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Photo credit Embry Rucker
Interview

Bonnie Rae & Shelah Jean

11.10.15

Twin sisters Bonnie Rae and Shelah Jean waited for the perfect opportunity to turn their love of lingerie into a business before launching Noe Garments. In late 2012, the women started sketching and soon after the brand was born. Noe is a less traditional approach to lingerie that blurs the lines between what should be seen and what shouldn’t be seen. Basically, there are few rules for this brand as the designers encourage certain pieces to be worn over a blouse or on their own. Bonnie and Shelah are very creative and forward thinking with the brand and because of this they are forging their own path, resulting in a category that doesn’t really exist yet.

Interview

What made you, two sisters, want to go into business together?

We are so incredibly close, we’re twins and we adore each other. It’s funny…it has been said that sometimes twins have a special connection and we feel so lucky that we really truly do. Forever, we have wanted to go into business together and with Noe, it was the perfect time and opportunity. I (Bonnie) was at a stage in my career where I wanted to really get more creative as I was just finishing business school and my creative genes were a bit on hold. Shelah (my partner and twin sister) at the time had been designing collections however never put them into life…the timing was perfect for us both!

What’s your favorite part of working together? What’s the biggest challenge?

The best part of working together is pushing each other in a way that we never would be in other circumstances with other people. We both have so much respect for each other that we want to do the very best in every element not just for ourselves but primarily for the other. We really bring out the best in each other! Also, having someone that you can share your personal thoughts with – the joyful times but also the hard times of having your own business is such a positive. We can say (and really do say) anything to each other. The biggest challenge of working together is sometimes we focus so much on the “working” side that we forget the personal side…”oh yes, how was your weekend?” But we try to balance it!

How did growing up Kauai influence your design aesthetic?

I live in Laguna Beach, California and this is where the Noe studio is based. Shelah actually still lives in Kauai and just travels here to Laguna often, or even more often I find myself traveling there for working together. With the technology today it makes this working relationship possible…we really get the best of both worlds. This also gives us each our own space, I think if we worked/lived in the same place we would find ourselves working 24/7!

Growing up on Kauai has definitely influenced our design aesthetic from not a “Hawaiian” vibe per se, but more about opening our minds. Kauai is such a melting pot of ideas, style, people, culture and I feel this really helped to keep our minds open to creativity and ideas. Our style is modern, slightly masculine and edgy… nothing that one would feel is “Kauai” inspired, however deep down I think it really is!

Why did you choose to design lingerie instead of swimwear?

This is an exciting question…we actually are launching our first small swim capsule this Spring ’16 season (in stores and available at noegarments.com Feb 1, 2016). I come from a swim background, and starting Noe we both felt swim was something we wanted to wait until we challenged ourselves with seasonal collections that were not swim-based. Neither one of us had an intimates background and we felt at the time we could add something new to the “undergarment/intimates” market.  It’s funny as many of our retailers say that women buy our “undergarments” and currently wear as swimwear, from the first collection we had buyers and people inquiring if and when we would ever make swimwear. Swim was a natural progression for us and we can’t wait to launch our first collection this Spring and see it continue to grow over the next seasons!

What kind of woman are you designing for?

This may sound cliche, but we’re designing for women that love to be different and unique. All our styles are made to be worn however the wearer decides to wear and style them.  Our garments are based around a layering concept where you can build upon each piece with others, layer, wear as (under) or (over) garments and really designed to be able to “play” with. The women who understand this concept and the women who are unafraid to style pieces however she desires are the women we design for. Truly, it can be any woman and we hope to encourage this in our customer.

You take an unconventional approach to the styling of the set and models in your photo shoots. Can you walk us through some of the creative process behind that?

Thank you for saying this…we love to hear this. I’m looking at a mood board on our studio wall right now and “UNCONVENTIONAL” is in big bold letters across the wall! We are inspired by what is not being done, particularly in our market, that’s really where we start our brainstorming. What have we not seen? Should we do a white wig, grey hair, flashed pink make-up, etc. We really love finding unique models/subjects/friends and this is the foundation of each of our shoots. We style and do the sets for all our shoots…it’s really our personal aesthetic.  Everything is from a woman’s perspective and we never think “oh, is this sexy or hot” but more from a perspective “do we feel this is cool and is this us?” We have a few amazing photographers that we’re loyal to and continuing to work with them specifically has allowed us to build a relationship of them knowing what we want and our tone.  Another element that we handle specifically with all our shoots is the editing, we feel this is just as much a critical process of the whole vision. The way a photo is cropped, laid out or treated…it’s such a critical part of a vision.

Tell us about your decision to keep the design and manufacturing in the United States.

We have kept our design and manufacturing of our garments in the United States as of the now. This was something we felt passionately about from the beginning, especially being a smaller label. We wanted control over the quality and really to oversee every element of the process to ensure our collections and production was top tier. We love that we can manufacture here in the US, however we’re open to knowing we will produce garments overseas as well. It’s really finding that right balance that works for us, the brand and our customer and what makes the most sense. We’re very lucky and have an amazing production house in LA that we work with that is phenomenal and just as prideful of every garment they sew as we are!

What are each of your favorite pieces in the A/W 2015 collection?

My favorite piece of the A/W ’15 collection is the Ryder Bra Bold Strapped Bra. This bra is incredible. We custom designed 50mm gold hardware hooks that connect the bold straps on the shoulders and back and then it opens up like a harness where you hook it under the right arm to close. The bold strapping is our signature Japanese Herringbone elastic in a developed 50mm width. It’s so understated sexy and has the perfect balance of edgy/masculine feel. This piece is amazing to be worn under a sheer blouse or tee or even worn over a vintage silk button up!

Shelah’s favorite piece from the A/W ’15 collection is the Rae Zip-back Racer and Rae Zip-Back Leggings. We developed this ribbed fabric exclusively and it’s fabulous and perfect for fall or winter. The supple rich texture and weight of the fabric complimented by bold gold custom zippers and our herringbone banding is a beautiful combination to make these pieces stand out. The Racer top is amazing to wear with the leggings or with your favorite jeans or wide-open trousers. This set was one our top selling sets for the season, it seems to be loved by many.

Where do you find the inspiration for your Custom ‘Solo’ Collection?

Oh, the ‘Solo’ collection is our favorite! The ‘Solo’ Collection came from ideas we wanted to do but really knew they needed to be made in a small exclusive quantity due to the fashion-forward or even you could say slightly “crazy” nature of the styles. Each ‘Solo’ piece is made from limited fabrics (whether it’s artisan died lambskin, custom colored mohair, french velour, etc). We wanted to have one-of-a-kind Noe pieces that really allowed us to be totally creative with absolutely no restrictions.  Developing these pieces starts with us finding an amazing premium fabric or leather….we then think, “oh what can we do with this?” Currently, we have this long-haired pink angora that we’re making a garter and bra set with… this definitely demands a specific customer!

How have you grown as designers since your debut collection in 2013?

Yes, absolutely. We have grown so much! We’ve grown as designers, we’ve grown as entrepreneurial women and really appreciate each and every day for this. Each season we look back and it’s so easy to critique the season before and we often do…but then it’s so stellar to also look back and be so proud of each season that comes to life. It’s a lot of work, a lot of laughter and smiles but also a lot of tears! With just the two of us owning and running Noe, we’re so thankful for where we are now and how far we’ve come since the debut collection in A/W 2013.

What’s next for the brand?

The biggest next thing is the launch of our swimwear for SS16 and the new collection. Having a new category within our label is exciting and keeping us on our toes.  Additionally, we are doing more custom ‘Solo’ pieces for individual clients which is exciting. We want to continue to push our boundaries as designers and creative directors and keep our customers happy along the way!

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