Jemima Ellis on her journey designing lingerie for breast cancer survivors
BA (Hons) Fashion Communication graduate, Jemima Ellis has recently launched her own lingerie company, ELAN. Inspired by her mother’s breast cancer diagnosis in 2016, Jemima decided to bring comfortable and fashionable lingerie to the market. Here she tells us about why she chose Plymouth College of Art and how her experience as a student shaped her into the entrepreneur she is today.
Hi Jemima, can you explain a little about your career journey since graduating?
I graduated from Plymouth College of Art in 2017 and since then I have worked mostly in marketing, communications and events for various companies and universities. It wasn’t until 2020 that I decided I wanted to also launch my own business and design a range of lingerie for women who have had breast cancer.
Can you tell us about your time at Plymouth College of Art and how you came to study BA (Hons) Fashion Communication?
When I was 16 I was really unsure of what career route I wanted to take. I remember being really stressed about not knowing what I wanted to do and the pressure around me to do A-Levels was intense. I always knew it wasn’t the right path for me but when I found the Pre-Degree courses at Plymouth College of Art I remember being so relieved that I had found somewhere that enabled me to be creative whilst learning. I joined the Extended Diploma in Fashion and Textiles course and I loved every minute of it! The lessons were fun and inspiring and I really felt like I could explore what I truly wanted to do. At the end of this course I knew that there wasn’t anywhere else I’d like to study, I wanted to progress onto a degree program at Plymouth College of Art too. I went on to study BA (Hons) Fashion Communication and in 2017 graduated with a First Class honours degree!
What is your pivotal moment whilst studying at Plymouth College of Art?
During the final year of my degree, my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer which came as a huge shock to me and I was incredibly concerned about how this would affect my studies and ability to deliver high-quality work. It was around the time that we were asked to decide on our final major project (FMP) and begin working on this solo project. I recall speaking with my lecturers Milly Brown and Kirsty Smith about my concerns and how worried I was about finishing my degree. Their support was outstanding and they really helped me to see opportunities and areas where I could shine despite the difficult circumstances. It was then that I felt inspired to explore the idea of starting a range of lingerie specifically designed for women who have had breast cancer. I was able to bring my personal situation into my FMP and I believe that really helped me cope. It was through the support that I was given that I have had the confidence, a number of years later, to revisit ELAN and actually launch it as a business.
After graduating I had access to career advice and support from the college. I always knew that if I ever needed something I could get back in touch with Milly or Kirsty and they would give me advice. I do stay in touch with my old lecturers on social media and it’s also a great resource for me to have as I never know when I may need an intern or a current student to support me with my new business. It’s so important to leave the door open when you leave as you never know when you might be back!
Can you tell us about the work you’re most proud to have produced so far?
My biggest achievement to date is launching ELAN’s online store! The BA (Hons) Fashion Communication course was instrumental in giving me knowledge on how to market and target customers, launch a new brand, how to arrange and carry out photoshoots, critical paths and everything in between! My previous experience from the Extended Diploma in Fashion and Textiles gave me the knowledge I needed to be able to speak with pattern cutters, designers, graders and the factory with confidence and understanding.
I am proud of my ability to see opportunity in a difficult situation and rise above when all I wanted to do was give up. The past year has been an incredibly difficult one for launching a business and I have had to battle with coronavirus restrictions which have not been helpful when trying to launch my business. So many of the people that were involved in the run-up to ELAN’s launch, I have never actually met in person! Everything was conducted online and I did ‘door-stop bra fits’ with my fit models to ensure everyone stayed safe - that was interesting! The models that I used for my first collection all photographed themselves, at home, in their ELAN lingerie rather than doing a large-scale photoshoot that we had planned originally! The results are better than I could have imagined. You have to be flexible and I think that 2020 taught us all that things can change in a second. Being flexible, thinking outside the box and being two steps ahead at all times really does pay off!
What were the most important lessons you learnt during your studies?
There are several things I would say on this as I felt I learnt so much during my time at Plymouth College of Art.
Firstly, find something that lights a fire in your belly and run with it wholeheartedly! I was wracking my brain for months thinking what can I do for my Final Major Project, I just really struggled to find what I was truly passionate about but then it came. Not in a way that I had imagined either! I never thought I would be launching a lingerie brand for women who have had breast cancer but life has a funny way of putting you where you need to be. If there is something you love and are passionate about just go for it!
Secondly, utilise the knowledge and experience of your lecturers! They are there to support you and have a wealth of knowledge that will help you to progress. If you’re worried or concerned, approach them and talk things out with them. I’m so glad I did as I wouldn’t be here right now if I hadn’t.
Finally, I would encourage collaboration! There is an entire college of incredible creatives, all with their own specialisms and knowledge. You can always learn from other people and it’s ok to not be good at everything! When we collaborate, amazing things can happen.