Baring it all on sustainable lingerie with Lou Crosby from Brighton Lace

by Alice Ojeda
Lou Crosby from Brighton Lace

If you've ever been on the hunt for a sustainable pair of undies, chances are you've come across Brighton Lace. And they're not just any old underwear. Brighton Lace's Lou Crosby and her team make lingerie that's all about our natural body shape. Sustainable underwear doesn't have to be boring. Brighton Lace's makes creations in its eponymous lace, organic cotton and even cosy cashmere!

Follow Brighton Lace on Instagram and you'll also see just how inclusive this sustainable lingerie brand is. It's because Lou invites women, non-binary and gender fluid followers and people in her choir to model her underwear.

I had lots of questions for Lou so was really happy when she agreed to this Q&A. Curious about what it's like running a sustainable lingerie brand or making ethical choices in the world of fashion? Read on to find out.

1. Why did you start Brighton Lace?

I guess the simple answer is that fashion and colour have always sparked my joy. Founding a brand happened accidentally alongside my studies, but as I look back now I was always involved in fashion in some way - buying and selling, collecting and studying vintage, playing with colour and print...

2. How did you get from A to B on your first set of undies?

I started with blank lace vests bought first from a lady I met at a market, and later from one of the few remaining English knitwear factories. I learned how to dye and would dye these different colours. They were popular on my market stall in Brighton and customers would often ask if they could buy the matching knickers. Quite soon I met a skilled local seamstress who was able to make me what has now become our signature undies - lacy French knickers, and accidentally that was how my underwear company was born. From there we started to make simple bralettes and different styles of knickers and the rest is history.

3. Brighton Lace has a really distinctive style. How did you go about finding it?

Thank you! To be honest I just go with what I love and weave in the values that most inspire to me - sustainability, beauty, inclusivity, celebration of women, with a nod to really pretty feminine vintage lingerie that I've always been magnetised to - the pale silks, the tap pants, the lace edging...

4. Unlike most mainstream underwear, your undies have no cups or underwires. Why is celebrating natural body shapes important to you?

Yes, I was on quite a big journey of self discovery in my twenties which is when I started Brighton Lace. It was a time of self empowerment, sisterhood and discovering sacred femininity and this really informed what I wanted to create - I wanted to strip everything right back to celebrate the natural beauty of the female form. 

5. You have so many photos of women and non-binary people in your community wearing your beautiful underwear. How do you help people find the confidence to show their bodies on camera?

It’s always my vision to try to reflect real people. I started the usual way by working with models, but had always longed to expand our representation and noticed how hard this was within the local modelling community at the time.

A few years later I had the idea for a community photoshoot in Brighton ~ inviting "ordinary extraordinary" local women to join a group campaign. It was a wonderful experience, many people came forward, more than I'd anticipated, and the shoot day together was really empowering and special. The photos of everyone in our underwear blew me away. 

I'd assumed we'd keep going with these shoots but lockdown forced me to change tack.  Hermione our lovely marketing assistant and I dreamt up what became our "At Home Campaign" inviting our Instagram followers around the world to model for us in their own homes and in their own styles - using their photos on our website and across our social media. The campaign seemed to touch people and it took off much more than we could have imagined. Every time we did a call we’d have hundreds of people writing to us wanting to get involved even though we could only offer the few pieces we produced per collection.

These days I’m lucky enough to be a part of the of Hasting’s SHE Choir, a non-auditioned community choir for women, non-binary and gender fluid folk and it's where I find all our models :-) It’s my dream to one day do a huge campaign with as many of us from choir as possible modelling a collection.

Brighton Lace models from choir

6. How has running an underwear brand changed how you relate to your own body?

I have less and less body consciousness as I get older. I don’t know whether that’s because I run an underwear brand and work with a wide range of bodies all day long, generally getting older and less self conscious, or birthing my son and entering into motherhood where my body has taken on a whole different role ~ maybe a mixture of all three. I’m much more likely to look at my body and feel grateful for the journey it's taken me on, rather than hone in on details which I’d like to change, which was definitely how I used to relate to my physical self when I was younger.

7. The fashion industry is notoriously unsustainable and responsible for up to 10% of global emissions. What are you doing to change this?

My answer to this is always about care. We care about every aspect of how our business affects ourselves, our local community and the wider world. Every step we take as a business we try to look from this vantage of "care" - from the living wage each person earns in our team, to the people who model for us, obviously the fabrics we  source, through to the packaging we use, we care about our impact on each other and the planet we live on.

8. What's your least favourite thing about running an underwear small business?

There are lots of days when I find showing up to social media quite hard - particularly since Instagram changed its algorithm and it no longer feels like we really get to talk and engage with our community in the same way. I realise I am also quite introverted and often don’t feel like being live on video all the time, in the way that is required of you these days.

9. What's been your proudest moment so far?

I could tell you about the features we've had and the big wins, but actually the team culture these days is what nourishes me and makes me feel super proud to run a heart-centred business.

10. Of course Brighton is in your name! How else has living in Brighton influenced you as a small business owner?

I was lucky to start Brighton Lace as part of a group of emerging Brighton designers and makers who were all constantly inspiring me. I was very influenced not just by what these amazingly talented people made, but it was also reassuring to share in our wins and challenges together. I doubt I would have sustained the energy to keep running the business in the beginning if it wasn't for those friends around me cheering me on.

11. For anyone wanting to start a small business, what advice would you give?

Find yourself a support system of other small business owners who will help you celebrate your wins and get you through the challenges, and also, vitally share information.

If you're planning on selling online, perhaps start out by listing your items on a marketplace like Etsy who will start to generate a bit of traffic and interest for you. 

Something I didn't do but should have done - invest in professional photography right from the start (flatlays in my opinion are best / rather than model photos as they are most versatile and can be used across many platforms) - your photos are everything if you run a product based business. They communicate not just the details of your product but also set the stage for your personal style and even ethos.

Trading in real life can be super helpful for market research. Markets were a great place for us at the beginning because they were relatively low cost and I got to have live customer feedback. I could see which products were getting the most attention and selling, and listen to what people were saying about them. This would then inform what tweaks we needed to make next.

Collaborate with other businesses with a similar ethos so you can have some fun, share in each other's spotlight and network, and get the word out about your work.

Joy is everything - if your business sparks your joy you'll be able to push through the hard times.

 

You can find all of Brighton Lace's beautiful undies on their website and follow Lou on Instagram.

For more sustainable living and small business ideas, subscribe to my Ideas Book newsletter which I send every Friday.


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