Camila Leguizamon, designer and mastermind behind the powerhouse indie brand Toru & Naoko, believes in keeping things local, handmade, and true to you. Toru & Naoko burst onto the scene less than a year ago, taking the industry by storm during Lingerie Fashion Week 2014. It's been a riot of success ever since: stunning new collections, features in media like The Lingerie Addict, and even an in-house design contest.
Leguizamon, who is Argentinian but currently based in Chile, graciously sat down for an interview with Bluestockings during the busy holiday season to talk about lessons learned and what's next for Toru & Naoko.
What inspired you to start Toru & Naoko?
A combination of my entrepreneurial spirit and being a spectator of other independent designers' work and lives. The etsy community played a huge role -- that’s where I first started selling my designs. I was attracted by the possibility of starting something from scratch, doing what I love, working hard while being my own boss. Without her knowing, Sarah from ohhhlulu was a big influence. I was following her blog and her journey of working a day job and going back home to work on her lingerie line. I was very inspired by her hard work and determination and, of course, by how successful she’s become following her own definition of success.
Where does the name for the brand come from? (And, for those who don’t know, how do you pronounce it?)
The name of the brand comes from my favorite book: Norwegian Wood (Tokyo Blues here in South America) by Japanese writer Haruki Murakami. It’s a very existential, nostalgic story about love, loss, sex, desire and friendship. The names are pronounced toh-ru and na-o-ko. English speakers usually get the Toru part somewhat right; it’s the Naoko part that’s more confusing. The "A" sounds like the "A" in fAther. Click on the names to find the Japanese pronunciation!
Janice Keyhole Bra, XS-XXL
What/who are your major design influences?
Vintage designs, photography, movies. I envision my designs by mixing that inspiration with more current architecture and outerwear details, but it’s always the female body that ends up dictating the final direction of my designs -- my own body, I could say, as I always try the first samples on myself. Some current favorites would be Josh Goot, Proenza Schouler, and Dion Lee.
Toru & Naoko took off pretty much immediately, showing at Lingerie Fashion Week and attracting an international clientele within your first year. How was it dealing with that kind of momentum? What did you learn as a designer and as a businesswoman?
It’s about to be one year -- I started with Toru & Naoko on January 28th, 2014. It’s been an incredible year, exciting and sometimes overwhelming. I’m still figuring out so many things! It’s been my first year living away from my family and friends who are in Argentina, but it’s been very rewarding. Going forward, I’d like to start working with more people and find a balance between work and my personal time.
I’ve learned that I have to work hard and follow my gut. I learn from my mistakes and own the good and not so good reviews; I always try to make my customers happy.
Kate Crop Top, XS-XXL
What does your production process look like? Who is involved?
Right now, I’m the only one involved in the production process. I used to work with an assistant, but since I’ve just moved cities I’m looking for an extra set of hands.
Usually everything starts with the materials. Since sourcing is so difficult here, I buy the fabrics that I can find that I know would work for my designs. Then I sketch my ideas, draft a pattern for my measurements and try it on. If I like the end result, I make the necessary adjustments, grade patterns, take pictures, and upload to my site.
Do social or ethical values have a role in your work? If they do, how so?
Yes, of course! Ethical and social values play a big role and are one of the main reason why I like being an independent designer. I’ve always liked design, but I never felt comfortable with the fashion business telling us what’s the ideal and what we need to look like to be successful. As an independent designer, I can break those rules and gender stereotypes by designing lingerie that’s meant to be comfortable and sexy at the same time, but by my own definition of sexy, inspiring confidence without the padding, frills, and embellishments.
Besides that, keeping the production of my garments local and handmade and also offering a "made to measurement" option for whoever is in between sizes or outside my sizing range are two of my main priorities.
Where do you want to take Toru & Naoko in the future? What vision do you have for your work?
I would love to take Toru & Naoko further, but I want to make sure that production stays 100% handmade and local. I’m working on a swimwear line, so for now my focus is to get assistants/interns that can help me get things done.
Simone Cut-Out Knickers, XS-XXL
What are your favorite pieces of lingerie to wear?
I don’t usually treat myself to nice lingerie -- I wear a lot my own samples! My favorite is always something black, probably mesh. I do sometimes wear simple underwired bras with no padding when I want some extra support (I’m a 32DD). I want to incorporate underwire in some of my designs -- soon!