& Elizabeth nesmith
When you figure out your passion you're set, but when you find someone who shares that passion you're living the dream. Daisy Hartmann and Elizabeth NeSmith are the co-founders and designers behind the beautiful lingerie line, Daisy & Elizabeth.
Do you remember your first week in New York?
Daisy: We moved here at 17 and 18 respectively to go to the Fashion Institute of Technology.
Elizabeth: We met that first week. Outside of a club in Chelsea, in Forever 21 dresses and uncomfortable heels. [Laughs]
D: We were both doing general women’s design at the time, and ended up switching to the intimate apparel specialization. It’s such a small group of people, so we were always working on projects together.
E: I had an idea that that’s what I wanted to do because I grew up dancing. My first design experience was designing dance costumes with my mom. She taught me how to sew. Intimate apparel had links to dancewear design, it was the most fun to me.
D: I didn’t know going in that I wanted to end up doing intimate apparel, but that specialization almost ended up being the most freeing in that you learn about the body so closely. Your knowledge of body contouring and construction becomes so extensive, everything from stretch and shapewear, to corsetry. You get a really good sense of everything. I thought if I had that basic foundation I could go anywhere.
What led you to start your own line together?
E: We made the decision during our last semester. Everybody was so busy trying to find jobs in the industry, and those jobs were sitting at a desk doing computer design. These are things we have to do for our own line of course, but I couldn’t imagine doing it for somebody else. It wasn’t why we moved to New York. We moved here to be creative and to take a chance.
We decided we were going to do the side hustle, make our own thing and go from there. Our first mini collection was started in our apartment in Bed Stuy.
D: It took a while to figure out what we were doing, so we did a few capsule collections, and slowly got to a point where we found our aesthetic. After we figured it out it was like, “Hey, that was so easy” because it was just our personal style.
E: I think we started off trying to be too many things. We realized our natural style was the way to go.
How would you describe that style?
E: We like to say it’s for the ‘modern cowgirl’. It’s very western. All of our lace is made here in the US, and our lingerie is also made here.
From doing your first range, to where you are now … was there a turning point where you felt you were starting to get some traction?
D: It definitely didn’t happen overnight.
E: There are two things that stick out in my mind. One was our launch, which we held in a motorcycle garage in Williamsburg. We did this really fun runway show and party. The models were on the back of motorcycles. That venue really helped us shape our style and make us realize it was the direction we wanted to go in.
The second was a time when we started to collaborate with somebody who was trying to make us something that we weren’t. It made us realize what we didn’t want to be. We learned to go with our gut and trust our instincts.
What has been the biggest hurdle getting to this point?
E: Time management.
D: We’re both still working ‘day’ jobs, so that’s been the biggest thing.
E: This is our day job, but we have night jobs bartending. I also teach dance and Daisy teaches sewing classes. Doing those jobs in order to fund this job, it can be hard to strike a balance.
It’s so good to hear that people are working multiple jobs to make things work. So often in the creative field you don’t hear enough about that. It’s refreshing; I don’t feel like that’s reflected very often …
E: It’s not. We were recently at FIT to get some interns, and the one question we were always asked is, “What was your start up capital?” “Who funded you?” Nobody talks about that.
We both went through a continuing education program at FIT that was for young designers, and they never answered that question. How do you fund things?
D: You need money in order to make the product, but you need products to get an investor to even look at you. There needs to be an initial seed fund to start out.
E: Every week we would work and put money towards the business. We hustle wherever we can. Friends have helped us out so much.
D: When we graduated it was only a few years after the market crash. That was another reason why we didn’t want to get jobs in the industry; the few jobs there were would make us as much money as bartending, or having a side job.
Elizabeth, how did you get into dance?
E: Dance is something I always wanted to do, and loved doing from a young age. My brother and I both danced growing up, we did competitions and productions. I did a bit of everything, ballet, modern, jazz, tap and hip-hop.
Mom was a great seamstress, and she would make all our costumes. She would always make our Halloween costumes, and we made both my prom dresses together. We ended up rushing to hem my dress as we were taking pictures.
I teach ballet now, and make costumes. I just made 50 costumes for a recital. It was the worst mistake of my life. [Laughs] It was crazy! My favorite was an Alice in Wonderland themed dance we did, and I got to make all the different characters.
Working with children is a nice outlet to have a couple of times a week after working in bars and rushing around for work.
Daisy, how did you get into sewing?
D: My grandmother was a designer and she taught me how to sew. Going through her portfolio as a kid was a big influence. I started taking sewing lessons at a local fabric store when I was six. That’s actually the age of children I’m teaching now. I teach them sewing and fashion illustration.
God, I was doing nothing at that age! What are you working on now?
D: Our Fall 2016 collection.
E: We work on a different schedule because we mainly do direct sales, trunk shows and pop-up shops. It gives us more time to develop collections.
D: The market isn’t what it used to be, it’s over saturated. It is changing though, but it takes a while to evolve. The design community in Brooklyn is really nice because we all share information, and help each other out. We have friends in the intimate apparel market and they aren’t our competition.
E: It benefits everybody to share resources.
How much of an influence is New York in your business?
E: I always wanted to live in New York, and the school and program I wanted to do was here. I love what New York has taught me … how to work. You wake up, work an 18-hour day between all your jobs, sleep and then do it again.
D: It teaches you a great work ethic. I was never in love with the idea of New York, but I knew I had to come here to go to school and be in fashion design. I never really intended on staying here, but I love what I’ve gotten from it. Sometimes it feels like a very small town, despite how big it is.
E: You quickly find a community of people who all have the same interests.
What’s the next goal for Daisy and Elizabeth?
E: Get rid of the side hustles! If I can never go into a bar ever again I’ll be very happy. We’re working on a new line of maternity wear and nursing bras. It’s only in our minds currently, but we’ve been picking the brains of friends and family who have children.
D: For the spring collection we got to work with Nudie’s Rodeo Tailors. That was amazing for us; their designs and imagery are a big influence for us. They made overly embellished country and western wear more popular. They’ve inspired us since the beginning. Getting to work with them was really exciting for us. The grandson of the guy who started it in the 1950s now runs it.
E: They were the ones who made Elvis’s gold lamé suit, and the suit Elton John wore on the cover of Rocket Man.
That’s amazing, what was your collaboration with them?
D: We sort of took the ‘nude’ part seriously. [Laughs] All the garments are nude in color, and embroidered and embellished with their sketches.
E: We’re launching it for pre-sale soon, and we have a pop-up shop happening soon in Williamsburg. That’s when the Nudie stuff will be out, but we’re also incorporating some of our other favorite brands.
Your studio is in Greenpoint, how do you like it?
D: It’s great. We were in Bushwick before, but we grew out of the space. We wanted to be somewhere more accessible to the city, and somewhere that looked a little more polished. Bushwick is very cool and hip, but it’s still grungy.
Do you have some favorite places in the neighborhood?
D: We like Little Neck for coffee and sandwiches. They have a picture of Willy Nelson as their logo. [Laughs]
It’s on brand!
E: People of 2morrow is a great vintage boutique, but they also stock our line. It’s beautifully curated.
What are some of your favorite places to take out of towners?
D: Now that we’re such Brooklynites we get snobby about it and mostly stay out of the city [laughs] but when it’s warmer we like to take people to Saturdays in the Lower East Side. They have a big back garden. Brooklyn Flea is great as well.
E: I like to take my family to Skinny Dennis in Williamsburg. It’s a honky tonk bar; it’s a nice comfortable place for them to be when they visit.
D: It’s cheesy in all the right ways.
What’s the best piece of advice you could give?
D: Be very wary of the people you meet that offer their help to you. Even as a small company, if it’s your passion and life’s work you have to be very careful of it. Don’t just let anybody in.
E: We were only 21 when we started, we met some of the weirdest, most bizarre people, and they all wanted to help. It’s like that show ‘How To Make It In America’. Listen to your gut, if something doesn’t feel right it probably isn’t.
Also, do what you love! Don’t settle because you think you’re supposed to do something, or be a certain way.
What does New York mean to you?
D: Community. It’s where I did my growing up.
E: I concur!
Photography by Stephanie Geddes ©