Gail Sor­ronda

Black Magazine - - Contents -

IN A MELAN­CHOLIC SENSE, LONELY IS A BEAU­TI­FUL WORD. FOR

TENS OF THOU­SANDS OF WOMEN AROUND THE GLOBE IT IS ALSO THEIR FAVOURITE LIN­GERIE BRAND AND KEYA MATTHEWS

HAS MORE THAN A LIT­TLE BIT TO DO WITH THAT. SOPHIE CURLETT LEARNS OF THE JOUR­NEY FROM MYHART RE­TAIL TO

I HEART LONELY. PHOTO: FRANCES CARTER

The front room of the flat that Keya Matthews shares with her boyfriend and two cats is drenched with morn­ing sun. Keya is the PR and Sales Man­ager for Lonely Hearts, and with the ex­po­nen­tial growth of Lonely, the brand’s lin­gerie la­bel, both in New Zealand and in­ter­na­tion­ally, her job has been keep­ing her very, very busy. I have come for break­fast, and to talk about her work and the role of so­cial me­dia in mod­ern fash­ion PR. Lonely Hearts own­ers He­lene Mor­ris and Steve Fer­gu­son started the la­bel ten years ago in Wellington, be­fore mov­ing to Auck­land and set­ting up their flag­ship MYHART on O’con­nell St. Like sev­eral oth­ers in the cur­rent Lonely Hearts team, Keya be­gan with the company work­ing in the store. When MYHART closed in 2009, Keya moved to the head of­fice as a sales and PR as­sis­tant. The Lonely Hearts team has al­ways been a small one, with only a few per­ma­nent em­ploy­ees work­ing out of the Taka­puna head of­fice. He­lene still over­sees all of the de­sign while Steve man­ages the business end of the company. How­ever with the huge growth over the last eigh­teen months, mostly in­ter­na­tion­ally and on­line, the company has needed to take on a dis­tri­bu­tion man­ager and part-timers to man­age the dis­tri­bu­tion of stock to sup­pli­ers around the globe. The main rea­son for this growth has been the suc­cess of Lonely, the company’s lin­gerie brand. Lonely’s first col­lec­tion was pro­duced in 2009, with the body­suits and soft-cup bras be­ing pro­duced by one woman out of her home in Drury. In or­der to ac­com­mo­date big­ger sizes, un­der­wire styles were added to the ‘Zip­po­rah’ range in late 2013. How­ever the de­signs re­mained true to the orig­i­nal aes­thetic, with an em­pha­sis on nat­u­ral shapes and com­fort, with­out pad­ding or push-up shapes. When Keya took the lin­gerie sam­ples on her first sales trip to the Cap­sule trade show in New York in 2012, Lonely had almost no pres­ence in the States. She has gone to the US and the UK ev­ery year since then, and as a re­sult the brand have picked up dozens of key stock­ists, from niche fash­ion and lin­gerie bou­tiques to re­tail me­ga­s­tores, as well as e-tail­ers like Shop­bop, Free Peo­ple and Nasty­gal. As a re­sult, sales of Lonely more than dou­bled from the sum­mer to the win­ter 2014 sea­son - and this growth is show­ing no signs of abat­ing. With the US now Lonely’s largest and fastest grow­ing mar­ket, the company has just picked up a PR agency in New York to help with brand aware­ness. As I spoke to Keya, Lonely was about to launch with Bri­tish e-tailer gi­ant ASOS, while the up­com­ing spring/sum­mer col­lec­tion will see launches with Ur­ban Out­fit­ters and An­thro­polo­gie in the States, as well as popup stores within the flag­ships of Aus­tralian depart­ment store David Jones. Keya now looks after all of th­ese over­seas ac­counts, about 100 in all, deal­ing di­rectly with the buy­ers rather than us­ing a sales agency. She says that while it is a lot for her to man­age, it is hugely ben­e­fi­cial for the company to have a di­rect re­la­tion­ship with sup­pli­ers, and for Lonely to be rep­re­sented by some­one who re­ally knows the brand and un­der­stands how to rep­re­sent it.

She cred­its the suc­cess of Lonely to the prod­uct it­self. For a fash­ion la­bel, un­der­wear is the per­fect prod­uct for ex­port - not only is it com­pact and in­ex­pen­sive, but it is non- sea­sonal, giv­ing it an in­stant ad­van­tage over a cloth­ing line. Yet even in the mas­sive Amer­i­can mar­ket, she says the only rea­son that she has had such suc­cess in sell­ing Lonely is that the prod­uct and the brand­ing as­so­ci­ated with it is so unique. The ‘cult of Lonely’ is some­thing that Keya men­tions fre­quently, and for good rea­son. The tagline for the brand’s In­sta­gram is “for women who wear lin­gerie as a love let­ter to them­selves”, and this idea of Lonely as un­der­wear for the wearer, not the on­looker, is some­thing which clearly dis­tin­guishes the brand from tra­di­tional lin­gerie la­bels. From the sparse look­book shoots, which shy away from the sex­u­alised im­agery we have come to ex­pect from lin­gerie, to Zara Mirkin’s faintly di­shev­elled images for the ‘ Lonely Girls’ tum­blr, Lonely’s aes­thetic is firmly un­re­spon­sive to the male gaze. The lack of voyeurism in Lonely’s un-pho­to­shopped, nat­u­ral images con­veys a sense of its wearer’s un­abashed in­de­pen­dence. “Not to sound lame, but Lonely is em­pow­er­ing,” Keya tells me. Keya says that the pos­i­tive feed­back she re­ceives when they re-post cus­tomer images or choose Lonely Girls who are a non-typ­i­cal model fig­ure or who are role mod­els in their own right is huge, and she cred­its the brand’s niche at­ti­tude, this fo­cus on the woman wear­ing the un­der­wear, as the rea­son be­hind the Lonely’s cult fol­low­ing.

It is Keya’s job to com­mu­ni­cate this aes­thetic to the right peo­ple, a task which has in­creas­ingly meant the use of so­cial me­dia to con­nect with cus­tomers and po­ten­tial sup­pli­ers. Be­ing stocked in stores like Open­ing Cer­e­mony and Nasty­gal gave Lonely sig­nif­i­cant ac­cess to their ex­ist­ing

so­cial me­dia pres­ence, how­ever Keya has worked hard to build on the buzz sur­round­ing the brand. In­sta­gram in par­tic­u­lar has quickly be­come the la­bel’s most im­por­tant so­cial me­dia out­let. Not only is the prod­uct par­tic­u­larly pho­to­genic, but it seems to be par­tic­u­larly share­able. In Fe­bru­ary, @Lone­lylin­gerie was the sec­ond fastest grow­ing In­sta­gram page world­wide, largely thanks to a pro­mo­tion Keya or­gan­ised where users could re­gram images with the hash­tag #Lone­ly­for­valen­tines to win a match­ing lin­gerie set. The pho­tos were re­grammed over 10,000 times and gained the page almost 50,000 fol­low­ers in a few weeks. In­sta­gram is also an im­por­tant fo­rum for cus­tomer feed­back - I had no­ticed that Keya still replies to cus­tomer com­ments on Lonely posts, even though any one photo may have hun­dreds of com­ments. She says that she tries to re­ply to ev­ery com­ment, from ques­tions about sup­pli­ers and fits to feed­back about sizes and shapes that cus­tomers think the la­bel is miss­ing. She finds it hard to imag­ine a time be­fore In­sta­gram when this di­rect com­mu­ni­ca­tion with cus­tomers was com­pa­ra­bly chal­leng­ing.

It is clear that Keya is ex­cited about the fu­ture of Lonely and of Lonely Hearts. They will open their flag­ship store in a new de­vel­op­ment on Pon­sonby Road this spring, which will stock the lin­gerie along­side the up­com­ing Lonely Hearts sum­mer col­lec­tion, which Keya de­scribes as more re­fined and ma­ture than pre­vi­ous sea­sons, and sum­mer will also see the launch of Lonely Swim. Lonely Hearts has al­ways had a young aes­thetic, but with the ten year an­niver­sary of the brand in 2014, and the huge in­ter­na­tional growth of Lonely, Keya sug­gests that, like its most loyal cus­tomers, it is start­ing to grow up. www.lone­ly­heart­sla­bel.com

Keya wears: T-shirt and pants by ACNE, bra & ki­mono by Lonely, shoes by Open­ing Cer­mony

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