but we will always give it a new name and style number.
TOMIMA: What causes an Elomi bra style to be retired?
LIESL: Sometimes we see a downtrend in sales on a style. When this happens, it’s usually the style is starting to look dated. We carefully analyze it to see if that style still fits our brand profile. If it does, we will replace it with a newer looking style along with a new style number and name. I will say the HerRoom product reviews are invaluable to us when designing a replacement style. I scour them to see if there are lessons to be learned that can help me improve the replacement style.
TOMIMA: Appreciate your accolade!
TOMIMA: How are the bras you design today different from the first bra you designed?
LIESL: My first bra was a simple underwire bra in sizes 32-36 A-C, and I would have drafted and graded the pattern by hand. Nowadays, apart from fitting garments, almost every part of the design and development process is computerized, including technical drawings, pattern making, and grading.
The average bra size has increased as women have changed shape over the years, and with this, our expertise in plus sizes has grown. My current design project is the Kelsey. It’s a style that looks like a fun crop top but has a concealed inner bra based on Matilda. It’s Elomi’ s response to the current bralette trend. It’s in final fit development at the moment and is working beautifully in a JJ(D11) cup size. We now have the know-how and technology to give full figure women on-trend lingerie with similar styling found on their smaller friends.
TOMIMA: What customer complaints do you hear that you simply can’t fix?
LIESL: Occasionally, we get requests for a backless strapless low-plunge bra. It just doesn’t work for the fuller figure. The support has to come from somewhere, so if you cut the bra away in one place, you need to build it up elsewhere to balance it. For every complaint about an aspect of a bra, there will be another person who loves precisely that aspect, so we try to offer a mix of styles so we have something for everyone.
TOMIMA: What is a full figure woman’s capsule lingerie wardrobe?
LIESL: We all need functional bras that work hard for us, like smooth, sports, and everyday bras. We also want bras that make us feel good, like date night/sexy bras, and fun bras such as underwear-as-outerwear bras. Sometimes we need specialty bras like bridal, strapless, and nursing bras. A bra for every mood and time in our lives.
† Grading – The process of turning a sample size into additional smaller and larger sizes
†† Cut-and-sew-style – A bra with seams in the cups
††† Molded contour cup – A seamless t-shirt bra cup shaped by using a mold
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