I first met the creative minds behind NOE Undergarments… through a random email, actually! Thank goodness I read every email that lands in my inbox, otherwise I would have missed the opportunity to work with these talented ladies. At the very beginning of our relationship, their passion and good karma shined through every communication. Their mission really resonated with me: to empower women through lingerie. Sound familiar? We have the same mission! After I discovered this, I knew I would become a NOE girl. I am so honored they obliged to the interview, and couldn’t think of a better design duo to feature on that je ne sais quoi. If you ever have the good fortune to meet them in person, lucky you, as they’re both positively bursting with amazing energy: smiles, gratitude and a refreshing enthusiasm for life. And it’s contagious. They are truly inspirational, and I think you’ll find their (pretty in-depth) interview to be an accurate reflection of that. Without further ado, meet Shelah and Bonnie!
Designers Bonnie and Shelah, photo by Embry Rucker
Who or what inspired you to pursue lingerie design as a career?
Since we were in our teens, we have dreamed of starting a lingerie line… we always loved how something you can wear that is so small and often discrete can make you feel so sexy, confident and beautiful! We started really talking about the idea a few years ago and started putting pen to paper on the concept in early 2012.
Your lingerie is different and truly geared as an innerwear as outerwear brand, which I love. Tell us about how you came to design such a unique collection.
We designed the collection to be very versatile… every piece can be worn in the home, in the bedroom or out in public as layering pieces or simply stand-alone fashion statements! All our bras are designed to be seen under low scoop tanks or dresses, our leggings can be worn as “leggings” or as a fun piece under a shorter dress. Our slips can all be worn as sexy home pieces or as cover ups, layered or hidden. Growing up on the island of Kauai has absolutely influenced our overall design aesthetics, we really lived in bikinis and tiny cover-ups… it was about showing skin. We have taken this same approach to our lingerie designs, it’s a part of who we are.
Every entrepreneur has to take a leap of faith when it comes to venturing out on her own (or with a partner). What were/are your biggest fears?
Good question! YES, a leap of faith absolutely. Our biggest fear is the fear of the unknown and of course that NOE Undergarments would just simply not work, that people wouldn’t get it and that maybe we we’re being too different. All the time you see start-ups fail… it’s risky, especially in fashion! For us it came down to a time where we started taking the first steps of “exploring + dreaming” of developing NOE Undergarments and then we came to a fork in the road, we either had to turn right and go full steam ahead and not look back or end the idea all together. Our hearts were both in it 110% and we decided to take that big turn… Since that point we’ve not looked back but only far forward, each day giving our utmost positive energy, focus and dedication to making this dream a reality!
How do you work together: is one sister creative and one business? Do tell!
Our partnership is a bit unique. Being twins, we’re extremely close even though at times we may not be at the same place. Bonnie is based out of Laguna Beach and I live most of the time in Kauai, we often do much of our conversation via video chat and as you probably imagine our phone bills are quite high! However, we get together often, every other month Bonnie is either here on Kauai or I’m over in Laguna and we’re collaborating. We see this double location as an advantage for the brand, we get two experiences and have two touch points. We often start with our individual inspiration and then we meet… more times than not we end up having ideas that are crazy similar… even down to the colors! We honestly both work hand in hand in almost every aspect of our business from design to strategy to marketing to even the business financial aspects… we feel two minds are better than one!
One of core missions of that je ne sais quoi is to make women feel beautiful with lingerie as a starting point, and I feel that NOE is the perfect line for this. Can you tell us a little bit about how you think lingerie empowers women?
We could not agree with you more. We see our lingerie as an inner armor for outer empowerment, and believe that every woman should be able to harness this same sense of liberation when they put on one of our pieces. Whether you’re wearing one of our bustiers’ under a business suit working in NYC, putting on a bra and panty for bedroom fun or lounging on a beach in Hawaii with one of the sheer slips covering your bikini, it’s about feeling confident, strong and empowered by these intimate pieces. NOE Undergarments is about making the woman wearing these pieces feel sexy, confident and beautiful… it’s for her, no one else!
It’s important to me that pieces are designed and manufactured locally—how does NOE accomplish this?
Yes, this is very important to us as well, thus the reason we are proud to say ALL of our pieces are made here in the US. It may be a little more expensive, yes, but there are a few reasons we have chosen to keep our line produced locally: 1) We love our country and have always made it a priority to support USA Made goods in our lives, so it really was a no-brainer when we started NOE Undergarments that no matter what it would be produced in the states; 2) With our production staying in the US, we can be very hands on with all stages, we’re perfectionists and having the connection point for quality, fit and ensuring each piece is perfect is very important to us and the identity of NOE Undergarments!
There is leather in your collection, which makes me an automatic fan. How did you incorporate this amazing fabric into an intimates line but still keep a feminine aesthetic?
We love leather!! From the very beginning we knew incorporating leather into our collections would be a constant foundation pillar and an identifiable attribute to build on for each season. For the AW13 collection we use very unique leather in our lingerie, a dull Napalan lambskin from Italy that is very thin and has a matte raw but supple finish. We back all our leather pieces with a soft mesh that creates comfort and makes the piece very wearable and breathable. We incorporate our leather with amazing silks/elastics/hardware and designs and create clean + simple lines… It has that feminine/masculine + hard/soft feel which is the base of our style!
What did you each do in life before coming up with NOE?
Kauai has always been base camp for me, although I have been fortunate enough to spend much of the years prior to NOE traveling. Exploring cultures, arts, fashion from around the world has really priceless with creating a great foundation with NOE Undergarments.
In terms of life, traveled, explored and have been a bit of a girl who lives out of her suitcase. In terms of career, I worked as the global Women’s Director of Marketing for a swim and street/action fashion label, Volcom. I also recently graduated with my MBA from the University of California, Irvine. All of these experiences have really helped to prepare me for the challenges and excitement of developing NOE Undergarments.
You’re California and Hawaii girls, but I think your aesthetic is pretty New York! What was the influence behind your first collection?
In general our biggest influences come from our travels and cultural experiences. Bonnie and I have been so fortunate to travel around the world, this is something that has come to life in the designs. Growing up in Kauai has also influenced our overall aesthetic… it’s really led to develop a minimalistic feel to the collection… no frills or unneeded design elements but rather simple, clean and straight to the point!
What is the best advice you’ve ever received?
I think the best advice we’ve ever received was from our Dad… while growing up he always instilled in us that if we set our mind to it, anything is possible and don’t let risk scare you. This advice has always given us a huge sense of confidence… life is a little scary, especially with starting something new and making changes, however if you don’t dive in you’ll never have the chance to even see an outcome, either good or bad. Life is short and we need to make the most of it, better to try to make a dream come true than to sit back and merely think of it!
What is the NOE woman like? Where does she work? What does she do in her spare time? What does she value?
The woman who wears NOE Undergarments is strong and willing to take risks by not following trends but merely setting her own. She loves to feel sexy and beautiful for herself and that is why she is beyond attractive. At the same time she is understatedly simple and finds interest in clean lines, uncomplicated garments and takes pride in noticing the little details of things, whether it be in her daily life, the people she is with or her style. When you meet her in person, you love this woman and become completely touched by this contagious confidence and beauty… this is the NOE woman!
What is your style signature and who is your style muse?
Our style sense is very similar, I bet you could have guessed that! Shelah is a bit more into accessories, she loves jewelry… more the better (laughing!). Shelah lives in big earrings, loves to load on the bracelets and have rings on almost every finger, her go to day-to-day is one-of-a thousand sheer worn tanks, a cute bra (often the Ryan Bustier) and a good ol’ pair of Levis. Bonnie is a bit more “city-esque” and minimalistic in her sense of style, she loves a tailored jacket, slouchy pants and a good pair of boots… melt these two styles together and you get NOE! Our style muse, toughie! We adore Rhianna, her take-charge attitude with her fashion choices, not being afraid to step outside of the box… she is so empowering!
What NOE pieces do you love and wear the most?
It’s so hard to say but my favorite piece is probably the Ryan bustier bra and Ryan Brazilian panty… I love the structure of the bra and particularly the fit of the underwire cups… it’s the perfect piece to wear under tanks and show some sexiness (and love it as a set for the bedroom)!
1. Ryan Bustier Bra // 2. Levi’s // 3. Acne boots // 4. Helmut Lang structured jacket
Oh I love the whole collection but if I had to choose… probably the Zachary bodysuit, the neckline and back elastic detail is so chic and unique to our line, it’s the perfect piece to use as a base layer for any sheer top or oversized tee or sweater!
1. Jason Wu dress // 2. Zachary Bodysuit // 3. Jamie Lynn, favorite artist // 4. Golden Goose boots
What’s a weird/fun fact about each of you?
Nice question…hahaha. Ok, seriously, I like to dance around the house listening to the Korean rapper’s song ‘Gangnam Style’ with my little boys—you know, the typical jumping off couches, getting on the floor to roll around and pretend to break-dance, getting up on counters to finish off a little head-bangin… the typical stuff )
Okay, let’s see… My favorite thing to do is get into nature and out of anything man-made. I’ll go with my husband on camp trips and our goal is to find a place that is as far away from anyone else as possible, only nature. When we got married we decided to skip the whole big wedding thing and rather we packed up his truck, drove to the Sierra Mountains, got married at the oldest courthouse in the state of California at this tiny 200-person town of Bridgeport and then went and camped for 4 days in the middle of the mountains! It was total heaven!
What is a day in the life of NOE like?
Oh my gosh, every day is so different…. Today was 8:15 conference call with us to go over tradeshow ideas for the SP14 Lingerie Collective Show were doing in August (Shelah was up early, 5:15am Hawaii time), followed by checking on e-commerce orders and doing some fun lovely social postings, then a quick trip to our studio in LA to do some AW13 production QC along with picking up some new Riri zipper samples. I was back to our Laguna office by 4pm just in time to get a quick trail run in and then back to emails!
I’m not going to lie…. a typical day with me is pretty busy! Every minute of my day is mixed up with a variety of to-dos with NOE Undergarments and a little personal time squeezed in too. I wake up between 5:30 and 6 and start work phone calls and emails, usually the first being with Bonnie, I then try to go for a run and clear my head (and usually that is where I get a good flow of creative ideas coming in). I get to back to my home office at about 8:30-9:00 am and jump into the daily juggle of various NOE projects outlined for the day, whether it is scouting out models for an upcoming shoot, reviewing production deadlines, or simply coming up with new FB content. Every day is about balance and I’m still trying to find my rhythm!
Last book you read?
The last book I read was The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein. I read it with my little one just this morning. I read this book often, it’s such a special and tender story, a constant reminder of what is important and what is very much not. This book was actually a gift to one of my boys from Bonnie, … LOL, yes we are always in-sync with each other!
I’m reading We are All Weird by Seth Godin right now, amazing… I’m a total Seth Godin fan but for some reason have never read this book. I’m nearly finished and it’s amazing… “The weird sets an example for the rest of us” is my favorite quote from the book so far! I love weirdness, I love abnormality!
Three things every woman should have in her closet?
We both agree 3 things every woman needs in her closet would be:
-A good pair of Levis
-A great fitting leather jacket
-NOE Undergarment lingerie set of course!!
And most importantly, what’s in store (colors, fabrics, silhouettes?) for your next collection?!
Yes, we’re nearly done designing our Spring/Summer 2014 collection… it’s amazing how fast time flies! We love designing innerwear and it remains our primary focus for now. We’re introducing some new pieces for this next collection– innovative bras and panties, a new slip, bodysuit and some fun shorter leggings. We’re also keeping some of our loved foundation statement pieces from the AW13 season but refreshing with new colors. We’re also working with a new novelty fabric from Belgium that is stunning… very unique, forward and very NOE Undergarments!
Bonnie’s favorite things:
Band: All time favorite ‘Led Zeppelin’ and ‘Bob Marley’, current favorite ‘Alabama Shakes’
Food: Anything with sugar (I have a major sweet tooth)
Drink: Coffee, Heart Roasters or Stumptown (addicted!!!)
Ice cream flavor: Mint chip
Artist: My 6 year old nephew Stone—he does amazing surf art!
Photographer: Embry Rucker (he shot our AW13 campaign and we’re so lucky to work with him for SS14… totally amazing!) and also my husband, Ryan Boyes… amazing action photography.
Designer: Go to, all time favorite —‘Helmut Lang’ and ‘Alexander Wang’, currently I’ve also been loving everything ‘Celine’ has been doing!
Lingerie Brand (other than your own!): Kiki de Montparnasse… can’t go wrong, USA pride!
Shoes: Acne boots, Isabel Marant (anything!)
Restaurant: Zulu Café, Laguna Beach (go there for every anniversary)
Lingerie shop: Oh, this is too tricky… West Coast – Faire Frou Frou, East Coast—Journelle
Beauty product: Shiseido facial cleansing oil (amazing… love it!)
If you could only choose one…
Pair of shoes: Currently my Acne low cowboy boots
Top: Always a Helmut Lang structured Jacket (over a simple tank or lingerie piece)
Jeans: Ksubi or Levis (oh I can’t choose one, too tough!)
Bag: Staerk oversized leather bag—my new obsession, Shelah and I both bought one on our last trip to NYC! (I bet she puts this as her favorite too!)
Lingerie brand: NOE Undergarments!!!!!!!
Fragrance: Leilani Bishop’s Pikake fragrance oil—amazing!!!!
1. Coffee!! // 2. Kiki De Montparnasse (bra + panty) // 3. Leilani Bishop’s fragrance oils
Editor’s note: I *had* to make a “Mutual Loves” collage, because so many of their favorites overlapped!
Shelah’s favorite things:
Band: Donavan Frankenreiter
Food: Grilled Salmon
Drink: Coffee!!! Alkaline H20… we are hooked on how good water can taste!
Ice cream flavor: Cookie Dough with Mint Chip coming in as a close 2nd!
Artist: Jamie Lynn (one of my favorite pieces, The Blue Girl)
Photographer: Embry Rucker
Designer: Jason Wu (LOVE this mans work, can do no wrong)
Lingerie Brand (other than your own!): Kiki De Montparnasse
Shoes: Golden Goose
Restaurant: Kintaro – a great Japanese restaurant here on Kauai
Lingerie shop: Fair Frou Frou in Los Angeles, and on the East Coast, Journelle!
Beauty product: Josie Maran Argan Oil + Shiseido Sunscreen 50+ (daily)
If you could only choose one…
Pair of shoes: Golden Goose Ankle Boot or of course Isabel Marant ANYTHING
Top: Eaton Surfboard Tee- my Dad gave this to me years ago, he wore in the 70s.
Bag: Camilla Staerk black oversized bag
Lingerie brand: Kiki De Montparnasse
Fragrance: Leilani Bishop’s Orange Blossom Fragrance Oil