It’s hard to think of lingerie designer Layla L’Obatti as a newcomer, until you realize that her debut collection only bowed in August 2009 at the CurveNY lingerie expo in New York.
Since then, however, this hyper-talented dynamo has become a familiar fashion name, launching two lingerie labels, several collections and showing up on many best-of lists for 2010 (including ours!).
How has she come so far, so fast?
L’Obatti is the epitome of a driven young designer, with a great eye, a keen sense of market niches and consumer tastes and a tireless commitment to her craft. Then there’s her secret weapon: boyfriend and business partner Josh Verleun, an environmental lawyer who brings serious eco-cred to Between The Sheets and is involved in all aspects of the business. Yes, this is the lingerie world’s new power couple.
I guess the old adage “don’t mix pleasure with business” doesn’t always apply, because it seems to be doing wonders for this dynamic duo. A more appropriate cliché might be the one that reminds us to “love what you do”!
The origins of Between The Sheets are anything but new. In fact, L’Obatti created BTS as an annual fashion show for student lingerie designers at the Fashion Institute of Technology, where she learned her craft. The project was such a success that within three years L’Obatti was awarded the prestigious Underfashion Club scholarship for her contributions to the lingerie industry — all at the age of 21!
How busy was she? In a 2009 blog post L’Obatti marvels at the fact that she juggled the BTS show, an intern job and designing her first 10-look collection — all while managing a course load of 22 credits.
After graduating, L’Obatti quickly launched two distinct labels: the eponymous Layla L’Obatti for Between The Sheets, a glamorous designer collection; and Between The Sheets, the flagship label offering the kind of lovely and affordable loungewear and homewear pieces you could wear all day long.
L’Obatti oversees everything from merchandising and design to styling and art direction, and keeps creative control by ensuring all BTS intimates are produced locally, in Manhattan’s historic garment district.
What has made L’Obatti’s lingerie such an immediate hit is her ability to appeal to a woman’s different, even conflicting, impulses. Looking for something that exudes sophisticated sensuality? Then the Specimens of Seduction collection from the Layla L’Obatti label is hard to beat. Looking for stylish comfort with a few hints of sex appeal? Then look no further than the BTS Come Out & Play line or its recent Playdate collection.
It’s a good business strategy too. L’Obatti probably has the pure design talent to make it on the strength of her luxury label alone, but it’s the BTS label, with its broader appeal and lower price points, that have the potential to turn her name into a sustainable brand.
And what’s on the horizon for 2011? Watch for a new Arabesque line from the Layla L’Obatti label which, we hope, will draw on the designer’s Persian heritage. Over at Between The Sheets, watch for new collections and lifestyle products, and possibly a third consumer line aimed at a younger market.
Stay tuned, because there’s a lot going on between these sheets!
That’s Layla above, working on the lightbox photoshoot for last year’s Specimens of Seduction range. Below you’ll find Josh and Layla’s responses to our Bright Young Things questionnaire, followed by images from current and past collections. But first, here’s a wonderful quote from the designer herself:
“Good lingerie should make you look in the mirror and smile, it should let you awe at yourself, fall in love with yourself, because true love begins with loving yourself. A woman in love with herself stands strong with clothes or without.”
How long have you been in business?
Layla incorporated the business in 2006 when she first started Between the Sheets as a fashion show for young lingerie designers, which we are working on reviving in 2011! But the business in its current form has been shipping and manufacturing since late 2009, early 2010.
Were you profitable in 2010?
Not yet, but we have successfully launched two collections and a successful range of basics that continue to sell through and garner re-orders, and we hope that 2011 will be our year to catch up to our investments!
How many people are employed by your label?
Well, technically it’s just us [Josh and Layla] and we don’t even draw a salary and Josh works full time as an environmental lawyer! However, we have many contractors that we work with who handle our production, shipping/warehousing, production pattern grading, etc. We support at least 20 or more workers with the business that we provide our contractors in NYC’s garment center.
What plans do you have for new products/collections in 2011?
We have an exciting new collaboration and addition to Layla’s designer range Layla L’obatti for Between the Sheets to be revealed in early spring 2011, and we have two new exciting groups from Between the Sheets Collection that will launch around the same time.
How do you hope/plan to grow your business in 2011?
We’re currently working on Fall collections and we’ll be taking even more risks as we hope that 2011 will mean a major expansion for us in the boutique and specialty retailer market, a continuation of the growth we’ve had in the second half of 2010!
What’s been the biggest challenge you’ve faced in launching your label?
We are a TRUE small business, and we are living the American dream … our label has been totally self-financed and boot-strapped from day one, and one of the biggest challenges has been in getting boutiques and retailers to take a chance on a new brand in a delicate and rather rough economic climate. Being self-financed, our funds for sales and PR efforts are very limited, and this makes it hard to compete with those who might have greater resources at their disposal. There is also a lot of great competition, there have been an explosive number of new contenders in the lingerie market, and this has also proved difficult as boutiques are torn on who to place their limited dollars with.
What is your most popular design or product?
Our Playdate collection has been a smashing success! Every account picked it up and many placed re-orders during the fall/holiday season. The best selling styles in this group have been our robe and babydoll — the modern and clean details are a breathe of fresh air from the frills and thrills you see in much of the lingerie market right now, and we think this is why.
Business-wise, what are you most proud of?
One thing that allows us to play on an even field with established brands or newcomers that are better financed are Layla’s skills as a creative director, fashion and graphic designer, etc. Specifically her passion for social networking and interacting with and building our fan base, she has created and garnered a large following for us. Her vision for a digitally keyed in brand can only grow as our business does.
We are especially proud of the richness of our Facebook page and fan participation, from videos to photo albums to unique tabs that guide fans to our site and blog. Our message is syndicated across all our social media platforms instead of just being “synced”, meaning the content is not just pulled from Facebook to Twitter, from our blog to Facebook etc., but truly integrated with graphic content and links that provide entertainment value as well. It’s not just enough to post content, you have to engage the customer and excite them about your brand enough to visit your stockists as well as to feel a part of a larger community of fans with a common interest. Bottom line, we give fans and followers a reason to follow us on each individual network, because the content is presented differently on each and varied enough that it’s not just repetitive.
How will you define success for yourself?
We already feel successful! Most businesses close within one year, and in this economic climate we have weathered the storm! January is a new year and the anniversary of our first shipments, and in a business where most of your funding goes out the door before you see even one penny we have made it this far and that in itself is a success.
As a boyfriend/girlfriend team it has also been a huge success that we have managed to ride the waves that being in business together has thrown at us, while still retaining our friendship and love for each other. Love is all you really need to be whole, and the business is a passion to spend the hours we have during the day on.
Anything else people should know about you?
There are A LOT of exciting things in store for our brands in 2011 — we can’t share just yet, but you’ll be getting a peek “Behind the Scenes” even more in the new year and we promise the news will be worth the wait!