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Simone Gonzalez didn't plan to build an empire based on teeny-tiny skirts.
But just a year after starting her clothing company, Pleasure Doing Business , Gonzalez's chic, elasticized skirts have stretched over the backsides of fashionistas from Rihanna to Heidi Klum, appeared on the Today Show and grossed more than $2 million in sales. The line has expanded from the basic black to 60 colors and styles sold at almost 100 retailers worldwide, including Neiman Marcus, Saks and Nordstrom.
Slip one on, and it's easy to see why these skirts are a sensation: Despite the second-skin fit, they are flattering--and the price is right. Basic styles start at less than $100, a far cry from the $600 charged for one by Herve Leger, who created the original "bandage" skirt back in the 1980s and whose designs have been enjoying a revival the past few years.
But Gonzalez, 26, says Leger was the furthest thing from her mind a few years ago, when she was a struggling artist walking through the garment district in downtown Los Angeles and spotted some stretchy, thick fabric. "It was a fluke," she says of the polyester and rubber material that would become her destiny.
She hauled her find to a friend's studio nearby and after playing with the thick, mummy-like elastic bands and shaping them into a simple tube skirt--no zipper, hem or serious tailoring required--Gonzalez realized she might be onto something.
"I searched the downtown garment district really heavily and pretty much bought out every elastic in every color available," she says. She made her first sale the first time she brought the colorful creations into a friend's boutique.
"To me, it's like a jean or like a T-shirt," she says. Gonzalez grew up in the apparel industry--her father was an executive with the now-defunct J. W. Robinson department stores, where her mother worked as a buyer. Gonzalez, who studied English at University of California, Santa Barbara, spent a summer interning in the fashion office of Bloomingdale's Manhattan headquarters. It was there that she began to experience the entrepreneurial itch.
"I just felt like why couldn't I do it if I tried?" she says. "So I started to take the steps to get there." She dropped out of college and worked as an assistant for L.A.-based clothier Krishan Chaudry. After a year, she was ready to do her own thing.
Today the bustling business, which was started with a $10,000 loan from Gonzalez's mother, houses 16 full-time employees in an industrial downtown L.A. studio Gonzalez found on Craigslist. And the family affair goes beyond the financials. Her mother helps coordinate orders with her father, who handles distribution, while an aunt helps sew the skirts. Gonzalez's boyfriend helps manage, and her brother assists in designs. A friend is office manager, and another runs the line's PR.
Next season, Gonzalez plans off-the-shoulder dresses and corset tops. But each piece still will contain the figure-sucking elastic that put her brand on the map. And she will never do away with her beloved skirts.
"Putting a skirt on makes you feel like a girl," she says. "It's kind of nice."