Double Trouble: Interview with Eva Lai, Lingerie Designer for eLai and Sambalina

I really have a soft spot for anyone who decides to make the brave leap into having their own lingerie line, so when I heard about Eva Lai, I was doubly impressed because she has just started not one, but two different lingerie brands: eLai and Sambalina. eLai is a creative and fashion forward label whose debut collection has an equestrian theme. Sambalina, which Eva started with two friends, makes bespoke bridal lingerie in luxury fabrics and classically feminine styles. I was lucky enough to be able to interview this ambitious young woman about her love of lingerie and the challenges of designing for two new lingerie brands.

The Lingerie Lesbian: What got you interested in lingerie? Why lingerie as opposed to other areas of fashion?

Eva Lai: I love all areas in fashion, I sometimes do styling and photography for my label. I’m particularly interested in womenswear and and my designs are sometimes designed to be seen as outerwear. But I think lingerie has always been what I love most as it is the most personal and intimate item a woman can buy. it is so technical, having to think about the fit and how the garment could support and enhance the female body, and whether it’d be comfortable against the skin etc. Details are key in lingerie because the garments are so small, I enjoy the challenge of what I can do with a tiny little bra & knickers. It’s amazing how every stitch is so visible and it is all about details and accuracy.

eLai EPONA long chiffon slip £210

LL: Who are your favorite lingerie designers right now (besides yourself)?
EL: I love Agent Provocateur, I worked there for a year and the company has taught me so much. The brand represents a lot of things that I believe lingerie should be: luxury, sexy and daring. The fun personalities of the team really reflects onto the products. I am also a huge fan of Carine Gilson for their amazing lace appliqué,  and Atsuko Kudo’s gorgeous latex! 

eLai LISETTE sheer back pencil skirt, £84

LL: What inspired you to start your own line eLai? Why now?
EL: I’ve always wanted my own label! I want to do what I love and express my own vision without having to compromise creatively. I work much better and harder under my own supervision (which is very strict!) Having my own business definitely makes all aspects of my life harder (i.e. finance, insanely long work hours etc.) But at the end of the day, I’m doing what I love everyday, and when someone compliments my work, I get all the credit and it makes it all worth it. 
I know it’s very early to start my own business as I only just graduated recently, but I feel like I have decent amount of experience & knowledge about the industry, and once you’re settled in a stable job, I can imagine it’d be even harder to give up the financial stability. I’m trying now because I’m young and I’ve got nothing to lose; if I fail (hopefully I won’t), then I can always get a job, but at least I know that I tried! The lingerie industry is peaking right now so I feel like there might be space in the market for me, it’s a good year to launch a fresh new brand, the fashion industry is very encouraging to new designers right now which is wonderful.

Sambalina Passion Vine Corset £370

LL: Tell me a little about your bridal line Sambalina. Why did you decide to collaborate with other people?
EL: Sambalina couture bridal lingerie was set up in Sep2012 by me and two other business partners. I’m the creative director so I manage all the designs, products and creative side. The brand director and business development director manage the business and sales side. There isn’t very much luxury bridal lingerie out there, so definitely has a gap in the market. For the most important day of their lives, I think it is important for brides to find the perfect lingerie. It’s a bespoke service so most things are made to measure and designed according to the customer’s wants and needs. I have previously worked for Melanie Bridal Couture and I love having happy brides as customers. 

Sambalina Bride Portea – Chiffon & Lace Kimono £1100

LL: What’s it like to work on designing two different lines at once?
EL: It is very hard to manage 2 businesses at the same time, 1 is hard work and 2 is just insane! eLai and Sambalina couldn’t be more different.
eLai is my own vision, everything is about me as a designer and what I’m passionate about. It’s a fashion led luxury lingerie brand so I get to be as creative as I want with colours, shapes etc. I want to do something that’s a bit different, it takes a more aggressive yet playful approach than the pretty girly lingerie you see a lot. I don’t need to compromise creatively, people would buy it because they like my vision.
While Sambalina is all about the customers: it is extremely feminine, with a lots of bows, pearls and crystals. It’s a bespoke service, customers tell me what they like, and I work towards a very strict brief to provide them with their perfect product for their big day. It’s nice to create something that could be very meaningful to someone, they would appreciate it because it’s not just another piece of lingerie, it’s the whole experience and the memories that comes with it.
eLai is super modern and Sambalina is vintage inspired, the two cannot be more opposite. But it’s wonderful to be able to do both and I learn completely different things between them both. It’s also nice to have eLai to myself where I have the freedom do whatever I want. On the other hand, I have so much support from the Sambalina girls and it’s good to have someone there to share the weights with.

eLai ZENYATTA bra / suspender / brief, £192

LL: What’s are your goals for 2013 for eLai and Sambalina?
EL: Sambalina will be selling in a boutique in France soon, and will be showing at the National Wedding Show at London Kensington Olympia this weekend, so hopefully more people will hear about us and appreciate that what we do is special. 
eLai 2013 has just got the first stockist at Then and Now, which is a good start. I hope to get some more press, good stockists and improve sales. It’s one thing for people to like your work, it’s another for them to think it’s worth spending money on, especially when the labels are so new. But I’ve started working on eLai’s SS14 which is very exciting! 
2013 I’ll just keep learning as I go and doing what I love…which is just making the best undies I can! 
Click to see Eva’s work for eLai and Sambalina. What do you think of her collections? I’ll be reviewing a couple of her pieces tomorrow to give you a sense of what they’re like to actually wear.
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