Lane Bryant is a United States retail women's clothing store chain focusing on plus-size clothing. It began in 1904 with the innovative maternity designs created by Lena Himmelstein Bryant Malsin. As of 2013, the chain consists of 812 stores in 46 U.S. states (only Alaska, Hawaii, Montana and Wyoming do not have Lane Bryant stores).
Widowed at an early age, Lena Bryant supported herself and her young son as a dressmaker. Borrowing $300 for working capital from her brother-in-law, Bryant went to the bank to open an account. The bank officer misspelled her name on the application as Lane instead of Lena. In 1904, she rented a small storefront on Fifth Avenue with living quarters in the back for $12.50 a month. There she hung her garments from the gas fixtures, and opened the doors.
Asked by one of her pregnant customers to design something "presentable but comfortable" to wear in public, Bryant created a dress with an elasticized waistband and accordion pleated skirt. This would be the first known commercially-made maternity dress. This dress was welcomed not only by middle-class women, but by poorer pregnant women who had to work. The maternity dress soon became the best-selling garment in Bryant's shop.
Early company challenges
When Bryant married Albert Malsin in 1909, he took charge of the business. He systematically began to develop and expand it. Albert instituted engineering exactness, and modern cost accounting and pricing. Sales had reached $50,000 a year by 1910. Albert was determined to steer the operation towards specialization. To produce in quantity and at lower cost he began to have dozens of dresses mechanically cut at once and employed high-speed sewing methods. Lane Bryant began supplying design pattern materials and financing for contractors.
Though Bryant came up with an innovative and commercially viable product, she had trouble getting the word out: Tradition dictated that topics like pregnancy were not discussed in the press. Her husband took on this challenge by convincing the New York Herald to accept advertising for their venture in 1911. When the paper did, the shop's entire stock sold out the next day.
Bryant saw another need just before World War I. Before then, there were no mass manufacturers of clothing for "stout-figured" women. After measuring 4,500 of her own customers, as well as gathering information from about 200,000 other women, it was obvious that a new challenge had to be met. Bryant determined three types of stout women and designed clothing to fit each. Plus-sized clothing quickly eclipsed the maternity line, and by 1923, company sales reached $5 million.
Mail order catalog
To bypass exclusion from the newspapers, the Malsins created the first mail order catalog for maternity wear. The mail order business was developed for the women preferring privacy about their "condition". By 1917, revenues from the catalog exceeded one million dollars. By 1919, their "stout catalog" had 52 pages and the "maternity catalog" had 76 pages.
Other company innovations
Lena Bryant was a pioneer in other ways. Her customers were important to her, and customer relations and corporate philanthropy were high on her list. At her suggestion, Lane Bryant, Inc. worked with the Red Cross to replace any Lane Bryant customer's wardrobe destroyed in a disaster. After the 1947 Texas City Disaster in Texas City, Texas, the company outfitted 58 mail order customers whose homes were destroyed in the resulting fire. This is only one example of many.
Another concern was employee benefits. At a time when few companies offered anything more than wage, Lane Bryant offered profit sharing, pension, disability insurance, group life insurance plans, and medical benefits. By 1950, more than 3,500 employees participated in these pioneering concepts. Twenty-five percent of the stock issued when the company went public was reserved for employee subscription.
Continued company growth
In 1915, the first branch retail store opened in Chicago. After her death in 1951, Bryant's sons took over the business. The Lane Bryant operations were purchased in May 1982 by The Limited, founded by Leslie Wexner.
The catalog operations were licensed to Brylane (now Redcats) in 1993. The retail operations were sold to Charming Shoppes, another owner of plus-size clothing stores, in 1999 for $335 million. Charming has since expanded the chain and introduced online and outlet sales. Lane Bryant's "sister" include Fashion Bug and Catherines. In order to trade on the well-known Lane Bryant brand, Charming folded all of its store sites into the Lane Bryant domain; fashionbug.com and catherines.com both redirect to xxx.lanebryant.com. Today, Lane Bryant is a large retail chain, present in many shopping centers across the United States. In 2004 Lane Bryant opened a flagship store in New York near Fifth Avenue. Charming Shoppes regained the license for the catalog operations in late October 2007.
2010 Lane Bryant ads
Lane Bryant accused Fox and ABC of censoring their 30-second ad spot during commercial breaks for Dancing with the Stars and American Idol. The ads featured plus-sized model Ashley Graham in their new Cacique line of lingerie. Lane Bryant accused the two networks of bias and discrimination because they had no problem with airing Victoria's Secret advertisements, with similarly clad models, in the same time slots.
- "Lane Bryant". Jewish Virtual Library. Retrieved 2013-02-23.
- "All Lane Bryant Locations". Forlocations.com. Retrieved 2013-02-23.
- "History of Lane Bryant, Inc. – FundingUniverse". Fundinguniverse.com. Retrieved 2013-02-23.
- "Lingerie Ads Nixed Due to Plus-Sized Model?". CBS. April 24, 2010.
- Tracy Clark-Flory (Apr 21, 2010). "Lane Bryant's curvy models censored?". Salon.