Estelle of Esty Lingerie is probably one of the most powerhouse girlbosses you'll meet in the lingerie blogosphere. In 2009, she opened Esty Lingerie, an eBoutique based out of her native UK that offered a carefully curated selection of independent brands and designers. A little later, she decided to add her own designs to the shop's offerings, and y'all. Y'all. They are baller.
As a new eBoutique owner, Estelle is a total inspiration. I'm so excited to have her on the Bluestockings Blog today.
Estelle of Esty Lingerie
Tell us about yourself.
I’m 26, engaged, a new mum and juggling my time between being my family, my day job and Esty Lingerie.
I didn’t always want to work in business; I was a gymnast until I was 18 and started teaching at my club alongside my Mum and my sister, then decided to head off to uni to study Management Science and French with hopes of becoming an English teacher in France. But when I spent my year abroad as a teaching assistant in a Parisienne lycée I ended up hating it (aside from being in wonderful Paris, of course) and fell back on the Management side of my degree as a back-up career choice!
I’ve always been pretty entrepreneurial, though. As a teen, I used to make and sell jewellery on eBay and got experience in running a website when I set up the most popular fan site for a band I was really into at the time. Looking back, maybe it was obvious I was going to end up launching my own ecommerce site at some point.
In a word, passion! I have vivid memories of arguing with my Mum when I was 5 or 6 because I didn’t want to wear the plain white under-vests, I wanted to wear my ‘special’ one with the lace trim and diamante gem.
I spent much of my teenage earnings on pretty bras, and when I was 18 treated myself to my first luxury set which really got me hooked. When I decided to set up my own boutique, I didn’t even stop to think what product I’d be selling – lingerie was the obvious choice.
Miss Crofton, one of the indie brands stocked at Esty
What inspired you to start Esty Lingerie?
I learnt a lot in my degree, but I didn’t really feel like it was teaching me how to run my own business, so I thought I’d give myself that experience. Also, I just wanted something to fill my time. I launched Esty Lingerie when I was still a student and on my year abroad – I was working maybe 10 hours a week, I was away from my now-fiancé and I didn’t know a whole lot of people in Paris. Running a lingerie business seemed like a fun thing to do!
As to why I focused the brand on independent and handmade designers, that came down to a combination of logistics, ethics and spotting a gap in the market. Indie designers are much more receptive to working with an indie retailer than big brands are, and I didn’t have the budget to buy the heaps of stock that a big brand’s Minimum Order Quantity would have required anyway.
I was also just discovering the world of independent designers myself and it seemed like nowhere stocked any of them, they were all selling just direct to customer. So I thought of creating a place that brought them all together under one roof, supporting indie designers and making it easier for customers interested in ethical or unique lingerie to find them.
Elastic Harness by Esty Lingerie (house brand, designed by Estelle)
How do you manage the balance between owning a store and designing your own line?
Designing my own line is definitely the most time-consuming part! Aside from occasionally getting a local seamstress to make the more complex pieces for me, I sew (and mostly hand-sew) everything myself. I also have to photograph those pieces myself and edit those photos, which is a slow task.
The trade-off for all that work though is that the in-house Esty Lingerie collection is my best-selling brand by far, which makes sense because there are no other online retailers selling it to compete with, and I also get a higher profit margin. Plus it’s just enjoyable designing my own stuff!
With the other brands that I sell, I can’t expect the sales to just come to me – for those I spend my time mostly working on ad campaigns to make sure those products get seen too.
Estelle in Barcelona
What challenges have you faced as an online retailer and a small business owner, generally?
I’d say my biggest challenge is my lack of experience. Yes, I have a business degree, but I’m not someone who worked a corporate job for someone else’s ecommerce site for years and then decided to go it alone – everything I’ve done, I’ve taught myself as I went, from social media to web design.
Which is all to say, I’ve made a lot of mistakes! I’ve spent time and money on things that turned out to be unprofitable, and the first iteration of my website was really, really ugly! But in a way I’m glad because I’ve picked up so many new skills that I would never have done otherwise.
As an online retailer specifically, I guess my business challenge has been to build up a recognisable brand. In some ways, it’s easier to be found online – but then there’s so much competition. I don’t think a brick-and-mortar retailer in an area with good footfall has to worry as much about finding customers, the customers just find them.
Pivoine Knickers, high vs. low rise by Esty Lingerie (house brand, designed by Estelle)
What do you see as some of the most pressing issues facing the lingerie industry?
If you’d asked me this question just a few years back I would probably have said the lack of options in ‘small band, full bust’ sizing, but that niche of the industry has come on leaps and bounds recently.
Now, I think the focus needs to be on finding and supporting brands that cater to other outliers, like petite sizes (28A etc.) and large band, small cup sizes like 38A or 40B. I’d like to see customers who wear these sizes put pressure on the big retailers to cater to them in the same way ‘small band, full bust’ customers have done to great effect (and then, of course, buy those products so that the brands don’t drop them and we end up back at square one).
Another issue that really irks me is the number of big brands who keep on ripping off indie designers – and I’m not talking about copying styles, I mean copying exact products. As indie lingerie has grown more popular, I’ve seen this more and more, and I won’t name names but it always seems to be the same big brands.
It’s a big problem not just because it’s morally wrong, but because the indies don’t have the budget to fight this legally – and the big brands know and take advantage of this. I’d encourage everyone who spots brands copying to call them out publicly on social media, because if it gets problematic enough from a PR angle they may eventually stop!
Estelle has compiled perhaps the single most comprehensive database of lingerie bloggers, past present
You keep a really fabulous blog and engage your customers in awesome areas such as an annual lingerie design competition. How do you decide what "extra" areas to invest your time in?
Thank you! I love the Bluestockings blog too. :-)
This is one of the few areas of business that I do have professional experience in. My day job is for a really awesome digital marketing company – my current position is in blogger engagement, but previously I managed creative content campaigns. And trust me, when you’ve learnt how to come up with cool ideas for a client that sells insurance or finance, the ideas just flow when it comes to something you’re actually passionate about.
I think that a retailer’s content needs to be one of two things to be successful: interesting or useful (or both!). I get a lot of my ideas from my daily life, like my lingerie blogger database. I love reading lingerie blogs and kept discovering new ones, but there were too many to keep track of – hence the idea for a comprehensive list.
I try to think about what my visitors would be interested in too. I sell mostly handmade lingerie, so it stands to reason that some of my customers would like to try making their own. My ‘how to make lingerie’ resources page is now the most visited page after my homepage, and that’s also where the idea for my annual design competition came from.
What are your hopes for Esty in the future, as both a lingerie line and a store?
I’ve recently started working on my next collection which I’m quite excited about. I love the ‘strappy’ aesthetic but, like most people, I’m bored of it all starting to look the same so I’m trying to think of creative ways to push the trend forwards. My recent collection Pivoine was all made from vibrant pink elastic with chiffon flowers and was a lot more typically-feminine than a lot of the strappy black stuff out there right now – my next collection will be in same vein.
As for the boutique side of things, I would love to bring in some more brands that aren’t currently stocked in the UK so that my customers can get their hands on them without worrying about possible customs charges. I also have tons more creative content ideas, some of which I’m already working on, so watch this space!
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