Lis Harvey gets a few funny looks in cafes when friends proudly announce, “I’m wearing your underwear today”. It is an occupational hazard in her line of work.

After studying and working as a commercial photographer, Lis’s strong interest in fashion, combined with a feeling that there was a big gap in the lingerie market, led her to set up Nico Underwear.

“There’s that really over-the-top, sexy, lacy kind of stuff and there’s the really boring practical stuff, but there wasn’t really much in between,” she says. “For me that was an issue because I didn’t feel comfortable in the really sexy stuff and I was always stuck just in the Bonds. It was hard to find something that I really liked … I talked to a lot of people about it and it seemed like a lot of people felt the same way.”

From her home in Highgate Hill, Lis set about designing and sewing the type of underwear she wanted to wear. “Something a little bit more fun, for girls who are quite individual.” She spent two years researching, experimenting and honing her sewing skills before launching her brand in 2011. “While I had done a lot of sewing when I was growing up, I hadn’t sewn that stuff specifically, so I did a few classes in that, learning all the techniques, and just a whole lot of practice — chained to the sewing machine pretty much.”

For her first collection, Lis sewed every single piece herself; an experience she describes as “a bit of a nightmare but really valuable”.

“I gained such a great understanding of how it all comes together, so now that I’ve outsourced to a manufacturer I can talk on the same level. I get what they’re doing, what they’re going through and what their issues are. I think it was really helpful in that way.”

Nico is all manufactured here in Brisbane and is one of the only underwear brands in the country to be accredited by Ethical Clothing Australia, an organisation that aims to crack down on unethical manufacturing. “I report to them everybody who’s doing work for me and they go and visit them and make sure that everybody is being paid fairly and there’s nothing dodgy going on … it’s a guarantee for our customers that there’s been no sweat shop labour. Everybody has been paid fairly.”

Lis’s main focus has been online sales but there are a number of boutiques in Brisbane (including The Happy Cabin in West End) and a boutique in Melbourne who stock her brand. So far the response from customers has been really positive.

“I’m meeting customers all the time who are like ‘yes, I’ve been looking for this’,” she says, “Wearing nice underwear makes a difference, you know, like you notice it if you’re wearing something nice. You feel a little bit more confident, and yeah it kind of gives you a little boost.”

Words by Leah Carri  |  Images supplied and by Stayc Connolly