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How I got here - Debbie Morley

Panache’s head of creative says a chance TV interview led to a career in lingerie design.

What does your diary look like today?

My diary can change quite a lot but today I have a product sign-off meeting, factory pricing discussions and a marketing meeting. I do normally also have design meetings and, alongside the heads of design and technical, will have a weekly walk around to meet with the designers and make sure we’re happy with how the range is progressing.

What meeting are you most looking forward to today?

We’ve already had a meeting today to see a presentation of the photography for autumn 13 and I really love
the direction. I love seeing how a concept evolves each season.

What task do you wish you could postpone?

The most challenging task is deciding which factory to place certain products with. But once that’s done we can really move forward and get the collection going. So it’s a necessary evil.

How did you get to where you are today?

I took a gap year before starting university and began my career on a YTS [Young Person’s Training Scheme] for local lingerie company Debfor. During that time the local news service interviewed me for a segment on how the business was bringing new people into the industry. I cheekily told them I wanted to be a designer, and after it was broadcast that night the managing director Mike Basford called me and said they would train me to be a designer there. So I moved into the design department pretty much straight away. I stayed until 1991 when I got married and then returned to Debfor five years later as a lingerie and swimwear designer. I left again when Chinese company Cherry Body Fashions offered me a nice deal working from home as my own manager, but I soon found that working by myself wasn’t for me. I love being in a design team. So I returned to Debfor again, which had changed ownership and become Intimas, and took a role as a senior swimwear designer for Lepel, which Intimas owned. A few years later I was offered the role of heading up all of the brands. In 2009 I was offered a role at Ted Baker as licensee co-ordinator and swimwear designer. In that role I worked on quite a broad range of products including lingerie and swimwear, homeware, watches, sunglasses and eyewear, footwear, and fragrance, before they eventually asked me to move onto the womenswear design team.

I commuted to London from Long Eaton in Derbyshire every day for three years, getting up at 4.30am to catch the train at 5.15am, getting home at 8.30pm. In the end I was just knackered. However, I’d known John Power [joint chairman and managing director at Panache lingerie] for years and asked him for a job every time I saw him, because I knew I wanted to go back into lingerie. Eventually one came up and I’ve been here since.

What has been your career highlight?

While I was working for Ted Baker I got to design a super-expensive, hand-crafted dress as an exclusive for Harrods, which they put in the window for Christmas. I based it on a corsetry piece and I was so proud of it.

Who is your mentor?

My first mentor was Julie Forshaw, who was the design director at Debfor.

She is now running her own brand, Queensland Swimwear Company, in Australia and is still a really good friend after 25 years. And then at Ted Baker both the founder Ray Kelvin and womenswear director Catherine Scorey taught me to be honest about my opinion on product and to think outside the box. At Panache my mentors were managing directors Danny and John Power.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?

Catherine Scorey told me to always be honest. There is no point going along with what everyone else thinks.

How do you see your career progressing?

I’ve always wanted and aspired to be a design director. However, over the years I’ve been told that I’m too soft, not ruthless enough and that I need to toughen up - but that’s just not me. And also in the role of design director you generally don’t design and I think if I wasn’t designing hands-on I would miss that side of it. But never say never.

What advice would you give to someone wanting to follow in your footsteps?

Don’t try to be something you are not. In this industry you need to embrace change, because season on season things change. Don’t be precious and get upset when someone says they don’t like something. And finally, don’t
expect to ever be rich, because in this industry you don’t get rich quick.

  • Salaries for this position range from £60,000 to £70,000 (estimate provided by CVUK)


2012 Head of creative, Panache
2009 Licensee co-ordinator, senior swimwear designer and senior womenswear designer, Ted Baker
2009 Head of brand design, Lepel
2002 Senior designer, Lepel
2001 Senior swimwear designer, Cherry Body Fashions
1997 Senior swimwear designer, Debfor
1995 Lingerie and swimwear designer, Debfor
1987 Lingerie designer, Debfor
1985 Trainee lingerie designer, Debfor

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