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Most of 2011 was devoted to developing What Katie Did's business in the USA. In April they started looking for retail locations in Los Angeles and in September they opened their Melrose Avenure store. US mail order started to be shipped from their store and was given a little push in the US press with Julia Roberts wearing a What Katie Did corset in W magazine, Rihanna in a bullet bra in GQ and their Glamour Corselette on the cover of Maxim.
Although What Katie Did had been providing lingerie for film and television productions for years, 2011 saw them acheive their first film costumer credit for the movie My Week With Marilyn.
In 2011 Katie was nominated as Cosmopolitan's Business Woman of the Year.
What Katie Did soon had stockists worldwide but found it frustrating that whilst they could recommend a stockist in Iceland or New Zealand, they didn't have one in London, 50 miles away from head office, which carried the full range. Katie started to look around for retail space in London and decided on the Portobello Green Arcade by Portobello Road market, where she found her first vintage bullet bra several years previously. The London boutique opened in October 2008 and remains in the same location today - although it has expanded into the next door shop too.
Katie devoted some of her shop space to a press office, and soon the brand was making regular appearances in the press. This era saw Kate Moss on the cover of I-d magazine in What Katie Did, one of their earliest covers. The Daily Mail voted What Katie Did the best Bullet Bra in November 2009.
By 2010 What Katie Did had begun to look closely at where their lingerie was selling. One area it wasn't doing as well as they thought it should do was the USA. Whilst on holiday in Las Vegas Katie and her husband Richard, discovered that although the brand was well known, people were hesitant to order from overseas due to duty fees and returns issues. What Katie Did set up a dedictated US website with landed prices in USD (including duty), a US telephone number and returns address.
Lady Marlene (owned by Gelmart) ceased production leaving Katie only with Rago shapewear and a couple of bullet bras. She started to go through her collection of vintage lingerie picking out pieces she'd like to recreate. In mid 2004 she received a telephone call from TopShop who wanted to see her collection. Armed with a few sketches and vintage pieces she headed to their head office in London. This was the beginning of her wholesale range and What Katie Did as we know it today. The Maitresse range was launched in TopShop Oxford Circus in Autumn 2004.
Katie gradually added more lingerie ranges built around the bullet bra and gradually phased out Rago. She launched her own range of shapewear 'Glamour' which started at a 32 back, in cup sizes B-F.
Having started her career at London fetish store Skin Two Katie had always been fascinated with corsets and in 2005 launched her first two steel boned corsets: overbust Sophia and underbust Gina. Both corsets are still available today althought they have had a few tweaks over the years.
After years of working from home and running out of attic space and spare rooms she moved into her first warehouse. Katie's husband joined the company soon after concentrating on building the wholesale business.
For the first couple of years Katie re-invested her money in more stockings and eventually built up a great selection. Seamed stockings were available in every colour! She decided the logical next step was to start selling suspender belts. Katie's first suspender belt was made in a small factory in Somerset. It was made from stretch lycra and featured 6 metal suspender clips - something not found on the high street. The suspender belt was extremely popular so Katie looked to expand again, this time into waist cinchers. These did not go so well, the seams kept on splitting and when she complained to the factory they told her it was because her customers were too fat and that it was probably best not to work with her anymore. They went out of buisness a few months later.
Katie looked to the USA where a couple of brands - Rago and Lady Marlene - were still manufacturing retro style lingerie. Lady Marlene made a fabulous Bra-s-lette virtually unchanged from the one they made in the 1950s. Unfortunately the size choice was also stuck in the 1950s with the only cup sizes available being B, C and D and the smallest back size being 32. The same applied to Rago whose products were great, but didn't cater for the growing number of vintage girls who wanted (not necessarily needed) to wear shapewear.
One thing these companies didn't make was a circle stitch bullet bra. Katie had a bit of an obsession with bullet bras after finding one in Portobello market in the mid 1990s. She knew this was a niche product and thought she might sell a hundred or so. She began searching for a company to make them and eventually found a factory in India who had been making them since the 1960s. It seems bullet bras never went out of fashion in India! Katie's first bullet bra came in plain black and white cotton: just the same as they were in the 1950s.
Not being able to afford fully fashioned stockings Katie Thomas decided to invest £100 in nylons to sell at The London Fetish Fair. This led to a home made website where customers could order by sending cheques to a PO Box an during the early years of the internet this actually worked!
Katie gave up her full time job in November 1999, opening a stocking stall in London's Camden Market and launching her first 'proper' website. Camden market was rather shambolic during the late 1990s and Katie's unit didn't have planning permission so 3 months after opening she was thrown out - only to be rescued by Rachel who worked at alternative shoe shop 'Cobblers to the World' a few yards away and gave her a corner of the shop to work from. Rachel also became the first face of What Katie Did.
The fancy dress shop next door to Cobblers to the World complained that Katie was selling the same brand stockings as them (Jonathon Aston) and wanted her out. Katie came to a deal with the market landlords offering to repackage the nylons in her own packaging. They agreed and two weeks later What Katie Did's first own brand nylons were for sale.
The first few months weren't easy. Katie found a temp job at London Transport Police and would check for orders at her home office, before working the 8-4pm shift, then running up to Camden to pack orders and get them to the Post Office before it closed. Saturday and Sunday were spent working at Cobblers to the World.
In Spring 2001 Cobblers to the World closed. Katie decided to concentrate on the website and not open another store.
London Boutique: What Katie Did, 26 Portobello Green, 281 Portobello Road, London, W10 5TZ
Tel: 0345 430 8943
Los Angeles Store: What Katie Did, 3420 W Magnolia Blvd, Burbank, California, 91505 USA
Tel: 1 877 221 2472 or 1 818 955 7710 (from outside US)
What Katie Did,
Unit 8 The Old Mill, 61 Reading Road,
Pangbourne, Berkshire, RG8 7HY
Tel: 0345 430 8743 or
+44 118 976 7676 (from outside UK)
Registered in England with company number: 05752881