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Helene Morris and Steve Ferguson are the designer duo behind New Zealand success story and fashion brand, Lonely, which has reached impressive heights at both a local and global level. The success behind their lingerie line, Lonely Lingerie, has simultaneously drawn attention to the representation of diversity in women’s bodies, particularly in their campaign imagery, and challenged the norms engrained in a society which is privy to being overtly sexualised and photoshopped. Zara Overton spoke with Helene and Steve about the evolution of the brand.
N. Previously known as Lonely Hearts Club, producing bags and t-shirts, over the years the brand has transitioned to become Lonely and now produces not only clothing, but also lingerie and swimwear. What started this evolution?
We didn’t feel there were any lingerie labels which truly resonated with us or our customer, aesthetically or with their values and brand message. We wanted to take away all expectations of how you "should" look in a product, and focus on how our lingerie makes you feel. Our starting point was soft cups, and even though we have expanded our range to include underwires and support up to an G cup, our philosophy remains the same – the emphasis is still on creating a beautiful, natural shape and above everything comfort for our wearer. We are not defined by categories but rather look to where we feel we can add value or offer something our customer is not currently able to find elsewhere.
Steve Ferguson and Helene Morris. Image: Greta van der Star
N. Who is the Lonely customer?
Anyone who believes what we believe.
N. Lonely has always had a strong stance on advocating for women and bodies, which is truly inspiring and empowering. We have seen this in many a Lonely campaign, but particularly in the Lonely Girls Project, which embraces women of all shapes, sizes, and ethnicities. Tell us a bit more about the Lonely Girls Project…
The Lonely Girls project was a result of many conversations we had around giving women the power to choose the way they are represented and to capture their personal stories.
We believe conventional lingerie marketing is irresponsible. We have always felt comfortable challenging and questioning conventional standards of beauty and we feel a responsibility to all women and girls to show it is OK to question, even shun the unrealistic standards of beauty that surround us.
It’s amazing to see our Project going so strong 7 years in. We are currently working on bringing it into print form in the near future which is a really exciting development for it.
We have seen many similar projects launch since we conceived it, and we welcome more brands trying to do the right thing. However, if companies see this new awareness of feminism as simply a means to re-invigorate their ad campaigns and open up new markets without truly supporting the message, it runs the danger of becoming trend-based which can ultimately cause more damage than good.
N. The brand has challenged the accepted norms of the fashion and beauty industries in terms of retouching, airbrushing and body hair. How has this positioning set Lonely apart from its competitors?
What is important to us is showing women that there is another way. We offer an alternative to the hyper-sexualised, photoshopped imagery that we see everywhere. We choose to shoot on film and never manipulate it. We think aging, stretch marks, different skin colours and different body shapes are absolutely natural and beautiful. The more we can highlight and celebrate our differences, the more women will embrace the things that make us different from each other and hopefully have more confidence to be themselves.
In today’s society we believe it’s so important to provide positive and realistic role models. Positive, strong, diverse women... just like you and me.
We hope for a day when our natural aesthetic and embracing of perceived ‘flaws’ rather than photoshopping perfection is the norm rather than the exception.
Image: Petra Collins shot in Tel Aviv by Mayan Toledano
N. Lonely Lingerie has expanded the wider Lonely brand, featuring sensual forms, delicate lace and velvet detailing. What led you to launch the lingerie line in 2010?
The financial crisis forced us to innovate at a time when we were looking to make meaning out of our brands existence. We reflected upon our own experiences and felt it was our duty to create something more meaningful than what we had done in the past. We took our love for lingerie into a market lacking of heart, and connected the things we hold dear into products we knew would be understood by our customers. We felt that lingerie was our way of making a difference in the lives of women all over the world.
N. The international uptake of the Lonely brand has been impressive, featuring in the New York Times, as well as being worn and celebrated by US celebrities such as Lena Dunham and Jemima Kirke. How do collaborations with icons like these come about?
Collaborations with supporters like Lena and Jemima come about as they are as passionate about our messaging as we are. We have many incredible supporters around the world, Lena and Jemima are certainly amongst our favourites for the ongoing love and support they show us. The work that Lena did around normalising representations of women in media through Girls was so incredible and obviously has parallels with what we try and do in our own way in a much smaller scale. Having someone with her profile show she shares our beliefs very much validated us on a global scale.
N. The store design for your 3 New Zealand stores has come to be an integral component of experiencing the brand and the collections, with Rufus Knight designing the fit-out for the beautiful space on Teed Street. Can you tell us more about the Newmarket store design?
Our retail spaces naturally speak about layers and intimacy, we try and create distinctly unique spaces which challenge the retail norm, an idea that is echoed through our brand message.
Lonely Newmarket, like our other stores, is an intimate and safe environment, design cues are an interplay between hard and soft. The entrance way is a key feature, taking the guest on a journey of discovery and sensory experience.
N. The instore experiences that Lonely and its staff create are second to none, with customers offered intimate one-on-one customer service complete with sparkling water. Do you think that this whole store experience is important in what is an increasingly digital online world?
Yes thank you, for people to take the time to visit a store they’re looking for an experience, something memorable, an extension of our brand values through good design. We hope stepping into our stores is like stepping into another world that is uniquely Lonely.
Lonely Newmarket store
N. Kim Kardashian, Gigi Hadid and Hailey Baldwin are just some of the other well-known names that have worn some of Lonely’s iconic lingerie pieces. Has there been a stand-out moment in this type of exposure for you?
Lena Dunham and Jemima Kirke’s Lonely Girl image received over 1 billion page impressions online and we had countless stories worldwide regarding it. This was definitely a moment we will never forget.
N. What is one piece of advice that you wish you had known 10 years ago?
We just try to remember, as cheesy as it may sound, that it is all about the journey and appreciating the 'wins' along the way. We are in such a different place than we were in 10 years ago and we are incredibly grateful for our amazing team and customers.
N. What advice would you give to someone who was looking to buy Lonely lingerie for a partner.
Just walk into store. We are so proud of the women who work at our locations. Their empathy for others, acceptance of differences and individual diverse backgrounds help ensure you are included and informed. They have the best advice on the garments and are amazing at making it all very easy.
N. Lonely has successfully created a space for itself in the world of social media with huge followings on both Instagram and Facebook. How have social media and blogging had an impact on the way you do business?
Social media and the internet have made it possible for us to be a global brand, despite how remote we are from many of our main markets. Our online store is busier than any of our retail stores, and platforms like Instagram can connect our customers so easily, it really is the great equaliser.
N. It’s 10am on a Sunday morning, where will we find you and what are you doing?
We love quiet weekends at home so probably drinking coffee and hanging with the kids.
N. What is Newmarket’s best kept secret?
Are there any secrets anymore with Google? We do love wandering Newmarket and especially love and appreciate the lovely retail staff in so many of the stores. It has a great sense of community and such supportive retailers.
Image: Mercy Brewer shot in Auckland, NZ, by Harry Were
N. What has been your best fashion investment?
Probably my vintage Rolex. I bought it on a recent trip to LA from a store called WannaBuyaWatch, the whole experience was amazing and I really appreciate quality that is long lasting.
N. And your worst?
We find fast fashion purchases are regrettable pretty quickly.
N. What’s next for Lonely?
This month we launch our first maternity collection. We’re really excited to be able to tell conversations and break down stereotypes around women’s pre and post pregnancy bodies. And the pieces designed are the ultimate Lonely design, the perfect fusion of function and beauty without compromise. We also have a forthcoming range of the most beautifully soft bamboo focused on absolute comfort, including a crop top that is suitable for any age and size.