From pants moments to uplifting ones! The highs and lows of an indie underwear shop
(The Pantry Underwear team. Elly Rusted: centre)
It’s amazing how weather dependent the underwear business is!
“When the sun’s out and shoppers haven’t the hassle of peeling off layers to try stuff on – and when people start to think about wearing revealing things, that’s when we’re at our busiest!”, said Elly Rusted who owns The Pantry Underwear on Camden Passage.
The 30-year-old set up The Pantry Underwear almost three years ago and knows more than most the impact weather can have. Within two weeks of opening, a Thames Water pipe burst, flooding numerous businesses and forcing some to close for up to a year. She recalled: “We were lucky we didn’t flood but there was a lot of damp and, with businesses around us closed, footfall definitely dropped. As a new business without a trading history we found it very difficult to demonstrate our loss to the insurers.”
Elly was inspired to set up The Pantry Underwear after noticing a gap in the market between the likes of John Lewis and M&S and more sexualised stores like Agent Provocateur. She had been working in international recording artist promotion for Ministry of Sound.
“I travelled loads and working there was a great opportunity, but it was always on someone else’s terms”, she said. “I grew hungry to run my own business and thought ‘if I’m going to work this hard, I want to do it for myself’.
“One day I was walking my daily commute along Upper Street and spotted a shop unit that according to my daydream - would have made a great underwear shop. I thought to myself ‘when was the last time I bought a bra’ and I couldn’t remember! It set me thinking about what was missing from the market. A lot of independent underwear shops have a kind of boudoir vibe – they can be quite sexualised and adventurous – but I just wanted to find a comfy and accessible brand.
“I’d worked in an independent lingerie shop while I was at sixth form so had some idea of what’s involved. At that stage it wasn’t as cool to shop at independent shops - everyone went to large shopping centres with a car park and had Pizza Express for lunch! But times have changed - if people make the effort to leave the house, they want a high level of service and most are proud to say they’ve shopped local - people genuinely want to save the high street.”
Elly found a shop on Camden Passage, took out a bank loan to set up the business. She said: “My boyfriend at the time (now my husband) joked ‘what are you going to call it? Eloise’s Pants! – then: ‘Eloise’s Pantry.’ It was one moment of silly wit but the name Pantry stuck and it really suits the business.”
The stock is a carefully selected mix of independent British designers alongside household names, with colourful, high-quality and practical designs; there's staples and specials which shape and support. Recently the edit has invested in more solutions to ensure tricky outfits can be worn with confidence. The team are experts at fitting expectant and post-pregnancy mums and can arrange for bras to be tailored for women who have undergone a mastectomy.
Elly added: “This is the most rewarding job – some women almost recoil at the thought of taking off their tops to find a bra that fits but when they realise how friendly and knowledgeable our team is, they begin to relax. Every day we help people feel more comfortable – comfort starts from the inside out; badly fitting underwear can give you backache, rub your under arms and bruise your breast tissue. Good underwear can be truly transformative. It shapes your body under clothes and can make you feel completely different. Being able to give that to someone is a real privilege.
“Camden Passage is a great location – there’s a good bustle of people and it’s a popular cut-through with locals but we do have to work hard to create our own footfall.”
The Pantry works closely with local bridal shops, clothes boutiques and women's groups to provide professional fittings and solutions underwear. They’re also a member of the Local Buyers Club – offering members 10% off their first online order at The Pantry or 20% off their second bra, following a free fitting.
Elly added: “Running an underwear shop is a tough business – there’s no sale or return, the margins are typically low, with bras there are so many sizes that we have to hold a lot of stock (the average bra comes in 30 sizes).”
Soon after opening, Elly was approached by a regular customer whose sister is a buyer at Liberty. They both became loyal customers of the Islington flagship. A few months down the line, Liberty were looking for someone to run an underwear shop in-store and the buyer put The Pantry Underwear forward, as her go-to underwear store. Liberty invited The Pantry Underwear to open instore along with its womenswear re-launch in late October 2017.
Elly added: “Liberty is a glorious store to be part of, because of it's historic brand and loyal customers. People who regularly invest in clothes, accessories and beauty are pointed in our direction and have been delighted by our unusual and often exclusive selection”
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