Interview with Nearer the Moon’s Tilly Tomkins

by  Abigail Tyrrell  

I first heard of the lingerie line Nearer the Moon by TillyTomkins when a friend, Holly Jackson (of the Full Figured Chest) recommended I read her article for The Lingerie Addict. Her cotton candy fantasies in the form of her Occult bra and panties had me both entranced and green with envy! Here was another talented couture lingerie designer creating amazing handcrafted designs that were body and size positive. Now, I finally get the chance to sit down and have a chat! And on what better day than Valentine’s?

Desire

What brought you to lingerie?

It started with a BTEC in fashion and clothing when I was 16. Once I started looking for university courses I was gently advised by my tutor that perhaps pure fashion wasn’t for me as I only ever designed corsets, bras and bodysuits! She introduced me to the Contour Fashion course at De Montfort University and I applied. I was lucky to be on the course when there were only 20 students accepted per year and it was the only place in the world you could study it, I think this intense and personal approach to learning the subject made me fall even further in love with lingerie and I couldn’t help but continue with it for my career.

 

What was your very first experience of burlesque?

I cut out a picture of Dita Von Teese from The Face when I was younger – around 14 – and put it on my wall, I didn’t quite understand what she was doing in it but thought she looked terribly glamorous and started researching her more. Desperate to be a part of her scene, I became one of the founding members of the Demon Belles, De Montfort University’s (and possibly the country’s) first burlesque society. We taught each other to customise costumes, make nipple tassels and choreograph routines culminating in several shows at the student union and local Vodka Revolution. I stopped performing when I left uni but have continued to be part of the burlesque and dancer scene by making the costumes instead.

Nearer the Moon

The one thing I find the most difficult as a maker of totally hand-made or couture lingerie is the lack of understanding in consumers as why there is a longer lead time and higher price. How do you deal with impatient clients who want expensive items for Primark prices?

I am upfront on my Etsy shop about wait times and am always happy to explain why items can take longer. I find with thorough communication customers are much less impatient. The cost has become less of an issue as the brand image has developed. & I’m always happy to worth with clients budgets for custom work.

Sizing is so problematic, many designers create custom sizing to shapes they are familiar with. Are you using a standard measurement chart, or creating your own?

I don’t generally use charts for my sizing, instead when customers ask for sizing charts I prefer to offer a more personal approach and from their own measurements , either suggest the size they need or take their measurements and interpret them into my own patterns, at no extra charge. All my patterns start from either my pattern blocks developed at university or from draping on the stand. From there everything is graded by hand with a personal touch allowing for stylistic fit choices and any adjustments needed for fabrics. For plus sizes, I asymmetrically grade allowing for an enhancement in lift and spread to keep everything pointing upwards and forwards. I also cut everything generously on the bottom – I personally don’t enjoy the feeling or look of knickers and bodysuits digging in around the legs and have a little extra in the back myself, many customers comment how comfortable Nearer The Moon knickers are despite their embellishments and cut outs.

You are currently dedicated to making each piece personally by hand ensuring quality and ethical standards. Are there plans in the future to for small line production and how would you address quality and ethics?

Not currently. The capital needed to plan for and implement even the smallest of production runs is still out of my budget and having seen other indie brands troubles with these I can’t guarantee the success anyway – I’m not a huge risk taker for an entrepreneur!

With large luxury brands having regular 75% off sales, how are you dealing with the demand from consumers for ever increasing discounts?

I made a conscious decision to forgo the January sale this year and actively boycotted black Friday and cyber Monday. January ended up being my best month not only for the financial year so far but also every January we have been trading for. I feel Nearer The Moon customers respect the fact that huge discounts are not possible and would rather overall slightly lower prices throughout the year. Having said that, to recognise 5 years of running Nearer The Moon full time, this January I offered past customers and newsletter subscribers a discount code but this was the first discount offered in 6 months and only to loyal fans.

How did you finance the start of your brand?

I started the brand alongside working a full-time job in 2011, so it was financed mainly by that. With my last pay cheque, I launched a limited edition lace and satin collection that got me featured on The Lingerie Addict and the brand slowly grew from there without further investment. I financed my 2016 Brick Lane pop up store with a successful KickStarter.

Nearer the Moon

Do you find social media helpful to sales numbers or more of a brand recognition tool?

Certain parts of social media have been insanely beneficial to the brand, equally for recognition and revenue. The rise of Instagram has directly correlated with a rise in brand recognition and has, with the use of the app Planoly, enabled me to develop a stronger and more cohesive brand identity. At the same time it is also useful as a sales tool, Instagram is a fairly private form of engaging with social media and well suited to selling intimate products. It is so very easy to engage with customers and sell directly from images I’ve posted. I feel its really important to mention how social media can make it difficult to sell and promote intimate products though with censoring of nipples & less conventional women’s bodies though.

You love Etsy and pop up shops. Which has been a better investment?

Etsy has been by far the better investment. Pop up markets have been fun but ultimately I discovered the Nearer The Moon aesthetic too tame for the fetish markets and too risque for the craft ones. The Brick Lane shop was useful for creating leads but ultimately these customers bought online rather than with their families or in front of other people due to the very open nature of the display space.

If you had one piece of advice to give to someone starting out as an indie designer, what would it be?

Just go for it. There is no better way of learning if there is demand for the product and getting feedback on things such as fit than putting your products out there and seeing what sells.

Authors:

With degrees in Psychology, Silversmithing, and an accredited Holistic Therapist (FHT), Ms Tyrrell is an enigma wrapped in chocolate. After 18 years as a professional web developer (LAMP and .NET) and designer, she left to focus on making pants for a living. At some point during the last 12 months, she also thought creating this was a good idea...

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