Elma. Weaving lace and magic by hand for the petite woman.

di Stefania Piccolo

Elma. Weaving lace and magic by hand for the petite woman.

di Stefania Piccolo

Elma. Weaving lace and magic by hand for the petite woman.

di Stefania Piccolo
6 minuti di lettura


Elma Valerio, San Francisco based designer, is the hand behind the “Elma” brand and the lingerie line “Handmade by Elma”.

Born in Japan and raised in Hawaii, Elma’s roots are imbued with a most interesting blend of cultures. As a child she would visit her grandparents in Yokohama during the summers, and there she learned how to sew, knit and crochet from her mother and grandmother. She would spend days, even months, working on sewing projects, and she fell in love with the art of sewing and crafting things with her hands. Also, in Japan, where there is a large home sewing and DIY community, such an art is considered part of the culture.

After graduating from the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising in Los Angeles, she refined her studies in London at Central St. Martins – University of the Arts, focusing on lingerie making and bespoke tailoring. She would watch the tailors of Saville Row working in their ateliers, hoping one day to have her own studio where she could do the same.

Her first job as a designer was for a medical uniforms company, where she learned the importance of designing for function, comfort, and durability. She designed and oversaw the license brand divisions which included collections for Eckō Unltd and Tokidoki. There she had the chance to contribute in each department, from sourcing, to product development, to marketing and sales, and so she learned a lot about the business side of fashion, a precious lesson which allowed her to start her own brand, and continues to help her in running it.elma1


Elma Valerio, stilista di San Francisco, è la creatrice del marchio “Elma” e della linea di intimo “Handmade by Elma”.

Nata in Giappone e cresciuta alle Hawaii, le radici di Elma sono pervase da una commistione di culture estremamente interessante. Da bambina durante le estati andava a trovare i suoi nonni a Yokohama, e lí la madre e la nonna le insegnarono a cucire, a lavorare a maglia e all’uncinetto. Passava giornate intere, anche mesi, a lavorare su progetti di cucito; si innamorò di quest’arte e di quella del fare le cose a mano. Inoltre in Giappone, dove c’è una grande comunità di sartoría casalinga e del fai da te, quest’arte è considerata parte della cultura.

Dopo essersi laureata al Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising a Los Angeles, ha affinato i propri studi a Londra, alla Central St. Martins – University of the Arts, scegliendo di specializzarsi nella lingerie e nella sartoría su misura. Osservava i sarti di Saville Row a lavoro nei propri atelier, sperando un giorno di avere uno studio suo in cui fare lo stesso.

Il suo primo lavoro da stilista fu per una compagnia di divise mediche, esperienza che le insegnò l’importanza di disegnare indumenti funzionali, comodi e resistenti. Lí, oltre a disegnare, coordinava il settore di licenze marchi, tra cui quelli per le collezioni di Eckō Unltd e Tokidoki. In quell’occasione ha potuto dare un apporto in ciascun dipartimento: dall’approvigionamento, allo sviluppo del prodotto, al marketing e alla vendita, imparando così molto riguardo al lato finanziario della moda, una lezione preziosa che le ha consentito di dare vita al proprio marchio e che continua ad aiutarla nel gestirlo.

Segue una breve intervista con Elma che ha risposto ad alcune nostre domande.10439513_1632213520337427_1070867308907468069_n


  1. What inspired you to create ‘Elma’?

I always wanted to start my own fashion business but I didn’t feel like I was ready yet. When I moved to Northern California with my husband I decided to take the plunge and set up my company. I didn’t have a set    plan for my business yet, but I knew I wanted to sell handmade items and I opened ElmaShop on Etsy.

  1. Specifically: why did you choose to design for the petite Woman?

I have a small frame and petite chest and it was always difficult to find lingerie in my size that was beautiful and comfortable. Most of what was out there for small chested women were heavily padded bras to conceal    your small chest, or underwired styles that would pinch at the middle. I didn’t want to hide the fact that I was petite, I wanted to embrace my natural figure and wear something comfortable enough to wear all day but    still feel feminine and beautiful. My search for such a bra came up short and I decided to make my own. I knew there must’ve been other ladies out there in the same boat as me so I started Handmade by Elma.

  1. How is designing for the petite woman different, and what are the challenges you face compared to fitting an average one?

The proportions are quite different for petites versus the average body type. Many petite women have wider set breasts and the underwires in most bras sit too close   together for them. The weight distribution of the bosom is also different and most average bras are too full at the top of the cup for petite women. I take into account   those  differences and cut my bra cups accordingly.12733450_1983720011853441_945559310649219589_n

  1. What does your creative process entail? 

My design process usually starts with the fabric . When I find a delicate lace or vibrant coloured silk, I think about what is the best use for the fabric and design     something    from there. I sometimes do a quick sketch just to get an idea of the silhouette I’m going for, but the details are all decided as I construct the first sample.


  1. Where do you find materials, and how do you pick them; do they inspire you, or do they fit an idea you    might    already have?

I’ve always been inspired by the textiles. I love working with my hands and taking a tactile approach in design.   Whenever  I travel I   make sure to buy some textiles or trims from local flea markets or fabric stores, looking for  that    something unique or special.

  1. I find your pieces so beautiful, upon seeing them for the first time, my immediate thought was: ‘what a waste to   hide these creations under one’s clothes’. Have you ever thought of adventuring out of the realm of lingerie, and   into day or eveningwear?

Thank you! There are so many different areas I would love to design for, and day and eveningwear are definitely fields I want to explore. While I don’t quite have the skills to master it yet, in the future I hope to expand a bit into those categories.

  1. And on that note, what are your future plans for ‘Elma’: how and where do you see it in ten years?

I hope that my brand will reach petite women around the globe and give them the confidence to embrace their natural figures. In ten years’ time, hopefully I will be on my way to building a lifestyle brand that goes beyond making clothes, but also makes a social impact.

Photos © sophistikfool-photography


Photographer & Creative Director:

Stefania Piccolo


Assistant Photographers:

Francesco Platania

Pasquale Pucciariello


Thank you to models:

Alissa Laderer


Elena Poroch


visit Elma at:


and shop “Handmade by Elma” on Etsy

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