Inspirational Woman: Katy Payne | Founder, Katherine Hamilton

Katy Payne

Katy Payne is the creative force behind Katherine Hamilton; a UK brand of luxury larger cup lingerie in sizes 26-38, D-HH.

Her designs combine luxury materials from silks to French lace with superior technical fit and comfort.

Katherine’s pioneering designs are inspired by her personal philosophy of embracing and empowering women with elegance, comfort and confidence. She sees lingerie as a tool with which to support women not only physically but emotionally; to lift their self-esteem and communicate their self-worth.

Her designs create the illusion of effortless beauty whilst hidden beneath are years of expert technical research and development that has created the brand’s trademark shape of forward projection and lift with a rounded silhouette. Her designs attend to all aspects of lingerie from fit, shape, beauty to comfort creating the ultimate in intimate apparel that serves women all day and every day.

Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role

I’m the founder and director of luxury fuller bust lingerie brand, Katherine Hamilton. I live in Somerset with my 3-year-old twin boys working mostly from home but occasionally visiting London when necessary.

My background is in psychology and mental health; I gained a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology and then worked in a variety of mental health settings as I aspired to train as a Clinical Psychologist. In my mid-twenties however, I took some time out to focus on recovering from some health issues and it was during this time that I developed the idea for Katherine Hamilton. I was incredibly frustrated that I couldn’t find luxury lingerie in my 28H bra size and so my partner at the time suggested that I design my own. Little did I know that I would go on to build a business with the idea!

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

My career plan was to become a Clinical Psychologist and so I certainly deviated from that path. Looking back however, I can see that I was demonstrating the skills required to run a lingerie brand throughout my teens and early 20’s; I would make unique vintage inspired clothing in my teens, achieved an A in Art A Level, desperately wanted autonomy and variety and had a passion for working collaboratively.

Have you faced any challenges along the way?

Yes. Many. The most significant challenge has been financial which impacted many areas of my life, especially as a new mum with twins. When we first started out, we invested heavily in research and development to ensure that our products were genuinely superior in quality and fit, which required capital that was very difficult to secure as a start-up company. We then needed to buy stock in advance of any sales and due to our wide size range, it was a lot of stock! Most buyers were cautious to invest in a new, unknown brand and so it was a year before sales started to ease the pressure.

I guess that’s probably the key challenge for most start-ups, but for me it was also learning about a totally new industry – and then creating a business, learning about design and production. My journey necessitated a very steep learning curve!  Understanding how fuller bust bras are developed, the fabrics and cuts needed, how to manage production orders, processing orders both small and large, appreciating the value of marketing and all the many diverse factors that make up a successful business. As we grow, we face new challenges but with each new challenge we develop further in resourcefulness and efficiency.

What has been your biggest achievement to date?

Securing Harrods as our first department store was perhaps my first greatest achievement; it was a significant statement on both the quality of our products and demand for our USP. The store was cautious at first as we were very new, but with attention to bra fit, they were aware of the demand for luxury lingerie in larger cup sizes and were willing to take the risk.

Following a six month trial it was amazing to learn that sales and customer feedback were great and a number of customers had emailed me directly to thank me for the brand!  In October this year Net-A-Porter will be stocking our SS20 range – so that’s definitely up there and will, I hope, take the brand to the next level internationally.

What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success?

Unconditional love and support from those who are close to me gave me the space to stay focussed and determined. A lot of people who didn’t know me very well would tell me how most new businesses fail or to ‘get a real job’. But my family and ex-husband knew me well enough to know that I wouldn’t give up until I made the business work. That belief in my determination really fuelled me during times of self-doubt and financial worry; we all stayed optimistic together and found ways to overcome tight spots and now we all celebrate together that we were right to believe!

How do you feel about mentoring? Have you mentored anyone or are you someone’s mentee?

I was very fortunate to have benefited from a number of mentors during the early stages of my journey, most were provided through government business support programmes and some were altruistic business people who simply wanted to help another person. I would most certainly like to be able to give back in this way as I know from personal experience how much it can not only add value to how someone runs their business but also provides an injection of much needed enthusiasm at times of self-doubt. I have on a casual basis offered my input to a couple of start-up businesses and will continue to do so as time permits and demand dictates. With the company still being quite young, I too still seek mentorship and try to glean as much useful information as I can through lively discussion with business people further along the journey than me.

If you could change one thing to accelerate the pace of change for Gender Parity, what would it be?

I think it would be politics; the people who dictate the laws by which we are expected to abide; most specifically the laws that tell women what they can and can’t do with their bodies; not only do these breech human rights but quietly create a culture of sexism.  Perhaps the first step would be for governments to consist of people that represent the diversity of society to better ensure that we adhere to human rights. I find some of the news quite terrifying at the moment but hope that it will be the impetus for activism and change. I also believe it is our personal responsibility to promote equality and I take this role very seriously as a mum.

If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self what would it be?

To be honest, I don’t think I’d want to give my younger self any advice. I needed to make the mistakes I made in order to learn and get it right. I needed to face challenges to develop strength and resourcefulness that now serve me very well both personally and professionally.

What is your next challenge and what are you hoping to achieve in the future?

My next challenge is international growth and more fun! We are already stocked globally but as a young brand we still have some way to go before we’re more widely known. And with growth will come the option to delegate more and expand our team, freeing me up to do what I enjoy most; designing and working with a team of passionate women.

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