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Lane Bryant Malsin

MALSIN, LANE BRYANT (1879–1951), U.S. fashion innovator and entrepreneur. A gifted seamstress, Lena Himmelstein immigrated alone to New York from Lithuania at 16. Not quite 20, she married Russian immigrant jeweler David Bryant, who died a few months after their son, Raphael, was born in 1900. Bryant supported herself and her son by sewing lingerie and other apparel from her apartment; in 1904 she applied for a bank loan to open a shop. From then on her name became Lane Bryant, either because a bank officer misspelled her name on a business account application or she signed her name incorrectly on that application and was too embarrassed to correct the mistake. Bryant pioneered a special line of maternity clothing which became increasingly popular. After her 1909 marriage to Albert Malsin, who became her business partner, the couple started the first mail order catalog for maternity ware. By 1917 mail order revenues netted more than a million dollars and by 1950 their sales made them the sixth largest mail order retailer in the U.S. Lane Bryant's other major innovation was ready-made clothes for stout-figured women, and this clothing line was also a great success. Bryant opened the first of many branch retail stores in Chicago in 1915. When her husband died in 1923, Lane Bryant, Inc. was grossing $5,000,000 a year.

Lane Bryant was committed to good customer service and employee benefits, offering her workers decent wages, profit sharing, group life insurance plans, and medical expenses. When the company went public she provided one-fourth of the stock for employee investment. An exemplar of corporate philanthropy, Bryant teamed up with the American Red Cross and provided any Lane Bryant customer with a wardrobe to replace clothing destroyed in a disaster; she was also a supporter of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, New York Federation of Jewish Philanthropies, and other charities. She was survived by three sons, who continued to be involved with the business after her death, a daughter, and 12 grandchildren.

Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2007 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.