Laguna Beach, California
Industry Consumer & Lifestyle
Products: Lingerie and apparel
What started out as a project in fashion design school has turned into a thriving business for founder Shereen Loth.
"I had always wanted to follow a different path," says Loth. "When I was in design school, everyone was doing traditional clothing. I opted to do lingerie for a project and got denied by the department dean. Not one to quit, I proposed it to the dean of merchandising who approved it, and I created my Delicate Illusions show for the student body."
Loth went on to what she calls a "boring" apprenticeship and, out of frustration, decided to become an entrepreneur. She continued designing lingerie and ultimately started her business, named after her show from design school.
"I made a lot of mistakes along the way but I learned from them and it led me down the right course," says Loth. "I, of course, didn't have a lot of money and could only afford remnant materials that I could purchase at 50 percent off. Since lingerie uses the least amount of material, I stuck with it. At the time, exotic dancers only had five manufacturers to purchase a product from, so the business grew simply from word of mouth."
In 1997, Loth designed the Victorian Flair Coat, a piece that really set her design skills apart in that industry. "That coat really took off and it was quickly copied," says Loth. "But the quality of other copies didn't compare, and people in the industry knew that." Today, Loth is designing lingerie, swimwear, men's hot yoga shorts, dresses, and costumes.
Competition from overseas is still a factor in this segment of the apparel industry, but Delicate Illusions has a following because of its higher quality standards and craftsmanship. "We have really good sewers and our designs are simply built better," says Loth. "We have 13 machines and a retail store going, so we're always busy. Through that, we've built great relationships with our customers. That's what's really appealing to me as a manufacturer and business owner. I want to keep my customers happy and knowing they have great quality products."
Delicate Illusions has also found success in creating private label designs for a growing number of retailers. "We like to build an entire brand for our private label customers," says Loth. "They like it because they are not mass produced and they don't have to purchase large quantities. Many are mom-and-pop retailers that know about our quality and want the product."
As a manufacturer in a small market niche, Loth has found that trends come and go, and the exotic apparel market is making a resurgence. "It's been 20 years since we first came out with our coat and now it's in big demand again," she says. "More people want it again and we now have various versions of the coat, as well as more products and designs that we can offer them."
Challenges: "We use local fabric vendors that we've known for many years but some fabrics from overseas are increasing in price due to tariffs," says Loth." Some of my suppliers have stock that I can buy in minimum quantities and that helps us make product within our customer's price point."
Opportunities: "Private labeling is one of our biggest opportunities for growth," notes Loth. "We design and create product for companies like Bluewater and others. Some of these companies simply don't know how to make the apparel, and we're happier building a complete line for someone and putting their label on it."
Needs: "Marketing is one of my biggest needs right now," says Loth. "I'm at an age now where I can't take too many risks, but I realize that we need to market more to sell more."
Loth also sees a need for more sewers in the apparel industry. "I have a passion for sewing and in this country, we're not taught to sew," she says. "It's hard to find workers with experience and the knowledge to make appropriate changes in the manufacturing process."