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Logo of Lane Bryant stores.
Lane Bryant is a retail women's clothing store focusing on plus-size clothing. It began in the early 1900s with the innovative maternity designs created by Lena Himmelstein Bryant Malsin.

Beginning

Widowed at an early age, Lena Bryant supported herself and young son as a dressmaker. Borrowing $300 for working capital from her brother-in-law, Lena 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 Avenuemarker 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, Lena created a dress with an elasticized waistband and accordion pleated skirt. This would be the first known commercially made maternity dress. This dress not only was welcomed by middle-class women, but by poorer pregnant women who had to work. The maternity dress soon became the best-selling garment in Lena's shop.

Early company challenges

When Lena 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 mechanically have dozens of dresses cut at once and employed high speed sewing methods. Lane Bryant began supplying design pattern materials and financing for contractors.

Though Lena 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. Albert 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.

Lena 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 must be met. Lena determined there were 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 five million dollars.

Mail order catalog

To bypass the discrimination of 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" 76 pages.

Other company innovations

Lane 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 Crossmarker to replace any Lane Bryant customer's wardrobe destroyed in a disaster. After the 1947 Texas City Disastermarker in Texas City, Texasmarker, 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, 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, Lena's sons took over the business. The Lane Bryant operations were purchased in 1982 by The Limited, founded by Leslie Wexner.

Today

The catalog operations were licensed to Brylane (now Redcats) in 1993. The retail operations were sold to Charming Shoppes in 1999, which has since expanded the chain and introduced on-line sales and outlet sales. Lane Bryant's "sister" stores that are owned by Charming Shoppes, include Fashion Bug and Catherines. Today, Lane Bryant is a large retail chain, present in many shopping centers across the United Statesmarker. Charming Shoppes regained the license for the catalog operations in late October 2007.

In 2002, two great-grandsons of Lena Bryant started a company named Fashion To Figure. They continue their family's legacy of full fashion with their specialty chain.

In 2004, two other great-grandsons of Lena Bryant's, (and the grandsons of Arthur Malsin), organized a buy-out of the Merrow Machine Company, the last American Manufacturer of sewing machines. They now operate it in Warehammarker, Massachusettsmarker.

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