Supporting Role: Bra Biz Success Story
Description: Bra manufacturer
Founder: Amanda Horan Kennedy, 45
Location: Marina Del Rey, California
Startup costs: $970
Estimated 2004 sales: Close to $750,000
Amanda Horan Kennedy was frustrated with the way her bra's back strap looked beneath a tight-fitting cashmere sweater. Even after scouring the finer department stores, she was unable to find a bra that did not accentuate the unsightly appearance of "back fat." On Valentine's Day in 2003, while her husband waited patiently for her to get dressed, inspiration suddenly struck Horan Kennedy: She cut the legs and crotch off of a pair of control-top pantyhose, slipped it over her head and onto her torso, and put on her cashmere sweater. "Hallelujah!" said Horan Kennedy, and the Sassybax prototype was born.
A psychotherapist at the time, Horan Kennedy had already drastically cut back her hours and patients to undergo two surgeries for brain aneurysms. She developed the prototype during her year of recovery, feeling certain she could help women in other ways outside of therapy.
Every step of the way, she cut expenditures to little or nothing. Her husband, Bruce, 54, a former lawyer who had started a business with three partners, drew up a nondisclosure agreement for manufacturers. Meanwhile, Horan Kennedy used frequent-flier miles on airline tickets; stayed with her sister, who lived near the factories under consideration; and got the factory she selected to do R&D for free.
Bruce and his partners decided to close their company, and he became Sassybax's CFO, suggesting they sell their home to cut out the expenses of a mortgage and property taxes. They also auctioned off their 1,500 collectible bottles of wine. "Every dime we cut back, every penny we saved went toward the business, which is still true," says Horan Kennedy. Renting a home in Marina Del Rey, California, near the Los Angeles airport, was beneficial to Horan Kennedy, who travels frequently to different retail locations and her three factories for business. She also sold her car--a courageous move in Los Angeles.
After designing the final prototype--a bra that has no seams or hardware, and provides support through microfiber nylon and spandex--Horan Kennedy attended an apparel trade show. She rented showroom space from a ready-to-wear apparel rep for the LA Mart, a trade show venue, where she rang up $2,800 in orders from specialty boutiques. The business soon took over the couple's lives. "It owns you. You live it, breathe it, eat it, sleep it," says Horan Kennedy. "You wake up in the middle of the night and think about [it]. I couldn't stop. It owned me." The garage became (and still is) their warehouse, and to fulfill that first order from the LA Mart, they enlisted the help of friends, offering free Sassybax bras in return--something they continue to do today.
One lingerie rep was lukewarm about Sassybax until she tried it on and found that the bra really was comfortable, supportive and flattering. With the rep onboard, Sassybax reached additional stores and landed in Neiman Marcus in March 2004, prompting Horan Kennedy to focus on Sassybax full time.
Horan Kennedy, who still works from a home office, estimates 2004 sales at $750,000. She is developing strapless, augmentation, and racerback bras to extend the line beyond the six versions currently available in stores and on the website www.sassybax.com.