Friday 31 May 2013

Interview with PUG Supreme Overlord Laura Byrnes!

This interview for me is particularly exciting as I am a huge fan of Pinup Girl Clothing. Laura Byrnes is the Supreme Overlord of Pinup Girl Clothing, a professional photographer, model, designer, business woman and all round inspiration. Take a read below and you will see why!

Laura originally wanted to be a fashion/celebrity/music photographer. She went to Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City – for four months, until they tossed her out. She went to work in the photo district in Manhattan, and taught herself as much as she could, while both assisting and modeling for other photographers.

In 1997, Laura’s most successful year as a photographer, she quit. Laura had started making clothing for her daughter, who was born in 1996. Her mother-in-law taught her how to sew so she could make little dresses and onesies for her. Laura then learned to make everything, from string bikinis to Renaissance-style wedding dresses. Between 1996, when she founded Pinup Girl Clothing (Just called “Pinup Girl” back then), and 1999, Laura custom made clothing for a client base that included everyone from personal friends, to girls in the Swing Dance scene (precursor to our current Rockabilly/Pinup scene), to strippers and burlesque performers. In June of 1999 Laura and her husband launched the site, and they have been plugging away ever since! In 2006 when her main photographer and good friend Octavio Arizala became too busy to shoot for the site, she brushed off her camera and started shooting again.

Within a few short years Pinup Girl Clothing became the web's ultimate destination for high quality retro and vintage inspired clothing, shoes and accessories. Pinup Girl Clothing is the first company to do more than pay lip service to the idea that beauty is not a size. They use models from size Extra Small to 2X to showcase our designs, featuring stunning editorial pinup photography by Laura, who is also the head designer for the signature line, Pinup Couture.

Their designs can be found in thousands of boutiques across the globe, but online, they are the exclusive manufacturer and retailer of vintage inspired clothing lines Pinup Couture, Deadly Dames by Micheline Pitt, Dixiefried by Melanie Komenkul.

They love their customers, the 
Pinup GirlClothing Facebook page has over 500,000 likes and counting, because it is an active, lively forum filled with loyal customers who not only sing their praises, but actually helps other customers with questions about fit, sizing, and more. They enjoy and value this interaction with their customers and your comments and suggestions help them bring you even better designs and products, so please feel free to join them!

Photo by Trent Sherrill
How do you find the balance as a mother and as an entrepreneur?

By delegating, and by understanding my own limitations. My business started to take off just as my daughter Milena was turning 5, and I realized that having another child at that time was out of the question if I was also going to be working full time growing the business. As it was I felt I barely had enough time to spend with Milena. My husband and I raised Milena without the help of a nanny or babysitters, because we couldn't afford them. So, we made a choice to slit our work and child care duties between each other.

I hate that phrase people use when referring to working women: "Having it all". There is never any such thing. You make your choices based upon your priorities. I'm about to have another child in a couple of months, and I will definitely be getting a live-in nanny - I'm 44 and I'd die without one, I think. So, to keep balance in your life, know your limitations, and get help when you need it and can afford it! 

How did you manage the struggle in getting a business started while juggling a busy home life?

My husband and I split both the child care and the work duties, once the business started to take off. John was working as a photographer shooting cars, but once PUG started making a decent profit, he came on as my first employee and is now a partner in the business. During the first few years of the business (1997-2001), I did most of the child care and the business stuff, and I was also working towards my AA degree at Pasadena City College, as a result I was getting about 5 hours of sleep a day, on average. I would not recommend this sort of thing unless you are young and have boundless energy.

Speaking of busy home life, a huge congratulations on your new baby on the way. Things are no doubt going to change for you over the next year. How do you think things will change for your business?

I'm hoping not much will change, business-wise. At this point I can do most of my daily work from my iPhone, in bed. I have an amazing team that goes out of their way to make my life easier, and I am very appreciative of that! I'm sure that for the first few months with the new baby, I won't be shooting much, but I plan on getting back into the swing of things by the time the baby is 6 months old or so. And, I've hosted employee meetings at my house before, so there will probably be more of that sort of thing happening, as well.

What is your opinion on how women are viewed by mainstream society and how that affects how we view ourselves?

As we all know, mainstream media has a pretty thin view (no pun intended) of what is considered "beautiful". The mistake we make as women is that we listen to the voices of mainstream media. I understand that it can be hard to look through the pages of a fashion magazine and never see yourself represented, and then internalize the message, which is "you don't fit".

But we always have a choice to accept or reject this message. And we have the choice to create our own media, and transmit our own messages. This is why I love the internet. It's full of women creating their own media and telling their own stories. We have a choice to listen to these voices, instead, and we should.

There's never a shortage of women on the forums who tell the admins about how PUG really helped them discover or re-discover their self-esteem and teach them how to feel beautiful about themselves. How does it make you feel to know you have helped so many women in so many ways?

It makes me feel wonderful. Growing up, I never felt "girly" or beautiful. I was skinny and picked on for it, called "boy", "spider", etc. Even when I got older and started doing some modelling, I didn't feel much different. But when I wore vintage dresses, I'd feel a little different, and my impulse to design dresses came from that. When I wear my own dresses I definitely feel more girly, and so it's so great to know that my designs have a transformative effect on other women as well.

What is your opinion on how to raise girls (and boys too) these days so that they always see themselves in a positive light, no matter if society tells them they're too thin or too fat?

I think the most important thing is to really watch the way you speak to your daughter about her body. I think sometimes parents and adults say things without thinking - my father used to call the slightly chubby girl across the street "pork chop", and now, I wonder about how that must have affected her. I feel like discussion of a girl's body should be pretty much off-limits. No matter what you look like as a young girl, you are going to be self-conscious, so adults shouldn't add to that.

But, we should also talk to our children about body acceptance, we should acknowledge that there is a mainstream beauty standard, but we should also mention that it's bullshit. Lastly, keep your kids away from as much TV as possible. Every time I turn on my TV (which is rare, I only have Apple TV now, no cable at all, because WASTE OF TIME AND MONEY), I am blown away by all the stupid ideas being presented as perfectly rational ideas, especially ones about beauty and size. I'm not saying these ideas aren't prevalent in other forms of media, but TV seems to take the cake.

Why it is you think that the pinup/vintage/retro/rockabilly style speaks so powerfully to so many women these days?

Vintage inspired clothing is fantastic because it pays homage to your body, it is meant to showcase you in a flattering light. Modern fashion is the opposite - it rarely flatters or fits correctly. Also, pinup is a very clean, graphic look - it calls attention to you by virtue of its clean lines and hourglass shapes. And, men find it attractive. I think another thing mainstream media gets wrong is their idea that all men want to see is "sexy". I don't think that's true. They want to see "sexy", but also "powerful", and "in control". I feel that pinup style conveys that, and many men respond to that - and many women like to have that affect when dressing.

There seems to be a real hunger in women young and old for high waisted shorts, polka-dot blouses and swing skirts with petticoats underneath, especially women that seem to have come from places of low self-esteem and even depression. Why do you think this style has become so popular for these women?

Again, it's clean, fits well, and flatters. I feel that for many women, the low self-esteem and depression may have had its root in messages they internalized previously - that they could never be sexy or beautiful unless they were a certain size. Pinup style looks great on literally any size. It works because it loves the female shape. It's hard to continue to feel not-beautiful when you're wearing these items and the mirror is showing you very clearly that you look awesome. So that self-loathing starts to melt away a little as a result.

Has Pinup Girl Clothing and this style helped your own confidence at all?


What advice would you give to readers on how to improve their own confidence and self-esteem?

Don't listen to other people's voices, be it Vogue's, your mother, or your friends. Don't ever let anyone tell you you're not good enough, it's total bullshit. Dress and style yourself in a way that makes you happy, and don't worry if someone has an issue with it. The biggest mistake we make is listening to other people's voices instead of our own.

Social media is now a big part for any business. I am aware that you really reach out to your fans through your interaction on Facebook, Twitter and Pinup Girl Style. Yourself and the PUG crew have done a fantastic job of successfully gaining followers, fans and sales though these means. What does it take to be a social media success in business?

You have to really, sincerely, love your customers and want to talk to them, get to know them, and hear their opinions on all sorts of things, including your work. You must be absolutely sincere about this. In fact, if you don't love your customers, don't even bother trying to grow a business.

But you also have to be honest. I get in trouble sometimes for openly disagreeing with a Facebook fan. I love my customers, but I will not pretend to be someone I'm not just for the sake of keeping a customer, and to me, that is part of being sincere. If I lose a customer due to an honest comment on my part, I'm prepared to accept that.

Us PUGsters love that fact you guys are real, open, honest, produce good quality clothing and accessories and stand up to internet trolls. I love that you stand up for what you believe in and stand up for each other. What is your view on why people are turning to social media as a way of bullying?

Bullies are just scared people pretending not to be scared, so the internet is a bully's wet dream. They think they can be as horrid as they like without any adverse consequences for them. However this is why it's so important to stand up to bullies online. If you ignore them, they do not go away. Only by shaming them and exposing their bullying will you get them to stop. The trick is to make their bullying as not-fun for them as possible. As soon as you do, they slink off.

You work with models all the time and model yourself. Over the years you must have picked up many beauty secrets. What beauty advice would you give to your fans?

First, be true to yourself, listen to your own voice and follow your own vision. Secondly, try not to hold onto negative emotions such as fear and anger. I really feel that if you do, it shows on the outside. Physically, simply take care of yourself. Use sunscreen every day. Stay out of the sun as much as possible. Eat for nourishment, not for comfort or to alleviate boredom. Don't drink to excess. Take walks! Simply, just love yourself. Beautiful people are people who are not afraid to be loving toward themselves.

What is your own beauty routine?

I'm pretty OCD about my skin. I posted my skincare tutorials here

Being Micheline's friend has resulted in me being much more aware of the power of a good eyebrow, so I definitely try to have good eyebrows at all times. I'm very active physically and have a high metabolism, so if I take walks I don't really need to go to the gym. But, I really try not to go nuts, I just do what makes me happy. Someone commented on one of my YouTube videos that I always look like I just woke up, and I know what she means, ha ha. I can't be bothered to look super-cleaned up at all times. But I always, ALWAYS take good care of my skin.

Did you expect when setting up Pinup Girl Style that the community would build to be as strong and large as it has become?

I didn't, but the response has been fantastic, and I love how the PUG fans have really taken the reigns and shaped the site themselves. Most of the posts are about sharing ideas or meeting up in person, and that's so great.

Last year I organised a UK Meet and Greet for PUG fans from the Pinup Girl Style website. I know first-hand that the ladies within this community are very lovely people. They all made such a huge effort to attend, were all dressed up looking fabulous for the best dressed competition I ran, there was a real sense of community even with a small group the other side of the pond. What I love most about this site is that it gives people the chance to make new friends who have similar interests, who share a passion for retro fashion and help and support one another. What do you love most about Pinup Girl Style?

Exactly what you just articulated! That people use the site to enrich their own lives in such wonderful ways.

You are both a successful business owner and professional photographer. What do you love most about photography?

That it allows me to speak to people. I am a very visual person, when I take a photo and share it with the world I feel like I'm communicating better than I ever could with words. It's hard to explain. Taking photos is something I have no choice about. It's how I communicate.

You state on Facebook that at the very beginning of your photography career you were thrown out of the Photography Program at FIT after four months, why was that?

Two reasons: First, I was giving the professors a hard time. I have this problem where I have no problem challenging anyone, and I was challenging the professors non-stop. I wanted to know why we were being taught a certain type of editorial photography style when all the fashion magazines were in the process of moving to a wildly different style. I wanted to know if any of us were ever going to use the Zone System in our post-school photo careers. I wanted to know why my high school darkroom was better than the shitty darkrooms at FIT (seriously, I got a job at a rental darkroom on 20th st just so I could print there and get better results). The professors hated me. So I'm sure that was a factor.

But also during the four months I was there I broke up with my boyfriend, and that relationship was pretty toxic, and the aftermath had me reeling. I was showing up to class, but I could hardly focus. I was a real mess, and I'm sure that my work started to suffer - and that probably gave the department head the excuse he needed to throw me out. I was fine with it. I remember saying "OK then", and walking down to the rental darkroom and requesting full-time work. I taught myself everything I needed to know while working there, and I met a lot of great photographers and made great contacts. So it was really the best thing that could have happened.

You have gained huge success since then, what achievement with photography are you most proud of?

I'm just proud of the fact that I can shoot the things I love whenever I want to. However I did nearly die of joy the day Kitten Natividad asked me to photograph her. When the people you admire tell you they admire you, that's fucking awesome.

What do you like to do with your down time?

I love to travel, and I love taking photos. Also, reading and watching documentaries on netflix. Also I love hanging out with my daughter Milena, we have a blast together no matter what we're doing.

What does the future hold for Pin Up Girl Clothing?

We'll be expanding into some different categories besides clothing and shoes, but I'm always secretive about our future plans so this is all I'll say about that.

Do you have any plans to break further in to the UK market?

Yes, but also, top secret <3

Just for fun!

Photo by Tim Hunter Photography
Do you have a favourite band or music artist?

Too many to list fully, but here's a partial list: The Prodigy, Bauhaus, New Order, Nick Waterhouse, Holly Golightly, Public Enemy, The Beastie Boys, Azaelia Banks, & Janelle Monae.

Who would you like to play you in a movie?

Erin Cummings.

What’s your favourite colour?


What’s your most embarrassing moment?

I have no shame, so nothing embarrasses me, ha ha

What 3 things can’t you live without?

My iPhone, SPF 15 day cream, my sketchbook

What’s your favourite drink?

Patron Silver Margarita, on the rocks, with salt. 

What’s your favourite movie?

Breakfast at Tiffany's

What is your idea of a perfect night out?

I'm too old to care about going out anymore :(

Where in the world would you love to go?

I never get sick of Ireland. But lately I've wanted to go places where people are struggling. I think we're spoiled here in the US and Europe. I think we need to go see how other people live, and then think on ways we can help improve their lives. Governments seem to have stopped caring about the way many of their citizens live, so now it's up to us to help out if we can.

If you had to pick just one, what is your favourite Pin Up Girl piece of clothing?

My High-Waisted Trousers. They are the best fitting pair of pants ever. I go into high end boutiques and try on pants all the time, just to confirm that mine are better. I'm disgustingly, unabashedly proud of my trousers.

I would like to thank Laura for her time with this interview. I hope you have enjoyed. We have so far managed to interview Cameron Silver Owner of Decades store in LA and fashion extraordinaire, a showcase from luxury loungewear company Betty Blue’s Loungerie, interviews with successful Pin Up Style models Cherry Dollface and Ivory Lovelust, and now an interview with supreme overlord of Pinup Girl Clothing Laura Byrnes! Stay tuned for reviews, interviews, business showcases, photographers, models and much more!



  1. what a wonderful interview. Thank you for posting it :)

  2. No problem! Thank you for reading. I am glad you liked it! :)

  3. I really loved this interview! Laura is an amazing and inspiring woman and such a brilliant role model. I have loved her clothes for years and her brand was the first stuff I bought getting into vintage style clothing! It is wonderful to know that the woman behind the clothes I love is a strong, beautiful and talented person.

  4. Thanks so much for this interview. I love PUG clothes, and the staff always seems so fabulous. I love that it's a great company that offers amazing clothes made for real women.

  5. No problem at all. Laura is very inspiring and I'm glad you have enjoyed :)

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