Photo: Heist 

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Can a pair of tights really be revolutionary?

From start-up to cult in less than three years, one pair of Heist tights is now sold every 15 seconds. Hannah Banks-Walker discovers what makes them so good

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By Hannah Banks-Walker on

I always thought of black tights as a mundane item. I’d pick up a multipack of opaques whenever I could remember to, and I relied on them for most of the year, but I didn’t really give them much thought. My thoughts were reserved for more exciting sartorial pursuits – midi dresses, mainly. But that was until I tried a pair of Heist tights which are, I kid you not, one of the best things to happen to my wardrobe since, well, ever. Why? Because the brand is putting women and their needs above everything else.

“We decided to start with a much overlooked product that has not been redesigned since they were first invented,” explains Ellie Howard, head of community at Heist. “We looked at what a pair of tights would have to look like if they didn’t slip down, if they didn’t dig in, if they didn’t roll. By working with 67 women to begin with, getting under their skin and creating a laundry list of things they wanted, we could then start to see what our tights would look like.” The brand was founded in 2015 by Edzard van der Wyck and CEO Toby Darbyshire, who may both be men but quite clearly understand the need for innovation and better choice within the women’s lingerie market. “We fundamentally think the underwear industry is stuck in the Dark Ages,” says Ellie. “We think that women’s clothing is often spoken about, commented on and linked to women’s wider role in the world. But underwear is never really discussed. What’s interesting is that for the garments that are worn closest to our skin and very intimately, we’re willing to put up with discomfort when we shouldn’t have to.”

When you start with the customer, the woman and what she wants, you can go pretty far from that point

In terms of the product, the reason these tights are so revolutionary boils down to a few factors. As well as a choice of deniers (The Thirty, The Fifty, The Eighty and The Nude) there are two choices of waistband on every pair – a high waist and a slightly lower style – which may sound basic but proves to be a real game changer. I can personally attest to the fact that they don’t slip, the waistband doesn’t roll over and it doesn’t dig in. Also, as Ellie explains, “another problem with tights were the seams. So, our tights, instead of being two legs stitched together with a waistband on top, are knitted in a continuous tube and then snipped in the middle before the waistband is hand sewn on. Then you do away with the gusset, which is so gross and we also got rid of the seam on the end of the toe.”

At around £20 for a pair, they’re not cheap. But one pair will outlast several of its cheaper counterparts (they even wash well), and the range of sizes puts a lot of high street brands to shame. The brand launched Heist+ back in November, meaning that sizes now range from 4-24. "We had to go across the world and find the only knitting machine (in a Japanese factory in China) capable of producing the waistband for sizes 16-24.” explains Ellie. Although you won’t find a plus-size section on Heist’s website – all sizes are presented together – having a separate launch for Heist+ was important to the brand. “We spoke to over 300 women ranging from sizes 16-24 and while length was a huge problem for many, there were also women who were having to wear three pairs of knickers over the top of their tights just to hold them up. It’s so outrageous."

In fact, tights are just the tip of the iceberg. Heist will be launching underwear this autumn, and for this Ellie and the team have spoken to 1,000 women from wide-ranging demographics, in order to understand exactly what it is we all want. “When you start with the customer, the woman and what she wants, you can go pretty far from that point,” says Ellie.

Heist+ launched in November 2017, meaning that the brand's tights now range from sizes 4-24
 

Last year, Heist attempted to buy advertising space across London’s Tube network but were told by TFL that, as the imagery showed a woman’s bare back, it wouldn’t be permitted unless this was covered. This has only made the team more determined to communicate the story they want to tell. “How on earth can we provide an alternative view if we’re not allowed to? Let us just join in,” says Ellie. “I think that’s why the whole thing got a great response because it was never about “let’s not do sexy”, it was saying “let’s also do strong”.  We’re currently in the throes of launching a new campaign around women’s movement. Not just in the literal sense but also regarding what women want to do professionally and personally and how can we build a conversation where women set their own agenda, rather than being told what is socially acceptable.”

There’s no doubt that Heist is a success story so far. The brand now ships to 38 countries worldwide, has seen a growth of 30 per cent month on month and, on its busiest days, sells a pair of tights every 15 seconds – the most popular being The Fifty. 

We’ve got a lot to say and we’re not afraid to say it

In just over two years, Heist has gone from a startup to somewhat of a cult phenomenon. So, other than the quality of the product, what does Ellie think is the key to the brand’s success? “We want the message to be very clear – it’s not about practicality on one end and sexy on the other – those aesthetics have to be combined. The Heist+ launch was a really exciting thing but we’re also just really proud of the work we’ve done on the brand behind the scenes and where it’s going to go. We’ve got a lot to say and we’re not afraid to say it.”

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Photo: Heist 
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