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EDITIONS
Thursday, 14 November, 2002, 08:18 GMT
Making money from lingerie
Fashion designer Damaris Evans
The lingerie designer comes from a family of doctors

As part of a weekly series on women in business, BBC News Online talks to fashion designer Damaris Evans, winner of the Prince's Trust Fashion Enterprise Award.
Undergarments were once precisely just that.

They were happily tucked under clothing, with one's best items saved for safe viewing behind closed doors or, if your mother's warning came true, by an unsuspecting ambulance man.

Young fashion entrepreneur Damaris Evans, winner of this year's Prince's Trust Fashion Enterprise Award, has set about to change all that.

Example of Damaris' underwear
The bows are for show outside jeans
Her hand-made pieces of lingerie, with their French silk tassels, Italian velvet trim and intricate embroidery are most definitely there to be seen.

One particular pair of knickers with elaborate bows holding the material together is deliberately designed to peep out the top of the wearer's jeans.

However, even Damaris admits that the tugging of these same bows can be "annoying when in the pub".

And at over £100 a pair, it's not hard to see why a customer would want to get their money's worth by putting their underwear on general display.

Proper career?

Damaris, aged just 27, is now into her third collection of must-see lingerie designs, already endorsed by the fashion elite such as Jade Jagger and Liv Tyler.

I was designing lots of knickers to wear under the dresses, not that anyone was going to see but I wanted to do these knickers

Damaris Evans
Her business, she estimates, will turn over around £300,000 this year, just 18 months after it was launched.

But she wasn't always convinced that lingerie or indeed fashion of any sort, was a suitable career.

"I knew I liked designing clothes," she says, "But I always thought I would have to have a 'proper career'."

Coming from a family predominantly made up of doctors, the Evans family idea of "career" was more hospital gowns than French bows.

But Damaris' entrepreneurial spirit was undoubtedly firmly implanted from a young age.

As a young girl, her mother had made clothes for Damaris. "Then she taught me, and a I made a few bits and bobs and sold them at school."

All this at the tender age of 13.

What lies beneath

Damaris first realised her passion for clothes-making could translate into that elusive "career" when she found out about the fashion degree at Central St Martin's college in London.

"I did a foundation year, then a four-year womenswear degree... so I could have ended up a doctor after all that anyway!"

I learnt exactly how I did not want to run my business

Damaris Evans
It was at St Martin's that Damaris was drawn to what lay beneath the frocks.

"In my final year collection at St Martin's, I was designing lots of knickers to wear under the dresses, not that anyone was going to see but I wanted to do these knickers.

"I was getting really into it and thought 'maybe I'll just cancel all the clothes and do a linger collection'."

Her teacher refused, but the seed was sown.

Four years later, these haute-couture undies are sold in the fashion houses of well-heeled ladies the world over for anything between £120 and £1,500 a pair - the latter coming complete with crystals.

The business of fashion

The business of fashion, Damaris built up slowly.

In a placement year at St Martin's, Damaris worked for a company called Favourbrook.

Polka-dot underwear set
Coming to a high street near you?
"Within a month of working there as the owner's PA, I persuaded him to launch a label called "Violet" - clothes for rich young kids, basically using his money to try what I wanted to do creatively."

The clothes were a success, but more important to Damaris was watching the company at work.

"I learnt exactly how I did not want to run my business."

Upon leaving St Martin's, Damaris spent two years researching the market for her own business, building a contacts base and finally qualifying for a £5,000 loan from the Prince's Trust.

But even the most diligent preparation could not prepare Damaris for the huge language barrier with the Italian ladies commissioned to produce her first collection.

With two weeks to go before the launch of her first collection, Damaris was forced to rope in all the friends and sewing needles she could muster and make the underwear herself.

"I paid my friends in knickers."

Dressing down

Damaris chooses to sell in boutiques favoured by her target market - "20-30 year olds who are fashion-conscious with loads of money" - in Europe, the US, Japan and Dubai.

However, the designer is now setting her sights on more modest customers.

Damaris says she would love to design a collection for a high-street chain such as Marks & Spencer.

The less risqué among us may soon be able to afford to slip into something a little less comfortable - though possibly without the crystals.


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08 Nov 02 | Newsmakers
31 Oct 02 | Europe
04 Oct 02 | Wales
31 Jul 02 | Breakfast
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