Founder of Playful Promises
Playful Promises - Lingerie For a Confident Woman
Emma Parker is a lawyer turned fashion entrepreneur who started a lingerie company Playful Promises in London in 2014 after buying her first pair of ‘grown up’ knickers. Wearing these she felt she could conquer the world!
Emma aspires to empower women to feel fabulous no matter what size they wear and so the Playful Promises collections come in a variety of sizes. The brand prides itself on offering quirky, unique designs in terms of style and quality at very competitive prices.
The Playful Promises label is sold around the world through retailers in France, Italy, Denmark, The Netherlands, Switzerland, USA and Australia. Emma’s tireless work was rewarded when in 2009 her brand won the UK Fashion Export Award for Lingerie recognising excellence in selling overseas.
In this interview, Emma discusses why she started a lingerie business in a low-margin industry and the role social media plays in connecting with her customers. Emma also shares why she is a humanist, juggling work and life balance and lessons learnt on her business journey.
Turning passion into a profitable business
What made you interested in lingerie and how did you turn the idea to a profitable business?
After studying law at university I realised that I wanted to spend my time doing something that I felt passionate about and I always loved the power that lingerie has, compared to other fashion items (except possibly shoes… shoes are a powerful fashion item).
It was a long hard sweat making it profitable. A lot of this was down to inexperience as I didn’t work in enough margin to begin with. Over time, I was able to understand costing better and overcame this.
Playful Promises customers
Your lingerie is quirky and unique, what kind of woman is it for?
The Playful Promises girl is confident, sassy and doesn’t take herself too seriously. Our lingerie is flirty and fun, so we imagine that’s how our customers feel when they wear it!
What would you say to women who would love to wear more daring pieces but lack body confidence?
Just go for it! No one’s opinion is relevant about how you look other than your own opinion. Wear what makes you feel good and own it, the body confidence will follow.
Staying competitive in the fashion market
Playful Promises offers a variety of distinctive, glamourous collections, from lingerie and swimwear to giftsets. Is there much competition in terms of uniqueness and design? If so, how do you ensure continued growth in today’s competitive fashion world?
The lingerie market is so saturated and with fast fashion being so easily accessible, it can be hard to keep up. We always try to do things differently and to push boundaries whilst also challenging people’s perceptions on things that go deeper than just bras and knickers.
Our attitude gives us that edge above our competitors, but we also don’t necessarily fall into the obvious trends season to season and always keep a strong image that is on-brand. We also offer a competitive price point and a range of different sizes, which very few independent brands do.
What were some of the challenges before you became established in the industry and what are they now?
Margins – firstly because I didn’t know how to cost correctly and secondly because fashion is a low-margin industry.
Manufacturing itself is a difficult process. There are so many people involved in the chain, from the people that print the garment, wash care labels, people who weave cloth, to companies that dye the cloth, the technical teams involved in making it fit, and then the people who actually sew it. Then it has to be shipped and marketed. Keeping work flow in good order with this many elements in the chain is challenging and requires attention to detail.
Work and life balance
I read that you like to live life to the full and don't take yourself too seriously. How do you manage to balance running a business and life?
I’m a humanist and therefore believe life has no inherent meaning other than the one you give it so this is what I mean by not taking myself too seriously. I am insignificant other than the significance I give my life.
In terms of work and life balance - I’m terrible at that. But I love what I do. Hobby-wise, I find the most relaxing thing for me is painting. I completely switch off and am in the moment when I paint.
Showing brand personality through social media
You started Playful Promises in 2004, long before Facebook or Instagram. In what ways have social media changed your business and the way you communicate with customers?
I think our social media presence is really important to the brand – it shows we have personality and what our core beliefs are. Customers definitely value knowing that they can support something that has similar morals to themselves. It also gives us a platform to see what customers want.
The other thing I love about social media is it has levelled the playing field a bit for independents as it allows you to connect to people without having a huge budget which is great for giving customers more choice in an increasingly homogenous world.
What have been your biggest milestones in business and where would you like to take Playful Promises in the future?
Winning the Fashion Export Award in 2009 was a highlight, it was presented by The Princess Royal! Another big achievement was seeing my designs on display in Barneys and Bendels on my first trip to New York, which was a bit of a surreal moment.
The future– I am too British to talk the future up in that way. It always seems vulgar to say how great something you are involved in will be at a future date.
Lessons learnt in business
Can you share some of the lessons you've learnt - good or bad - which made a difference to your life or business?
Always employ people that are as talented and hopefully more talented than you! I have some seriously talented women in my company that raise my own standards every day.
No matter how creative you are – be good at maths!