Happy International Women’s Day to all the incredible women out there. We love you all!
In light of #MarchMeetTheMaker and IWD we thought we’d give you the opportunity to learn more about the stories and motivations behind Brighton Lace. We chatted to Lou Michel – Brighton Lace’s founder on her journey as a female entrepreneur, her passion for social equality, women’s rights and ethical fashion, and how she wants to empower women through her underwear.
What was your motive for starting Brighton lace?
Lou: I have always really loved colour, particularly how shades of colour look next to each other. Both my parents have worked in the fashion industry for many years and through them I developed a passion for design, fabric, and print. Brighton Lace started on a market stall five years ago. I was dyeing lace vests I’d sourced from a knitwear manufacturer in the north of England and customers were asking for matching knickers – that was when the underwear started!
What was your journey in starting your own business?
Lou: I’m a creative person and I love the idea that you can earn your living through what you make. Before Brighton Lace I had a raw chocolate company – I can’t describe the joy l experience in running my own business – holding a creative vision and just going for it! Of course, running a small business is stressful too. I’m still learning all the time about how best to juggle the many hats I have to wear each day, but I love being my own boss and I’m proud of how far we’ve come. I wake up in the morning and immediately I think of what we’re currently working on, or what our customers are saying, how best to respond to particular problems…every day is different.
What do you love most about working within a three-woman team?
Our little team of women is lovely. We all work from our separate kitchen tables but when we’re designing new collections we get together. – that’s always where the magic happens. We definitely share a collective love of colour and fabrics, but we do also have such individual tastes – it’s quite funny. I’m more of a ‘minimal is best’ kind-of-girl, but both Lou and Louisa are majorly into vibrant colours and prints – they push me out of my comfort zone!
And working with other women must also naturally create spaces for conversations about female body positivity in the ways that you promote Brighton Lace?
Lou: Yes. We constantly consider different body types and tastes, particularly in the research and design stages. I always like to ask the team’s opinions, I find so much insight there, you know; “Would you wear that?”, “How would you style this?”, or “What colour do you think I should dye the detail on this lace?”. I think that is one of the great things about working with women – it always feels like such a team effort and there is an open feedback loop which allows us to respond quickly to customer suggestions or upgrade to new solutions when they’re needed.
Tell us about Brighton Lace’s ‘enjoy being you’ motto and why this is important to you?
Lou: I’m passionate about women’s empowerment – in all aspects of life, and Brighton Lace is very much an expression of that. The vision for the business is to make beautiful lingerie that supports women to enjoy being themselves, spreading the message of body positivity, supporting myself and all women to love the bodies we live in. That’s why, as a company, we specifically focus on making soft lingerie. We don’t ‘add’ much to our pieces, they are simple, pared-back, designed to celebrate what is there already. We don’t use padding or wires in any of our designs, instead we keep the focus on the beauty of each lace we work with, and the natural beauty of the shape of the woman who will be wearing it.
How do you want your lacies to make women feel?
Lou: Comfortable in their own skin, ready to get up in the morning and give to the world! Having lovely underwear is such a great way of celebrating yourself. I like to think of our lacies as little everyday celebrations.
Given how many women are exploited at the expense of fashion, ethical fashion can be seen to be a feminist issue – in light of this, is it important to you that you have created an artisanal brand that is ethical in its practices?
Lou: I don’t think ethical fashion is just a feminist issue, it’s a global issue. We know how much the fast fashion costs the earth, we know about the polluted rivers, the exploited people (mostly women) around the world who are forced to eek out a tiny living working all hours of the day and night, we know what their working conditions are probably like, and we also know that the items they make will probably just end up in a landfill a few years down the line. Change is long overdue.
I think what is currently a niche issue [ethical fashion] is fast becoming a normal issue because it has to be. For me, it’s like organic food, what is the most natural and most beneficial for the planet and for it’s people should be the most normal, and empowering people, providing a decent wage and a decent working environment, using materials that are either produced sustainably or recycled is just an obvious. We literally cannot go on abusing the place we live and the people we live beside. We’re all in this together.
Do you have any advice for any women looking to start their own business and be their own boss?
Lou: Absolutely. Do what you love and the rest will follow. Of course, there are going to be bumps along the way, but there’s nothing like getting up in the morning and working on something you love with a passion, creating something that feels like a contribution to the world and having amazing customers confirm to you that they love what you produce.
You do a lot of collaborations with other female designers and women led brands. Tell us more about the power of these collaborations and why you think they are so significant?
Lou: Yes, a lot of what we do behind the scenes are projects with other women across the fashion industry. I’m so pleased to be able to collaborate with fellow designers, women who run magazines, sustainability campaigners, charity organisers, and not forgetting all the amazing female entrepreneurs and fellow small business owners. It’s a bit of a passion of mine to work with inspiring women who show up in the world in meaningful ways, and who like to share their skills generously.
I’m a great believer in #collaborationovercompetition. The internet has changed the landscape for small business, it has made what was previously impossible, possible. It allows us to be intimately connected to a global community and work together on amazing things, regardless of where we are in the world. I also love the fact that we can be part of a social change conversation even though we are a small brand.
Who are you currently working with?
Lou: We collaborate with people all over the world, in fact, I’ve just sent some pieces to a wonderful husband and wife photography team who are about to shoot in Death Valley! There is another collaboration happening in a few weeks in Barcelona too. It’s amazing really, a testament to the power of Instagram. I haven’t met any of these photographers in ‘real life’ but we love to regularly collaborate. We pool our skills and make exciting things happen together, and we literally couldn’t do this without each other! That just couldn’t have happened even 15 years ago.
We’ve just celebrated 100 years of getting vote – why is this important to you?
Lou: We’ve come a long, long way in the last 100 years. I think about grandmothers and all they must have been though. I think about my mum and the immense changes that have happened in her lifetime. I find it incredibly moving to consider what the women just in my own family must have experienced and fought for so that I can enjoy the freedoms I do today.
I feel immensely grateful, for all that has gone before, for the women who have repeatedly spoken out when no one wanted to hear. It’s thanks to them that today I can be can be a woman in business, I can employ other skilled women, deal with suppliers, work with people across the industry and show up in the world with as much right to a voice as anyone else.
This years theme for International Women’s Day is #pushforprogress in ending gender parity and motivating and uniting friends, families and colleagues etc. to be more gender inclusive. Why do you think movements such as this are so important?
Lou: Honestly, in the maker’s scene that I’m in, I don’t experience much inequality, although I do hear from friends in the corporate world that sadly it’s still prevalent. To me, gender is no longer the issue of the day, it’s humanity that feels so much more significant. It’s about respect for each and every individual, it’s about better support and care for one another. We are all such amazing beings, each blessed with our own individual talents, and I believe sharing those skills to support unity, find solutions and make collective change is what is so needed at this time on our planet.