Ali Wheeler makes lingerie that makes women feel good.
After starting out in costume creation, the Clonakilty-based designer discovered that what her female customers really needed help with was dressing comfortably for everyday life.
In 2017, Ali opened her boutique Hot Knickers Lingerie on Spillers Lane and started selling vintage-inspired shape wear, handmade to order.
Soon, word began to spread about the 1940s-inspired, tummy-smoothing, waist hugging magic of the prettiest pants in town and the rest is history.
In her own words, this is how she’s Working It:
“My previous costume studio was in the back room of a hair salon. One day I overheard the hairdresser telling her client friend that she was going out that evening and she had forgotten her Spanx. I decided to make her a pair. I had some Lycra fabrics in store from when I had made a couple of trapeze outfits. And so the first pair were made. The hairdresser was delighted and ask me to make her more… one thing lead to another (a business course; a trip to Paris sourcing fabrics) and I just knew this was where I wanted to go.
Back in the 1980s I studied fashion. I made few wedding dresses, nothing major, then I went on to work in London for various make-up houses, including Elizabeth Arden and Helena Rubenstein. In 1995 I moved to West Cork, got married, had a son and later got divorced.
By 2006 I had opened a fancy dress shop with a friend. My son was now coming into the Leaving Cert cycle and I needed to rethink my career so I took the studio in the hair salon and started making bespoke costumes.
The shape wear that was on the market wasn’t very attractive. I felt that the woman wearing it wasn’t going to feel glamorous… just boned and rolled. The more research I did, the more I saw that women weren’t really being thought about very much. How many of us have taken off our shape wear at an event or function because it was so uncomfortable? Especially after a meal.
Women will always need lingerie. The gold ‘Paula’ Hot Knickers are my best selling item. Fresh designs will capture a wider audience for my garments. I just launched a new website featuring my latest products, it’s more interactive.
The best piece of business advice anyone’s ever given me was from Neil Donovan of Carbery Knitwear – he encourage me to go to the Paris Expo.
Just because Cork is small and you’re based in Clonakilty doesn’t mean you can’t start a brilliant business. We love to support our own here. I can make a quality product here. Think big!
I’ve made mistakes. One of them was waiting – when you get that ‘eureka’ feeling about something and it takes too long to get going. The thing about mistakes is that you have to learn from them.
The three things in my working week I love doing are meeting new clients, making their order and seeing their faces when they collect it.
My advice to another wannabe entrepreneur would be to research, be original and stay true to yourself.
I post six days a week on Instagram and once a week on Facebook. I’ll boost posts on Facebook when I have something special to share.
I keep a diary to stay organised and I write a daily list. It doesn’t always work though!
My workday wardrobe consists of lots of layers – my studio is quite cold. I wear Doc Martens (they’re practical when using industrial sewing machines… and comfy). On Friday and Saturday (when my studio is open to the public) I wear colours that are on brand with my lingerie – gold and black.
Being based in Cork means that I can have the quality of home life I choose. I am part of a community with the support that offers, while still running an online fashion company.
I keep up with other lingerie designers on social media and through online magazines like Lingerie Insight.
The coming months will be exciting; the new website has just launched, I have some new pieces and I’ve also got a few pop-up events with other designers and fun knickers parties planned.”