INTERVIEW: Sophie Thorne, Twisted Lingerie, making you misbehave

Deliciously provocative lingerie, that’s made for misbehaviour? That’ll be London-based Twisted Lingerie then.

CEO and Founder Sophie Thorne gets Lascivious-ly interrogated but she’s the one brandishing the whip. Well, the brand is anyway.

BRIAN GRAY: So let’s start from the beginning, Miss Twisted. Name, rank, and serial number. Who are you and what’s been your lingerie journey so far?

SOPHIE THORNE: Hi Brian! So I’m Sophie Thorne, the CEO & Founder of Twisted, a deliciously provocative lingerie brand which launched last month. Since my background isn’t in lingerie (or even in fashion), it’s been a steep learning curve and a lot of hard work – from ordering every “How to run a fashion business” book Amazon had on offer to competitor research at any lingerie shop within a 100-mile radius of my flat, to business plan writing and brand development, to pattern-making and god knows how many sample iterations, to the long hunt for a factory that not only met my quality standards but would also accept the tiny order quantities (I eventually settled on a small factory in Latvia), to pricing and distribution decisions, to production, shipping and launch. It’s exhausting just writing that list and it’s only a whistle-stop tour!

In your few years since graduating from university, you’ve had various business roles. What persuaded you to change direction and enter the lingerie industry?
Twisted was a several-years-in-the-making project. I’ve always been obsessed by lingerie; whilst my friends drooled over designer shoes and handbags, I was obsessed with Bordelle and Nichole de Carle, and would spend my weekends loitering in either Coco de Mer or Agent Provocateur.

As I became more familiar with the industry, I noticed the ever-increasing gap between cheap-and-tacky and super high-end lingerie. As I saw it, not many of my girlfriends felt comfortable spending £250 on a lingerie set but they didn’t necessarily want to buy a bright red push-up bra either. I felt there was a gap in the intimates market that the wider fashion industry had already acknowledged and started to fill: I could pick up a new dress from Zara or Topshop for £30 but I wasn’t able to find well-made and well-priced provocative lingerie – the kind made for after-dark frolicking rather than functionality – to wear underneath it.

Twisted was born out of a desire to build an accessibly-priced brand, without compromising on the designs or the quality of the production. Women shouldn’t have to wait for a special occasion to treat themselves; I wanted to give women a reason to make every day that little bit naughtier without breaking the bank.

And how much support did you receive from friends, family, and business contacts? And is Twisted a bootstrap enterprise or did you look for funding from other sources?
My friends and family were – and continue to be – hugely supportive, and I’ve had a great response to the brand from ex-colleagues and business contacts.

Twisted is entirely self-funded; I put my salary and savings into the company, and I’m keeping the business going using profits. I have big ambitions with Twisted but I am not sure how I feel about looking for funding from other sources. It would help the business to scale quickly but, by continuing to subsidise Twisted myself, I am able to maintain my vision, grow organically and create a sustainable brand.

So, let’s talk branding and positioning. Describe who you think the ideal Twisted Lingerie wearer is, and what three words would you want your customers to associate with Twisted Lingerie?
I don’t really believe there is an ideal Twisted Lingerie wearer. In my mind it’s about how the lingerie makes women feel when they wear it. Whether women conceal their Twisted side under their workwear or style their underwear as outerwear, we want our customers to feel confident and sexy.

The three words I would want customers to associate with Twisted are: ‘Made for Misbehaviour’ – our key strapline. But if pushed for three separate adjectives, I’d opt for provocative, bold, and….if you’ll let me, twisted, of course!

One of the things that impressed me when first coming across your company was the branding. You’ve got a very distinctive identity, one that looks professionally conceived and designed. Tell us more about the whole process you went through. Logotype choice, meme choice, strapline, the whole shebang!
The hardest part of the branding process was coming up with a name! Once I had – it came to me on the train as I was thinking about Shibari (Japanese rope bondage) – the rest sort of clicked into place. I worked with a fantastic branding consultant who designed the logo; the whip is inspired by one of my favourite leather accessory designers, Paul Seville. It did take a few iterations – the first set of designs were a bit too tame – but I’m thrilled with the final result.

Your website is wonderfully sprinkled with words and phrases such as ‘debauched’, ‘after-dark frolicking’ (I loved seeing that!), and the premise that ‘even sex can be sexed-up’. You’re definitely trying to appeal to women who want to be naughty rather than a shrinking violet. How much of this is due to identifying with a defined buyer persona, and how much of this is a hint of Sophie being expressed?
A bit of both I think! I definitely believe in the value of a strong tone of voice and that runs right through the customer’s experience, from the website to our care labels (“You can get me as dirty as you like, but wash me gently”). The language we use communicates the core ethos of the brand and I’m not apologetic about it. It won’t appeal to everyone, but that’s ok; it will appeal to the women (and their lovers) who want to break aware from the status quo and surrender to their desires, whatever they may be.

You offer student discount for all your products. This isn’t something I’ve come across at least before now. Is this quite common? What was the rationale behind this?
I think it is quite common amongst the likes of New Look, Misguided and ASOS. Given Twisted’s accessible price point, I’m in part competing with that type of brand so it felt right to offer the same types of incentives as they do. Plus I remember what it’s like to be a student – they’ve invariably blown all of their cash on nights out but still deserve to look hot on the next one!

Good marketing is important for any company, not only to thrive but just to survive. What have been your key marketing learning points and observations so far, not only for Twisted Lingerie but the industry as a whole?
It’s still early days for us but the one thing that really struck me is the lack of awareness amongst some of the smaller lingerie brands of the importance of marketing. As a lingerie fan myself, the most frustrating thing is knowing there are some fabulous indie brands out there but they lose out to the big players because they don’t use marketing effectively. Coming from a business background, I place a huge amount of importance on data gathering, A/B testing, optimisation, etc. but I am often met with blank faces when I try to discuss this in fashion circles.

What has been your biggest marketing challenge so far, and what steps are you taking / have taken to overcome it?
My limited marketing budget! Since I’m operating on a shoestring budget, I’ve had to be very creative about what I can do with little to no funds. Using social media and writing a blog has been at the heart of my marketing strategy. It takes patience – building a following doesn’t happen overnight – but by genuinely interacting and engaging with my customers and the wider lingerie community, I have started to see organic growth.

Time is our most precious commodity, especially for entrepreneurs. How do you maximise yours, and what tips have you picked up along the way?
About five years ago I read a Vanity Fair article about Barack Obama. In it he explains that he only wears blue or grey suits because he doesn’t want to waste time making decisions about what he’s wearing when he has so many other decisions to make. The concept really resonated – having a fixed routine means I’m able to be more productive as I don’t get distracted by trivial things; for example, I decide what I’m going to wear and eat the following day before I go to bed, I only socialise (be it for business or pleasure) once in the workweek, and if something comes up that isn’t on my to do, I won’t do it (at least not that day).

What are the most valuable things you’ve learned so far both about competing in the lingerie industry, and as an entrepreneur?
As a self-funded startup with a super small team, I had to make it work with limited resources so I quickly learned to keep things basic. I think with new businesses there’s often a temptation to do too much or to try to appeal to everyone but I believe that zeroing in on one idea and executing it exceptionally is the key to success not only in the crowded lingerie industry, but also as an entrepreneur.

And finally, what has been your most enjoyable moment or experience with Twisted Lingerie, that has made the blood, sweat and tears all worthwhile?
My first sale – it was an incredible feeling having worked so hard to make my vision a reality, and then seeing that reality start to take form.

For someone who by her own admission hadn’t a stitch of formal exposure to the lingerie industry before founding Twisted, Sophie’s bootstrapping, whip-cracking ways are noteworthy. And while lingerie snobs may question the lack of training or experience, it’s more than offset by her commercial background and an intrinsic understanding of the importance of branding, positioning and data-backed decision-making. In fact, between you and me, it’s this which will arguably hold her in far better stead than the designers full of lofty dreams and ambitions who have a eye for figures, but not those on a spreadsheet never mind a balance sheet.

Good luck, Sophie!

So, if Sophie’s sexy wares have got you in the mood for some after-dark (or daylight, we don’t judge!) frolics, then head to  and don’t forget to say hello to them on Twitter too, at @TwistedLingerie

UPDATE: Sophie made the decision to wind the brand down a few years after Twisted Lingerie’s birth. It’s a shame given the business acumen and the strong brand identity – c’est la vie.

If you’d like to be interviewed about your entrpreneurial journey and associated marketing issues that will be interesting to the Lascivious Marketing web fraternity, then get in touch!

Until next time!