Q&A: Ellen Lewis of Lingerie Briefs

To celebrate the redesign and relaunch of one of our favorite intimate apparel resources Lingerie Briefs, we sat down with industry powerhouse and brains behind the blog Ellen Lewis to discuss the ambitious concept behind the revamped site, the role of social media in the category and where she gets her endless stream of inspiration.

Q: You have worked in the industry for over 30 years in positions ranging from buying to product development. What inspired you to step back from that more hands-on approach and start Lingerie Briefs?
A: Lingerie Briefs originated in June of 2009. At first, it was a tool I used to drive readers to my website. Writing has always been a hobby, and the lingerie industry has played a major part in my career. I decided to combine the two disciplines and found myself enjoying the process. The result:  I have published consistently every week without exception since the inception of the blog

Q: What was the impetus behind the blog redesign, and what is the general concept of the revamped site?
A: As the blog progressed, I discovered many other individuals passionate about the industry with various perspectives on the business. I began to receive phone calls and emails with questions and interests that I could not address in a single blog. I decided to expand the site in order to share a more robust insight into the market. I have this vision that lingerie, as a product category, is so distinctly feminine and so close to the body that there is something poetic in its very existence. I wanted to present a higher vision than the oft conceived notion that it’s only about sex.

Q: In your 30-plus years in the business, what are some of the biggest changes you’ve seen?
A: When I started, there was no internet, no computers, no cell phones. Everything we did was very tactile. It was always about seeing the actual product, touching it, understanding it from a firsthand experience. All my deliberations were done through people. Stock was hand-counted. Numbers were entered manually. Calculations were done by hand. There was no separation of skill requirements in a buyer’s job. I was responsible for reviewing the market, analyzing the numbers, getting it positioned on the selling floor and being acquainted with my sales staff and managers in every location and the P & L. I was also responsible directly for product development. Today, many of those jobs are specialized, requiring many more “meetings” to communicate a vision. On the other hand, there is a larger collaboration and more input into the process. Changes can occur faster, decisions can be implemented quickly and many of the details can be affected by automation.

Q: Compared to other apparel categories, lingerie companies seem more reluctant to integrate social networking/media into their business model. Why do you feel that is? What benefits do you see in this area for intimate apparel? Are there any companies, in particular, that effectively using this technology?
A: The lingerie industry is a smaller and more homegrown than many of the other categories. Many companies are driven by the original owners, with the exception of the big corporations that have made headway into the USA. It is a combination of the generational understanding of how critical social media is to our future and the resistance to letting go of the touch and feel of the past. I think the benefits of technology for this industry are astounding because, in my opinion, they are so far behind. I know, from a personal level, how much it has changed my perception and access to information. Of course, companies like BareNecessites.com and Herroom.com have built a huge online identity. Whenever I need product information quickly, these are my go-to venues. Victoria’s Secret has managed to dominate the internet in IA even with the power of their brick and mortar stores.

Ellen recently drew a vivid comparison between the ethereal beauty of the Nutcracker Suite and the effortless allure of La Feé Verte's underpinnings.

Q: You often draw comparisons between lingerie products and art/culture in your blog posts. What do you usually get inspired by first, and where do you seek out inspiration?
A: Honestly, I thought I would be a curator when I grew up. I studied art history with the intent of using my passion for the aesthetic world, combined with my analytical skills, to pursue a career in museum work. But life did not work out that way and I ended up in the Executive Training program at Federated Department Stores (parent company of Macy’s). Business was the furthest thing from my mind, but I discovered, in the world of merchandising, a similar sensitivity to the arts. To identify or develop worthwhile product is not so different from discovering a piece of art. How the product is displayed affects the viewer’s desire to possess it in some way. I am almost always inspired by the details of a venue. I see the big picture as a result of the small gestures. I try hard to keep up with current culture, but to tell you the truth, there is so much inspiration in history, that I often look back for clarity. In my opinion, inspiration can be found almost anywhere, if you look. I once wrote a poem about a single flower growing through the broken pavement in an abandoned lot.

For more inspiration, insight and information from Ellen Lewis, visit the new and improved  LingerieBriefs.com.

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