Getting Intimate With Underwear Designer Sairey Gernes

March 10, 2011

One of my favorite things to do is meet smart women. I especially love meeting a woman who is creative, doesn’t shy away from a challenge and uses determination like it’s going out of style. It’s inspiring and motivating.

I experienced all of this and more during a recent interview with Sairey Gernes, owner of Irely Intimates. Not only is she smart and creative, but she dreamed up a business concept and spends her days (and nights) doing what it takes to make her business a success.

I’m planning to hit the pavement this year to meet more and more women like Sairey. Shoot me a note with names of women you’d like to meet virtually. I’ll see if I can make it happen.

Here’s my Q & A with Sairey:

Tell me a little bit about Irely
Irely is a line of intimates designed for women who really value themselves and want to feel good about themselves for themselves, not others. So much of the lingerie world is being sexy for someone else, but you need to feel comfortable in your skin so we make garments that help you feel sexy for yourself, not someone else.

IrelyWhere did you get the name Irely?
It is actually a combination of the words “Ireland” and “Italy” – pronounced eye-r-lee – and is a homage to my heritage. To create the logo I copied my grandmother’s handwriting. I also name all my designs after family and friends.

How would you describe your brand?
The brand embodies the fun of the Irish and classic beauty of the Italians. It’s young at heart, not necessarily young in age.

Who is your biggest competitor?
Hanky Panky.

How do you set yourself apart from them?
Irely Intimates are much more comfortable while still being sexy. We have a special blend of fabric we use which makes all the difference. We also feature a little pocket in the back. We call it our secret side because every woman has a secret side that is special to only them. We put messages in the pocket. Just fun, creative little sayings to add a little personality to each piece.

Sairey Gernes

Sairey Gernes

Why did you decide to start your own venture?
I started it because I enjoy a challenge. I want to be constantly learning and I needed to feel like I was working for a purpose. I also wanted to feel like I was making a difference, so I make sure the business is always giving back to community and local organizations like donating underwear to Dress for Success. Because everyone deserves comfortable, beautiful everyday intimates.

You mentioned running your own business means you wear many different hats, sometimes all at once. Describe your typical day.
There’s busy and then there’s BUSY. I work seven days a week on Irely and also serve at the bar and restaurant Scusi in St. Paul. You are constantly doing something whether its running the business side of things or getting product and materials, or marketing yourself to others. Then there’s the whole outside sales aspect where you’re meeting with people and convincing them to carry your product. One doesn’t happen without the others so it feels like several full-time jobs. But I wouldn’t trade it for the world. We’ve really taken off and it’s amazing to see your product featured in boutiques across the country.

You’re still new to the business world having just launched 9 months ago. What one thing you’ve learned along the way?
It’s all about networking! There is a fabulous network of woman who run local businesses in the Twin Cities and who have been instrumental in helping my business get off the ground. They share information about running a business, they are huge word-of-mouth advocates, they’re advisors and now have become friends. It’s a team oriented network.

How did you find this group?
I simply talked to people around town and asked who they knew, who I could meet with and set up impromptu “let’s get together for wine” meetings.

How do you market Irely?
Social media, personal marketing, events. The local media is also very supportive of local designers and business women. Note: You can find Irely on Facebook and Twitter.

IrelyDo you always wear you own designs?Any advice for all the go-getters out there who have an idea and want to make it happen?
Yes, lots of advice. Write a business plan first. I didn’t have a business plan but I’m a natural planner and very detail oriented and organized.

My background was art direction, not garmet design, but I knew I needed to get from A to Z so I followed the logical steps. I also wrote down my vision which helped me get started and gives me direction.

And, make sure you’re getting into it for the right reasons, whatever those reasons are for you. Because to be a success, you need to put in the time , effort, determination and, most importantly, the belief that you’re business will succeed. If you get into it for the right reasons, you’ll have an ability to get up when you get knocked down – because it will happen.

Best piece of advice you got from someone else?
Someone told me if you go into business and you’re not willing to adapt, you will fail. I know Irely won’t fail. It may change, it make take longer to get where I want it to be but it won’t fail.

Do you always wear you own designs?
Absolutely! I wear my stuff every day. Occasionally I try a different style or fit of something to make our product better. But I always come back to Irely. It’s simply beautiful and the most comfortable.

So I have to ask – ever go commando?
[Laughs] When I first started Irely, my closest girlfriends were shocked because I never use to wear underwear. But as I explained my concept, I said “you never asked me why I never wear underwear.” The reason was it wasn’t comfortable. Comfortable wasn’t pretty and pretty wasn’t comfortable. So I created my own solution with Irely.