Supporting Role: Bra Biz Success Story

All women know that some bras can be uncomfortable and unflattering. This entrepreneur did something about it.

By April Y. Pennington

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

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'sback strap looked beneath a tight-fitting cashmere sweater. Evenafter scouring the finer department stores, she was unable to finda bra that did not accentuate the unsightly appearance of"back fat." On Valentine's Day in 2003, while herhusband waited patiently for her to get dressed, inspirationsuddenly struck Horan Kennedy: She cut the legs and crotch off of apair of control-top pantyhose, slipped it over her head and ontoher 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 alreadydrastically cut back her hours and patients to undergo twosurgeries for brain aneurysms. She developed the prototype duringher year of recovery, feeling certain she could help women in otherways outside of therapy.

Every step of the way, she cut expenditures to little ornothing. Her husband, Bruce, 54, a former lawyer who had started abusiness with three partners, drew up a nondisclosure agreement formanufacturers. Meanwhile, Horan Kennedy used frequent-flier mileson airline tickets; stayed with her sister, who lived near thefactories under consideration; and got the factory she selected todo R&D for free.

Bruce and his partners decided to close their company, and hebecame Sassybax's CFO, suggesting they sell their home to cutout the expenses of a mortgage and property taxes. They alsoauctioned off their 1,500 collectible bottles of wine. "Everydime we cut back, every penny we saved went toward the business,which is still true," says Horan Kennedy. Renting a home inMarina Del Rey, California, near the Los Angeles airport, wasbeneficial to Horan Kennedy, who travels frequently to differentretail locations and her three factories for business. She alsosold her car--a courageous move in Los Angeles.

After designing the final prototype--a bra that has no seams orhardware, and provides support through microfiber nylon andspandex--Horan Kennedy attended an apparel trade show. She rentedshowroom space from a ready-to-wear apparel rep for the LA Mart, atrade show venue, where she rang up $2,800 in orders from specialtyboutiques. 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 nightand think about [it]. I couldn't stop. It owned me." Thegarage became (and still is) their warehouse, and to fulfill thatfirst order from the LA Mart, they enlisted the help of friends,offering free Sassybax bras in return--something they continue todo today.

One lingerie rep was lukewarm about Sassybax until she tried iton and found that the bra really was comfortable, supportiveand flattering. With the rep onboard, Sassybax reachedadditional 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, estimates2004 sales at $750,000. She is developing strapless, augmentation,and racerback bras to extend the line beyond the six versionscurrently available in stores and on the website

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