Monday, September 8, 2008

Lida Orzeck Founder of Hanky Panky thongs interview

Lida Orzeck and Gale Epstein have been thong Superwomen of Hanky Panky for the past 30 years. Hanky Panky is no doubt the icon for "the lace Thong", since Hanky Panky is the creator of the original stretch lace thong, and here Lida Orzeck talks to Isobella Jade about the roots of creating Hanky Panky 30 years ago:

I just want to let you know that I love your low rise thong, especially since it fits size zero, and all I wear is thongs, except to bed I wear boy shorts sometimes, and I think the thong is more comfortable than any type of panty, and I am so glad to be speaking with you about one of my favorite things.
Orzeck: Our original rise and low rise thongs come in ONE SIZE, that’s true. The original fits 4 to 14 and the low 0 to 12. However, some of our smaller customers have been asking for an XS size low rise thong so we are introducing that for Spring 2009 delivery. We also make a Plus Size thong in the original rise that fits sizes 14 to 20.

Now you and your business partner Gale Epstein met at Barnard College and since then you and Gale have become the thong Superhero’s during the past thirty years, but let’s go back in time, can you tell me about how the name Hanky Panky came about?
Orzeck: It started with a gift Gale gave me for my birthday. The gift was a bra and bikini underpant that Gale had cut up and reassembled from hand embroidered cotton handkerchiefs. The name Hanky Panky truly presented itself!

So when was the “let’s do this! Let’s start a business moment”?
Orzeck: My birthday was in June and we were incorporated by September (1977) so the “let’s do this” moment happened pretty fast even though Gale and I both had full time jobs at the time.

Were you working out of your home, or did you have a studio when you first started?
Orzeck: Gale’s bedroom was her design studio and my living room was the shipping area. Since we lived in the same apartment building, we met in the stairwell between floors in the evening to talk and plan. We moved into a small office in a building across from the New York Public Library’s main branch in Manhattan within the first few months. That 550 square foot space was our showroom by day and cutting room by night.

So before launching Hanky Panky you were working as a social psychologist in the city, so did you bring any of those assets into launching Hanky Panky and knowing what women want in their lingerie drawer?
Orzeck: My academic background certainly contributed to my ability to excel at running and building our business although it’s difficult to specify precisely how.

Did you feel your own panties and thongs at the time were lacking the comfort level that women want?
Orzeck: Gale, our designer, wanted to infuse a nylon-saturated lingerie market with cotton in styling that could be worn to show. In addition, comfort is extremely important to Gale.

So with $15,000 you started the company, what were your main goals when you first started designing samples?
Orzeck: Our goal was to get orders and we focused on the department stores and Bendel’s. At that time, buyers had autonomy and a willingness to write orders on the spot. Every store I visited wrote an order.

Was it getting it in stores, magazine editorials, etc, so many designers today rely on magazine editorials to help get them in the store today?
Orzeck: We also called magazines directly—we didn’t hire a PR agency for over two decades! We got coverage fairly easily it seems now—in Glamour and Mademoiselle and Life—and a terrific spread in the Chicago Tribune photographed by the renowned Victor Skrebneski.

So basically you were a two-women band, with Gale designing, measuring, and producing samples and you ran around to department stores pitching the thongs, sounds like you had many really long days, can you tell me a little about that experience of store selling, and if at first you were nervous? Or what was your pitch plan?
Orzeck: I was running around but I was not selling thongs at that time. Gale had not yet designed our world famous style 4811. That would happen in 1986. Yes—I was nervous but not as much as you’d imagine. Ignorance can sometimes lull you into self confidence and I was having a lot of success.

In the beginning did you try on the product samples yourself for fit or did you have models? Orzeck: In the beginning, Gale and I wore the clothes and Gale was the fit model. But we have always had friends and relatives and now our many female employees wear-test the styles to insure that they are comfortable to varying body types.

Who is the girl on your website? Orzeck: A model!

I love your website by the way; it is really fun to navigate. When you started Hanky Panky did you ever imagine how much the internet would change shopping and the lingerie market? Orzeck: The internet? How about computers generally? We were in business for 14 years before we computerized our order entry, production and accounting. Prior to that, everything was done manually, including word processing. We used typewriters and adding machines. There was no excel.

How has the internet changed Hanky Panky and what are your thoughts when it comes to the changes you have seen within retail from 1977 to today?
Orzeck: Most of the changes in retail center around the large retailers and department stores—the way in which orders are written and tracked electronically (which is called EDI—electronic data interchange), the growth of the specter of chargebacks and penalties which has become a profit center for retailers, the consolidations among department stores which has lead to a vast reduction in the number of players.

Did you ever image a person could set up a lingerie business over the web like they can today?
Orzeck: No. In fact, the first distribution channel we considered was via advertisements in the back pages of fashion magazines, because in the late 1970’s that form was still being utilized. But, instead, Gale made some samples for me and I made appointments with the lingerie buyers of all the major department stores in New York and Los Angeles in order to do business the traditional way. By the way, when internet selling began, I was convinced that apparel would never amount to much volume via this channel!

Now I never knew that piece of fabric that is the crotch lining had a name until recently, but I read an interview with Gale on that it does have a name, and it is called The Gusset. I think it is really great that your brand takes everything and even the private area details into a design factor. I have had many experiences of buying a thong that I think is cute on the outside but then is so uncomfortable to wear down there. When it comes to finding a good fitting thong, can you give my listeners some advice on things to look for.
Orzeck: Comfort is as an important design priority at Hanky Panky as is style. And when it comes to underwear, it has to be comfortable. The gusset must be cotton and everything revolves around this piece of fabric. If it is too short, too long, too wide or too narrow, then comfort is sacrificed. The hip band of a thong should not bind.

A few of my other favorites are your sexy lace boyshorts, and also the organic thong, made from organically grown cotton, you can find this at and I also love your cotton flower lace dress, and your lace top, and I love your bridal ruffle thong, very sexy, and I think the simple sensual details in hanky panky are perfect for models to consider for their photo shoots, especially models who want to be body part models, and need some shots to show their body while wearing a panty that will give them a great siluette.

I love the pin up appeal in the Hanky Panky website, and I am intrigued with your Retro Hollywood collection that just came out. And it gives a solute to vintage lingerie at it’s best, can you tell me a little about your inspiration for the collection and The Harlow High-Rise Retro Leg? (I love old movies and I am a fan of the 1940's styles and 1950's. )
Orzeck: Hanky Panky has always tipped its hat to the past and Gale’s particular inspiration is a salute to Alberto Vargas and his sensuous pastels of Hollywood ’s glamorous beauty queens of the 1930’s and 1940’s for our brand image. Our new panty collection featuring the High Rise Retro Leg is right out of this period but interpreted in modern fabrics.

I am most impressed with the friendship and business relationship you have with Gale, and you have had it for 27 years! What is some advice you could give two girls who want to start a business together?
Orzeck: First of all, we encourage partnerships. It’s terrific to be able to share the pleasure and the pain of growing a business. It’s helpful that each partner have separate areas of concentration. In our case, Gale’s is design and mine is running the business. Most important is that you both bring trust and the same passion to the endeavor or the partnership will surely fail.

Hanky Panky’s stretchable lace is a household name and conversation starter and they come in sizes XS and 0 to size 20 you can find them at

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