Olga Erteszek along with her husband Jan (1913–1986), a lawyer, came to the United States in 1941. Fleeing Poland and the invading Nazi army, the young couple left their family and most possessions. After emigrating to Russia and then Japan, they both eventually secured a visa and landed in California.
As the daughter of a corsetiere, Olga worked in a sweatshop making girdles and brassieres, and Jan found work in sales. One day she spotted a woman on a trolley with hosiery rolled to her knees. She said to Jan that it was a shame that women didn't have at least some bit of finery to hold up their stockings, something to make them feel feminine no matter how severe the sacrifices or how limited their funds were during the war effort. Jan encouraged her to create something herself to facilitate the woman, so with a $5.00 sewing machine rental and $5.00 of material, she got started.
Olga sewed a dozen or so lace-trimmed garter belts that Jan sold to the foundations buyer at an elite department store. And this started an industry that blossomed to employ 2,000 people. Enduring from the 1940s to today, Olga is known as America’s leading maker of fashionable lingerie, sleepwear and loungewear. At one time, Olga directed a team of 17 designers who were dedicated to change the look of women’s confining “unspeakables” to fashion pieces that shaped the bust, smoothed the tummy and enticed the gentlemen. Jan found his calling as the head marketing and sales director. It was Jan who insisted that Olga herself appear in the advertising under the tag line, “Behind every Olga there really is an Olga”.
Holding the woman's record for patents at 28, Olga brought women many pleasing, comfortable and fashionable undergarments. In addition to winning many industry awards, Olga and her husband were honored for their community and humanitarian work. In 1985, they received the California Industrialist of the Year Award for lifetime achievement. Olga was one of the first businesses to initiate profit sharing for employees, and in 1967 it became a publicly owned corporation valued at $67 million. In 1984, Olga was ranked as a Fortune 500 company and one of the best 100 companies to work for in America.
In 1984, Olga was purchased for $28 million by Warnaco which Olga and Jan felt was a good match for both companies had the same congruent philosophies. Shortly after this, a hostile takeover of the purchasing company changed the culture of the company drastically. In 1986, the same year that Olga and her daughter, and heir apparent, Christina were honored with the New York's Underfashion Club's Femmy Award, her husband, Jan, died. In 1988, the Intimate Apparel Council honored her with their first Intime Award.
One notable piece of lingerie Olga designed was the Built In Bra Nightgown. This came about after a hospital stay, where she said at the time "The comfort and security...is hospital tested". These gowns provided the support and beauty a woman might want while convalescing.
Although most famous for her bras, girdles and undergarments, her line of Spandex Blend nightgowns were quite successful for many years, but sadly for some, did not seem to continue to be produced much after the Warnaco takeover.
In 1989, at the age of 73, Olga Erteszek succumbed to breast cancer. Her daughter Christina continued to design lingerie and has recently designed a bra which is cushioned to relieve underwire pressure and gently massages as you wear it to promote healthy breasts.
- Susan Ware & Stacy Braukman (eds) (2004). Notable American Women: a biographical dictionary completing the twentieth century. Belknap Press. ISBN 0-674-01488-X