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