If you’re an avid Grazia reader (and if not, why the HELL not!?) then you will undoubtedly have heard of today’s interviewee. Earlier this month the world’s best fashion weekly ran a story on SS13′s most stylish swimwear labels and with Rita Ora, Suki Waterhouse and Bip Ling all fans of her designs, it wasn’t surprising that Lara Ventura was featured. I caught up with the designer to talk Central Saint Martins, e-commerce and being a fashion entrepreneur…
LPA: Tell me a little about your background. Where did you grow up? Were you always interested in fashion?
LV: I grew up in Aberdeen, Scotland where I had a very creative childhood. My Mum is Italian and my Dad is Indian, and they both encouraged me to do something I was passionate about. I became interested in fashion at around thirteen when I started to make my own clothes, and at fifteen I decided I wanted to move to London to try and study fashion design at Central Saint Martins. At the age of seventeen I moved down to London permanently to study a foundation course and then progressed to Saint Martins a year later, where I did my degree.
LPA: You studied Fashion Design and Knitwear at Central Saint Martins before going on to work as a knitwear designer for various luxury brands. What prompted the move into lingerie and swimwear?
LV: Knitwear was my specialized field but I got into intimate apparel a few years back when a friend of mine had a wholesale lingerie business that she needed help with, I started doing some work for her and went solo from there, I built up a huge following of private clients. It was whilst doing this that I saw a niche for an online destination for a different style of lingerie and swimwear, and a gap in the market for a cooler and more fashion-orientated lingerie and swim e-tailer. All the brands on offer had tacky details and embellishments, and I wanted to avoid that and focus more on style, cuts, embroidery and exclusive prints. I wasn’t impressed by many high-end brands aesthetics so Lara Ventura fills all the gaps. What’s great about Lara Ventura is that it’s one of the only design-led luxury swim and lingerie labels at this slightly lower price point that does not compromise on style or quality. I do miss the skill and technicality of knitwear but I am incorporating textiles into my lingerie and swimwear now. I also have a strong visual team around me and total focus and control of how my products are presented. The big picture is that everything enhances the Lara Ventura brand. This leads to better customer satisfaction.
LPA: Starting your own business is always a brave and fairly high-risk move, let alone doing so in the middle of a recession. Why did you decide to take the leap and launch Lara Ventura swimwear in 2011? Being honest, how tough was it?
LV: Being honest… it’s been extremely hard. I decided to finance it myself from my consulting and freelance work so budgeting was a nightmare- I’ve had some messy situations when I’ve bitten off way more than I can chew. I also started quite young, when most of my friends were quite carefree- I’ve had to grow up a lot quicker. The first two years were a lot of fun as I did have a few lucky breaks that got me through the door, I was working and investing my earnings in a manageable way without having to compromise on my personal life, but the following 15 months were extremely challenging. Sourcing was a long process and multi-tasking whilst holding down work was exhausting.
What gave me faith and confidence was that I had always had success with lingerie- I knew the business so well because of my years of freelance and one-to-one clientele experience. Thankfully the Internet has made everything so much easier and I have been able to grow at my own pace without stockists or show deadlines. I was confident that I could manufacture a range that was at a slightly lower and competitive price-point, yet of the highest quality, offering a product that was both wanted and needed within the swimwear market. A challenge- but I knew if I could get the right publicity it would work. I also had a good network of people around me who work in the industry and were willing to offer invaluable advice.
LPA: Besides your own designs, LaraVentura.co.uk also sells a selection of other international labels. Why is this so important to you? And how do you choose which brands to stock?
LV: It’s important for me to give the customer a range of options as the Lara Ventura brand has such a strong identity and is a particular fit. All brands selected for the site have to reflect and blend with the Lara Ventura brand and overall vibe of the website. They must be fashion and design-led, at an accessible price point with a strong and distinct design philosophy. I think it is important to offer something fresh and different; there are so many amazing international labels out there, South America in particular are doing some incredible things with swimwear and lingerie and I want to share these designs with my customers. I wanted my site to have a different aesthetic to your typical multi-brand website, as there are so many of them around now. I selected brands such as Maaji and Amulette from Columbia and Jenna Leigh from New York; all of which have a strong design philosophy and are beautifully made to a high standard. They’re not so well-known in the UK yet but you’ve got to follow your instinct and take risks with new brands. So far they are performing well. Ultimately, all brands I choose to have on the site reflect the exotic lifestyle and fashion-forward aesthetic of Lara Ventura.
LPA: Lara Ventura has gathered a bit of a cult following with Suki Waterhouse, Rita Ora and Bip Ling all fans. Is there anyone else you’d particularly love to see wearing your designs?
LV: I think Olga Kurlenko is beautiful and elegant in her style; I would love to see her in some of my more classic pieces. Mila Kunis too. Kate Bosworth, Poppy Delevingne and Miranda Kerr have great style and would look good in some of the digital print two-pieces.
LPA: So you’ve got swimwear and lingerie sorted for life, which brands do you favour when it comes to clothes?
LV: Despite having such a sexy brand- I’m not into showing much flesh. My personal style is quite dapper and boyish, bordering on bohemian in the summer. I love Sandro, Stella Mc Cartney, Paul & Joe, Isabel Marant and Acne for easy-to-wear luxury basics, and I ‘m currently obsessed with Equipment shirts and Russell and Bromley for shoes- I can’t seem to have enough! On the high-street Cos and The Kooples are current favourites.
LPA: What advice would you give to budding fashion entrepreneurs hoping to launch their own company?
LV: Make sure your product has a niche and a strong identity – otherwise it’ll just get lost in such a competitive market. You have to understand and accept that you will make massive sacrifices and lifestyle changes – you have to expect to do this for 2-3 years. You have to be realistic about your financial situation to be able to gauge whether you can see the initial start-up through. Starting a business from scratch takes everything out of you and that little bit more, so you need physical and mental strength-but if you can get through that you will be more resilient and adaptive, as I have learned. Passion and talent isn’t enough to make it in this business so you need to do your research, know your market and customer and be sure that your product is needed and commercially viable. Stamina, durability and determination is key-don’t be put off by the first hurdle (because there will be more ahead) and always keep the long-term goal in your head.
Love Ella. X