Underwear brands are rarely sources of body positivity. They're often the dealers or profiteers of a skewed body image culture that has haunted women for centuries. So it feels strange-as a woman, a writer, and a feminist-to sit down to write about one with plans of discussing its impact and role in creating not just a brand, but a community wholly dedicated to celebrating and loving bodies and the women who inhabit them.
Beautiful underwear is sold to us as wrapping paper. Something to dress up our flesh, to be removed and discarded by others. Marketing tells us to wear it for others, and seek their approval through an objectifying gaze. But Loney—the sister brand of much loved New Zealand label Lonely Hearts—exists in not only a different world, but parallel universe.
Started by Helene Morris and her partner Steve Ferguson in 2009, the brand had a simple motto: No padding, no push ups, no thongs. It was a catchy phrase, but it wholly encompassed their dedication to creating beautiful pieces for women to buy themselves. Their designs were created with a range of bodies in mind, they're beautiful but also more comfortable than most t-shirt bras and mid-week undies. They were created to be sophisticated secrets, hidden underclothes to not just be revealed at night, but lived in and enjoyed all day.
Not surprisingly, this sensitive and intelligent approach to the garments that we wear the closest to our skin garnered a swift and dedicated following. And it was this personal response that lead to the Lonely Girl Project.
Spurred largely by Instagram, the brand used the online space to shoot and celebrate their muses, but also encourages women outside of their immediate circle to share images of themselves in the designs. It's sexy without being sensual, and has become one of the internet's most beautiful and genuine celebrations of female form.
i-D chatted to the brand's founder Helene Morris about the project, and what motivated her to ask more of underwear.
Why did you decide to embark on the Lonely Girl Project?
When we launched Lonely we couldn't name a single lingerie brand who was talking solely to women with their imagery, it was very much opinionated body typing targeted to men. This traditional way of marketing lingerie didn't seem honest, it didn't resonate with us and we didn't believe it resonated with our customer.
Our idea was to take away all expectations of how you "should" or "need" to look in a product and focus on how our lingerie makes you feel. This feeling transcends the stereotyping you see pushed upon women everyday all over the world.
What were your initial hopes and intentions for it?
We wanted to represent women in a positive and powerful way. We want women to look at our imagery and realise that they don't have to be a certain way to feel beautiful. We simply wanted to offer the idea that it's okay to be yourself.
You've had a lot of global success, but kept the brand's heart firmly in New Zealand. Why did you decide to maintain that focus?
New Zealand has a history of great women doing great things—Kate Sheppard, Jean Batten, and Katherine Mansfield changed our landscape and shaped our entire world for the better. We wanted the project to begin here in our home and in our houses because NZ Lonely Girls have this historical understanding that they can really change things for the better. Expanding our Lonely Girls family into new regions has been a really exciting prospect for us. Currently we have a photographer based in the US and New Zealand.
The first shooter you collaborated with was Zara Mirkin, Why did you choose her?
We'd worked with Zara in the past and she'd always been really supportive of the brand. We loved the point of view she shows through her photography. It's raw, unfiltered, and in the moment—which gives the images a very relaxed feel. The honesty that shines through is very important to us, we have never re-touched a single image. Zara holds Lonely Girls really close to her heart, we love how passionate she is about the project.
Do you have an idea in mind of a "Lonely girl"?
Anyone can be a Lonely Girl! One of our aims with the project is that it's inclusive and empowering to a diverse range of women.
What would you like to see less of in marketing around lingerie?
Body stereotyping and judgement, and less male focussed imagery would be a good start.
Other brands have faced criticism for similar projects, or they have come across as being tokenistic, what is the key to Lonely's success and warm reception?
The difference is that we live and breathe the values that the Lonely Girls Project stands for—it's ingrained in our company DNA. We come in to work every morning because we hope that we can make a positive difference in the lives of women. Hashtags and slogans can be faked or imitated whenever convenient, but when you live the message everyday, that is when it becomes believable and that is what our customers see in us.
Do you have plans to run in larger sizes?
We've expanded our size range for SS15, from August we'll be offering styles in an 8A-E, 10A-F, 12A-E, 14A-DD. We plan to keep expanding our sizing and product offering as we grow, being an independent company this does take a little time.
You're now working with Harry Were, what drew you to her?
With Zara shooting mainly in the US we wanted to find a way to represent local women. Zara and Harry are good friends so it was a natural progression to bring her into the project. Harry also shoots on film and her beautiful, clean, organic style complements Zara's perfectly.
What has her presence brought to the project?
We love the way that Harry articulates her personal connection with each Lonely Girl, and she has this great ability to make people smile on film which is so hard to capture. This softness and intimacy that Harry shows results in very honest and approachable images.
What are you excited about right now?
Every woman has such a unique story to be told and it's exciting that our Lonely Girl Project can be the conduit for their experiences. Sharing our message of empowerment with more women across the globe is very important to us and we are excited to bring the project to Australia really soon.
Check out Lonely's SS16/17 Swim Campaign, shot by collaborator Harry Were, online now.