Caprice talks lingerie (and business)

Having made the transition from lads' mags to business, former Wonderbra model Caprice Bourret now fully finances, designs, models and markets her own lingerie brand, By Caprice.

Caprice reveals what she wishes she’d known when she started.

I decided to make the step into business because, at the end of the day, models have a shelf life.

In this business, by the time you reach 28 you’re way over the hill. Plus, you don’t have to be Einstein to do modelling work, so I was looking for something a little more fulfilling.

Lingerie seemed a natural step and at the time nobody else was doing it; Kylie Minogue didn’t have her deal and nor did any of the other models like Elle Macpherson. I agreed a licensing deal with Debenhams and the line just took off.

At that stage I was really just participating, learning about the logistics of the business and the admin side of things, even though I had all the marketing control. But, being from the US, I’m very ambitious and once I started to see sales figures I thought: ‘Wait a minute, I could be doing that myself.’

Getting people to take the proposition seriously was a battle, especially with the tabloid newspapers so eager for it not to work just because it would have made a good story. Actions speak louder than words and I think the success of the brand has proven its worth.

A model team

If I had the chance to start again, I think I would have hired really great people with experience in the underwear industry straight off. I can’t tell you how much difference it made to my business when I finally did build a great team of people around me. Even if it means paying a bit more to get someone experienced, it’s worth doing.

I was very naive at the start and kind of jumped in at the deep end, especially in terms of the finances. I mean, I made some serious mistakes with cash flow. Luckily I had quite a lot of liquidity because of my modelling career, but there were a couple of times when I started to worry that all the money was depleting pretty quickly.

One month I thought I was doing really well, with a lot of money in the bank, so I went out and bought new furniture. The next month I had a huge shipment coming in and only 14 days to pay the suppliers. I think if I could go back, I would have got an equity investor to share some of the risk, rather than investing all my own money.

Caprice the brand

Half the battle with a new business is creating awareness, but I was really lucky that I didn’t have to spend loads of money building up my name. Yet awareness alone is not enough to sustain a successful brand: you have to be competitively priced, give your customers something different and make sure you don’t stagnate – we’re now looking at expanding into perfume and nightwear for the line.

Obviously branding and brand loyalty is all-important to the business. We give our customers a bloody good product and take a bit of a hit on the margins, but consumers are smart so they know when they’re getting a good deal.

Still, everything I do affects that brand, so it has been important for me to stay out of the media and control the image that I put across quite carefully. I still model all of the lingerie and that makes a big difference to sales, but if anything starts to go south there is always retouching on images, so gravity isn’t an issue any more.

That might sound egotistical, and I do have an ego, but really it just makes good business sense. There was one instance when an online retailer put our underwear on another girl and sales just plummeted. I called them up and said that if they didn’t put my pictures back up, I wouldn’t be working with them again.

Within two weeks of them changing the image, we were sold out.

Also see: My top importing tips – Caprice Bourret and four other owner-managers explain their strategies for importing goods into the UK.

Nick Britton

Nick Britton

Nick was the Managing Editor for when it was owned by Vitesse Media, before moving on to become Head of Investment Group and Editor at What Investment and thence to Head of Intermediary...

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