The recent expansion of the full-bust lingerie market has been a boon to women with larger busts, but well-fitting luxury pieces are still rare, particularly in sizes above a G cup.
So imagine my delight when I stumbled across KH Intimates, whose Spring/Summer 2016 debut collection offers gorgeous, ethically manufactured lingerie crafted in sumptuous fabrics and laces, available in UK bra sizes 26-36 D-HH.
Wanting to learn more about the genesis of this beautiful line that blends artistry, sensuality, and solid foundations design, I reached out to Katy Payne, the founder, designer, and force of nature behind this new, independent brand.
Scarlett: First off, I’d love to know more about your background—where you’re from, your childhood and upbringing, your personal philosophy?
Katy: I grew up in Coventry with my parents and older sister. I learned to dance at the age of 5 and began performing in theater at age 8. I was quite an introverted and insecure child, which made me a deep and analytical thinker. I think these two traits developed into positives; my analytical thinking fit beautifully with the study of psychology, my passion at the time, and my motivation to succeed fueled my dedication to studying and obtaining good grades. Although passionate about sciences, I also loved and studied art. That creative side is now fulfilled through lingerie design.
Katy Payne, founder of Katherine Hamilton
If I were to sum up my philosophy with a few phrases they would be “life is what you make it”, “nothing worth having comes easy” and “make the most of the cards you’ve been dealt”. I’ve learned to never give up, to think creatively around a problem, and if you find a dead-end, create a new path.
Another aspect of my philosophy is to be grateful for what you have. The place that I am best reminded of this is my garden, to be with nature and watch all of the creatures in the garden proceed with their lives. It reminds me of how insignificant I really am and to cherish nature. It can be very easy to get caught up in your own business and this can result in quite a warped perception of what’s important. So when those times occur, I take time out to sit in the garden and regain perspective.
S: What inspired you to start a lingerie company?
K: Following a life-changing fitting by Bravssimo when I was aged 15, I discovered that I was not a size 32B (like all the girls wore at my school) but was a 28FF. From that point on I strived—and failed—to find sexy lingerie in my size. There was quite an array of mid-range bras in a wide size range, I couldn’t find anything more sophisticated and luxurious composed of silks and lace.
Following yet another rant about the bras in my size, my husband asked “Why don’t you design your own?” His suggestion came at a time when I was taking a career break, which was crucial in my decision to give it a go. At the time I had no idea what I was heading into. I was certainly very naïve about the complexities of full bust bra development and I wildly underestimated the cost. But that naïve optimism is why I didn’t give up.
S: What steps did you take to prepare for launching your company, and did they serve you well?
The best step I took to prepare was to utilize, from the very beginning, experts in the full-bust bra industry with over 40 years of experience. Through working closely with this team, I developed a deeper understanding of the complexities of full bust bra development.
In addition to working with industry experts, I participated in The Prince’s Trust Enterprise program. This was an excellent 4-day course in business that equipped me with the basic and essential skills for running a business. I also often attend one-day courses held by local organizations such as Export Cornwall and UK Trade & Investment. These are excellent means to network and allow me to take a step back and view the business as a whole; to consider new directions and ways to improve.
Whilst all of the above have proven tremendously beneficial, nothing could have prepared me for the immense stress and intense dedication required to move the business forward.
S: What has surprised you? What unique challenges have you encountered?
I’ve been most surprised by the cost to develop a brand and full-bust lingerie. I would say that it has cost at least ten times what I anticipated, proving to be a financial challenge for my husband and me. Most challenging of all is buying stock having already invested so much in developing the designs.
The value of luxury has surprised me too. Prior to launching my business, I had only experienced mid-range lingerie and didn’t know what luxury felt like. I was surprised to learn the cost of quality fabrics, however, having now worn our products (in fact I live in them!) I understand the value and could never go back. In our culture, lingerie is often seen as disposable fashion, but when an item is so crucial for all day comfort and support, it’s well worth investing in.
As a new brand, some boutiques are cautious to try us, and many businesses have not explored the luxury end of the full bust market. Crucial to our ethos though is to work with boutiques, particularly smaller boutiques in a similar position to us with regards to cash flow and minimum orders. These are relationships that we aim to foster positively and collaboratively.
S: Where do you draw your creative inspiration from? What inspires you the most?
K: My creative inspiration comes predominantly from my love for lace, Victorian fashion, and classic French design.
Since I was a child I have been in love with lace and would make gothic-influenced black lace clothing in my teens. I think this stems from my fascination with mid- to late-Victorian fashion: bodices, bustles, sleeves that narrow to fitted cuffs, all of which I find tremendously romantic and would often replicate in my clothing choices as a teenager.
Inspiration for the Spring/Summer 2017 collection
Whilst encapsulating my love of lace and French design, Sophia represents the set of lingerie I always dreamed of finding, but never could. Having now fulfilled that dream my imagination is exploring much more romantic designs and venturing into long, vintage-inspired robes that I plan to present in our SS17 collection.
In addition to following my own loves, our designs are also inspired by modern culture and customer demand. Our Louise was developed in response to customer requests and the rise of erotic romance in our media such as Fifty Shades of Grey. This style plays with the power dynamics of bondage with strappy details suggesting submission under restraints whilst block, minimalist shapes invoke a dominant stance.
S: What upcoming projects are you most excited about?
K: I’m particularly excited about our non-wired supportive nightwear collection. I’m currently pregnant with twins, which makes for the perfect opportunity to test our designs and experience the challenges that women face during pregnancy and nursing. We are exploring bralettes and tops that would be bra-sized to give every customer the support and fit they need.
Amyre design sketches (Spring/Summer 2017)
I’m also excited about our upcoming SS17 Amyre long robe in pale green silk and gold lace, with a loose, short-sleeved lace top and fitted buttoned waist. We revealed a sneak peek of a drawing on Instagram several weeks ago and look forward to revealing our first sample in a few months’ time.
Inspiration for the Amyre designs
S: I didn’t realize that you were expecting! That’s tremendous news, and I’m terribly excited for you. But I know that running your own company can be quite stressful, especially when you have little ones on the way. What do you do to maintain balance and take care of yourself?
K: I’ve found that developing and launching a business has been more stressful than I could have ever imagined. I’ve had to work far harder than I ever thought possible. There were times last year that I would sit in disbelief that I was still working so intensely… I didn’t know I had the capacity! As a result, downtime is essential.
Having experienced personal challenges over the past 15 years or so, I’ve gradually learned how to listen to my emotions and my body. This self-awareness, combined with my mental health training, has afforded me the skills to spot when I need to take time out and find balance. I routinely take short breaks to hug my cats or make a cup of tea, and try not to work outside of 9-6 on weekdays. This isn’t enough stop me from becoming absorbed by my business, so I make regular dates with my friends and family, which I find particularly grounding. When I hear about everything going on in my friends’ and family’s lives it reminds me of all the important things going on outside of my business; it gives me perspective.
As any self-employed person will know, staying physically well is essential because no one else can pick up the work if you need to take a sick day. I eat a very healthy diet, abstain from alcohol, exercise regularly and ensure that I get at least 8 hours sleep a night. I find these are crucial for staying mentally sharp and physically well.
S: What advice do you have for other women entrepreneurs?
K: Although I’m not keen on giving advice, I can say that developing and launching a business is hard to a degree that I don’t think anyone can communicate—it’s something you have to experience. Determination is crucial to keep driving you forward, in spite of naysayers and setbacks. For me, it is passion that fuels this determination. I don’t think I could passionately run a business if it wasn’t in line with my beliefs and morals, which is why I only work with factories that pay their workers a fair wage.
Cash flow has been our greatest obstacle and has been a swift education in why so many businesses fail in the first two years. With lingerie development in particular, significant investment is required well before any income can be achieved. Financial forecasting is essential to determine what can and can’t be achieved and is a skill that I think every entrepreneur should develop. If struggling financially, explore funding from government initiatives and local organizations. Whilst grants are few and far between there are still some available, along with low interest start-up loans.
S: Where do you see yourself and KH Intimates in a year? In five years?
K: Design-wise, I hope that within a years’ time we will have developed our nightwear range, along with a new silk and lace full-cup 3-piece set, and to be offering our new long Amyre robes.
In terms of growth, I hope that our comfort and fit will gain us a loyal customer base, and that we’ll continue to develop our network of stockists. The dream for in 5 years’ time is to be stocked by some of the larger retailers such as House of Fraser or Selfridges. That feels a long way off, though!
S: Well, you certainly are off to an amazing start! Thank you so much for taking the time to share your story with me; I particularly loved hearing about your creative process. I wish you and Katherine Hamilton the very best, and look forward to trying out your beautiful designs.
Sophia Bra Set & Lace-Sleeve Robe
This post was originally featured at Dear Scarlett, and has been reproduced with the author’s permission.