New Zealand-based label Lonely has gained a cult following since its inception in 2009, not just for its exquisite lingerie, lounge and swimwear ranges, but also for its sensitive and thoughtful approach to branding and social media. We spoke to founder and creative director Helene Morris to find out how their candid portrait series, the Lonely Girls Project, has changed the way women think about their bodies for the better.
What inspired you to create Lonely?
My grandmother was a big inspiration on my career. She was always making me and my dolls clothes, and her love of fashion and style stuck with me.
Tell us what a typical day at work involves.
Each day is different. I am really involved with our product design, from lingerie, swimwear, clothing and lounge. We are constantly developing and working on new ideas. I contribute across all aspects of the business in some way, so meeting with production, marketing, retail and many other people is typical in a day for me.
Can you give us a little insight into your creative process? What’s the first step when you start designing a new collection?
Inspiration always comes first for me. I find it in everything around me - travelling, different people, art, so many things. But generally it is the people around me that inspire me.
Are you allowed to tell us what’s currently on your mood board?
Colour! It’s like a walk through the countryside in spring.
You’ve been insistent on “no padding, no push ups, no thongs”, and every year you’ve expanded your product range to include more shapes and sizes. Did you set out from the get-go to promote positive body image?
I don’t think it’s so much being adverse to these things - we have had light padding on a bra and I’m sure we will again. It’s more that we are drawn towards a more natural look that is, above all, comfortable.
I love the tagline, “For women who wear lingerie as a love letter to themselves.” How did you come up with that?
For us it always comes back to the wearer and about how she feels. Comfortable, confident...it’s about loving and being good to ourselves. Steve [Ferguson, Helene’s partner] wrote it down one day when discussing how we wanted people to feel.
The Lonely Girls Project has become one of the brand’s signatures. How did it start? How do you find these muses?
When we began Lonely lingerie in 2009 we felt that there was no lingerie imagery that really spoke to us or our customer. It all seemed so overly sexualized and Photoshopped. I think as a brand we have always been slightly rebellious and were happy to challenge preconditioned norms. This approach has always felt really natural to us. It’s not something that we were forced to do; we just love to question our choices and decisions so that we are really true to ourselves and our customers.
What I find so inspiring is that the imagery is completely un-manipulated and each girl is photographed in her natural environment. What have been some of the responses from your customers?
Our customers are amazing, so many have joined the project and submitted photos. It’s a pretty special way to connect with the people wearing Lonely.
We get daily comments in our stores about the project and how it makes people feel. It’s awesome that people can feel empowered and more confident by relating to our imagery.
You have a few accounts on Instagram - @lonelylabel, @lonelylingerie and @lonelygirlsproject - that are dedicated specifically to the clothing collection, lingerie line and the Lonely Girls Project. Are you trying to convey different things through each account or is there a unifying vision?
There is a unifying vision and independent spirit running through everything we do, we mainly have these different accounts due to our different ranges - @lonelylabel features the clothing and lounge, whereas @lonelylingerie [features] our swim and lingerie. It’s nice to be able to focus on collections sometimes and not everything at once.
You’ve worked with some amazing creatives on your campaigns, like Zara Mirkin, Petra Collins and Harriet Were. What has it been like to collaborate with them?
The creatives that we work with are all such inspiring, creative women. We are really fortunate!
A few months ago you were a guest speaker at Vivid Sydney, talking about the role that fashion can play in empowering women. What was that like?
Really fun! Liz Ham, Georgina Safe and Ollie Henderson were on the panel with me and they are all such cool women.
You have two stores in Ponsonby and Wellington, and I hear that a third one is in the works. What were your inspirations for the layout and design of each store?
To create a physical space that through good design personifies the Lonely way. We wanted people to feel comfortable, relaxed, and at home in our space. We also have been inspired to give each store its own distinct personality that suits its location.
Where do you live in New Zealand? Do you have any favourite local haunts that you like to visit when you need a jolt of inspiration?
I live in Auckland, next to beautiful mangroves on the North Shore. We kayak or paddle board through them and the birdlife is amazing. We have such quiet, beautiful swimming beaches. It’s a pretty inspiring city to live in.
Finally, is there anything exciting on the horizon for Lonely that you can share with us?
We are hoping to print Lonely Girls in the near future so we can bring the project a little more to life.