Home / Teacher, Mentor, Partner, Friend: Meet The Moms Behind These Lingerie Pros
Bare Necessities
Valeria (left) and Silvia Campello of Cosabella.

Each of us owes an incalculable debt to our moms, and Mother’s Day often seems like an insufficient way to pay them back. Still, it’s a good time to celebrate what should be a lifelong acknowledgement of the woman who gave us life and set us on the path toward our own dreams.

This is especially true for people who work in the lingerie industry, a great many of whom were inspired by or worked closely with their mothers to learn their craft and build their businesses.

Lingerie Talk invited lingerie professionals to tell us, in their own words, how their moms made a difference in their lives and careers. We talked to designers, retailers and executives, both men and women, from Canada to California to the United Kingdom.

We think you’ll agree the stories below are heartfelt, inspiring and probably remind you of how your mom helped you!

We begin with a deeply moving story of a dynamic mother who helped create her daughter’s award-winning lingerie label … but did not live to see its launch.

Reenagh (left) and Rita McCall

Reenagh McCall, owner/designer, Embrace

My mother, Rita Kelly McCall, was a lady with style. The youngest of 7 and small in stature, she was affectionately referred to as ‘little Rita’ by my Dad. Once on a transatlantic crossing with her equally petite sister, their luggage never appeared, so ‘the girls’ pooled their money, bought out the scarf section in the gift shop and created different daily outfits for the voyage. This was true to form; she never bought an outfit she didn’t alter in some way to make her own.

But her heart was big, her humour grand and her compassion enormous. A stay-at-home Mom until I entered university and she began her new career as an inventor, Rita had always broken down barriers. Between her strength of character and perfect diction she could convince people to do things they never really intended to. In conflict she always retained composure and her voice was never raised, which was useful when she had to break down so many conservative views.

I fondly remember her convincing a round table of suits that her bra invention was patentable. Arriving with mannequin and prosthesis and pinning away before them, caught up in the moment, she handed a silicon breast to one of the senior partners to hold for a moment. Red faces and muffled murmurs aside, the patent was granted and went on to produce award-winning and top selling bras.

My mother died in 2007 and my daughter, Sophia, was born on what would have been her 80th birthday and 50th wedding anniversary. My inspiration to set up Embrace was to finish what my incredible Mother started. Technology has moved on and the opportunity to enhance, improve and update her concepts was obvious. More importantly I didn’t want the dream to die.

It had all begun with Rita having a dream and waking in the early hours to scribble down the design on a newspaper beside her bed. Now nursing my baby in hospital, I had my own moment of inspiration and saw how the concept could be applied to maternity and breast support now that technology had caught up with the concept. Embrace now has a portfolio of patents and patent applications and our belief in these and courage to develop new ideas was inspired by my Mom.

Rita was a small woman from a small country — but she had a grand idea. We worked together and stood face-to-face with corporations and legal teams, dealt with licenses and assignments, and fought infringers and won. Just little old her and little old me saw the impossible become reality because we believed in the concept and the opportunity to improve women’s lives.

I miss my Mom very much, but there are times when I know she’s with me. Last year, Embrace won the most creative design award at the Ultra Show during the Salon Internationale exhibition in Paris, and in February our new patent pending support and maternity concepts were chosen as one of the top three product innovations in Ireland for the Irish Times all-island awards.

I know she was there to see it all happen; but it’s the small moments when my son Kaelan, 9, chooses colour combinations for our collection or my daughter Sophia, now 4 ¾, pins lace to a mannequin that I think she smiles the most.

Editor’s Note: Based in Connemara, Embrace reached market in 2010 with an award-winning range of bra designs featuring its patented Internal Support System (ISS) that offers floating lift and support — based on Rita’s original inventions from the 1990s. Since then, daughter Reenagh has added the patent-pending Up Cup maternity line and the Move Me strap alternative.

Alison (left) and Gail Rubke

Alison Rubke, co-owner, Faire Frou Frou

Definitely many people owe what they’ve become to their moms, but my career as the co-owner of Faire Frou Frou would not have been possible without mine!

My mom Gail and I have always wanted to be in business together, but years ago when I was still working as a tax analyst, I didn’t see how it would be a possibility.

It wasn’t until one New Year’s Day that my mom and I were discussing resolutions. I had wanted a change in my career, but it was my mom who asked the pivotal question “If you could do any job that you’ve always wanted to do, and if money and a degree were not a factor, what would it be?”

It had been my dream to own a beautiful boutique, but certainly it could not be a reality … that was until my mom kept asking why not. She dared me to live the life I had dreamt about, and she helped me come up with solutions for the roadblocks I imagined. In no time flat, I had arranged to leave my cushy position at a large firm and start on my own business — with little/no experience, but the drive and belief that I could accomplish what I set out to do.

Once that hurdle was passed, my mom then helped develop the concept of Faire Frou Frou. She came up with the name (she was taking French lessons at the time), she created our logo by hand (you see our initials in the crown!), she designed the store interior, she helped pick out the brands we would carry (she discovered our two early favorite brands Carine Gilson and Vannina Vesperini, back when I thought those brands might be too expensive to carry … lesson learned).

These are just a few examples of how instrumental my mom was (and is) in my career. It’s a rewarding experience to be part of a mother/daughter business, and a dream fulfilled for me!

Gregory Gimble, Vice-President, Va Bien

My parents Marianne and Richard founded Va Bien together in the 1970s. I grew up around the business and saw first-hand what was required to grow it from the ground up into an international success.

The dedication that my mother displayed during those formative years – and that she continues to display – are a strong influence on me. It brought home the lesson not just that dedication drives success, but also that passion drives dedication.

She loves Va Bien and cares deeply about the customers who wear our products to their special occasion events; her passion for supporting those women drives her dedication, which thereby drives her success.

Right: Greg and Marianne Gimble today.

Silvia (right) helping out Val in the garage, 1984.

Silvia Campello, VP Operations, Cosabella

It is difficult to be concise with such a transforming topic. Firstly, I watched my mother Valeria live the American Dream. Is there anything more inspiring and ingraining to a maturing child than seeing their parent exemplify the ‘work hard’ philosophy and truly be successful?

Over 30 years, I watched her part-time garage office hobby transform into a globally recognized business that ultimately enveloped my father Ugo and all of her children. This was not simply an American dream come true. It was also a Mother’s dream!

Secondly, she always said that “you need to do a job that you either love very much or a job that gives you the freedom to do the things you love in your spare time.” I definitely took this advice. Not only do I work full time in the family business, I also practice as an acupuncture physician on the weekends.

Thanks to her love, support and guidance I am fortunate enough to have the freedom to love both!

Editor’s Note: That’s Val and Silvia today in the main photo at the top of this feature. Above, a note written in Grade 2 by Silvia that offers a hint at her own future. Now approaching its 30th anniversary, the management of Cosabella will soon be passed on to Silvia and her brother Guido.

Laura (left) and mom Dianne

Laura Mehlinger, designer/owner, Lola Haze

By the 1980s, my mom (Dianne Yee Mehlinger) had elevated the home-ec knowledge instilled in all women of her generation to fiber art. We would visit the Maryland sheep and wool festival where she would buy raw wool. Then, while I watched “Sesame Street,” she would spin it on her creaky wooden spinning wheel, weave it on her loose-limbed loom or knit it into an artisanal sweater for me. I would complain that the sweater was scratchy.

Where other girls had toy kitchens or Lego sets, I grew up in a world of bright fabrics, textured yarns, sewing patterns, embroidery floss. I started sewing when I was 4, and to this day am still playing with fabric.

My mom, now retired, continues to create beautiful fiber art, and shows up to keep me company and act as “Sales Mom” at CurvExpo. Thank you, Mom, for introducing me to my love and my vocation. Thank you for being one of my biggest supporters.

Melanie Heenan (center) and her daughters.

Amie, Leah, Holly and Marnie Heenan, Melmira Bra and Swimsuits

Growing up, the four Heenan girls were used to having a “working mom”. With an entrepreneurial spirit, and inspired by her own mother’s lingerie business out West, Melanie Heenan opened her own lingerie store in Toronto in 1997.

Holly reflects: “We were always encouraged to get an education and follow our dreams. The business was never an option for us.”

The four girls, each with their own interests, pursued educations in various disciplines. One by one, and slowly over time, each daughter decided to join the family business.

“Because of the established nature, we really had to prove ourselves. The learning curve was exponential, and I never worked harder or more enjoyed working than when I joined the family business,” said Marnie.

Leah likes to keep in mind Melanie’s philosophy when she feels challenged or burned out by the now 30-employee medium-sized business. Her mother believes that business was not brain science, but rather involves finding a niche, believing in what you do, and not being afraid to work very very hard. Leah is inspired by this every day.

Amie, Melanie’s eldest daughter and mother of two daughters under two years old, is very proud to be a working mom. She would like for her girls to watch her work hard at becoming a successful business woman, and hopes that one day they two will be inspired by their mother.

Melanie Heenan’s four daughters own Melmira Bra and Swimsuits, a women’s boutique in north Toronto.

Pom Lampson, owner, Sexy Panties and Naughty Knickers

My mother Melita has the most incredible eye for style and has taught me to look at the world in a certain way.

I used to travel all over the place taking pictures to show her visually what I had seen, as opposed to describing it on paper. This translated into a meticulous eye for detail in all my designs, and creating knickers that people would want to show off to all of their friends, rather than just telling them about their fabulous colour.

Most of all my mother taught me the bravery I needed to succeed at setting up a lingerie business from scratch with no formal design background.

Right: Pom in her hot pink Monroe nightie.

Patti (left) and Sarah Platt

Sarah Platt, owner, SF Showroom

My mother has always been my best friend, mentor and inspiration. Upon retiring as the Chief Clerk of the District Courts of Maryland, my mother Patti decided to open up a lingerie boutique that focused on bra fitting and hard-to-fit sizes. Being a larger busted woman, she hated bra shopping because she could never find a place that carried her size or, if she did find her size, the bras were ugly and not supportive. She thought that if she felt this way, there must be many other women with the same frustrations. She was right and 10 years later, A La Mode Intimates is still catering to women of all shapes and sizes.

I was planning on traveling to Thailand to teach English when my mother decided to start her business. To be honest, I was more passionate about traveling than I was about teaching. So, when she asked if I would like to help her start a lingerie business instead, I jumped at the opportunity. I had always wanted to know how to start a business and what could be more fun than starting a lingerie boutique with your best friend and mentor?

I learned so much over the years and I fell in love with the lingerie business. I was a buyer, marketing manager, event planner, certified bra fitter, shop manager and I learned the importance of mastering inventory levels of a bra fitting store that carries 104 sizes! (Not an easy task).

As much fun as it was to work with my mother, I missed the Sierras and the Pacific Ocean, so back to California I went. I started managing retail stores, including the first H&M’s on the West coast and I went back to school to earn my Masters in Marketing. In 2008 the economy took a fall and I decided to go back to Maryland to help my mother with the boutique. A la mode got back on track and once again California was calling me.

I didn’t like working for big corporations and I loved the lingerie world, so I decided try my hand as a brand representative. I represent fabulous brands and I still get to work every day with my mother; this time as her rep! Whenever I need a boutique owner or buyer’s perspective, she is just a phone call away with helpful suggestions and answers. Although we are not working in the store together, we are still working together every day.

I feel so blessed to have found a job I absolutely love and am passionate about; a job that doesn’t feel like work, but fun. I owe my happiness in work and life to my mother. She always taught me to follow my dreams and to not be afraid to take risks. She taught me this invaluable life lesson not just through words, but through her own actions. I couldn’t be more proud or in awe of her.

I am the luckiest woman in the world to have such a strong, independent, and supportive mother. Although we are on separate sides of the country, I feel closer to her than anyone and the best part of my job is it’s a good excuse to call her multiple times a day.

Sarah is an executive account manager for intimate apparel, accessory, clothing and maternity lines.

Lydia (left) and Tiffany Ajmo

Tiffany Ajmo, vice-president, Blush Lingerie

My brother Justin and I have been involved in the family business Blush ever since we were teenagers … working summers to help out in the shipping room, and as soon as we graduated from university, plunging into full-time work.
 
Our father Edward was always very involved in the business, thus not very present at home. Our mom Lydia was and continues to be the backbone of our family, making sure we were always well fed, well dressed and helping us through the difficult school years. She was  by our sides through it all!
 
Once we both started families of our own, along with our full-time careers, running the business presented many challenges. But our mom always came to the rescue! She was the one who would help out in all areas. She would be present in the business, but always available and so willing to help us with our children. The business is so demanding on our time; along with long hours at the office and very frequent business trips, without our mom’s support and help all this would not have been possible.
 
She is truly the sunshine of our lives, along with her outstanding smile and very positive attitude, she gets us through every aspect of our careers! This is a very volatile business, with many ups and downs. It is very difficult emotionally, but our mother is present in our lives on a daily basis and is there to pick us up when we feel down and to celebrate with us when we feel happy!
 
The hardest job in the entire world is being a mom and she truly has shown us that for her, it is not a job, but the biggest pleasure that life has to offer. We are forever grateful to our mom who we adore to pieces!

Founder Edward Ajmo handed over the management of Montreal-based Blush to Tiffany and Justin in 2001.

Posted in Lingerie News

One Response to “Teacher, Mentor, Partner, Friend: Meet The Moms Behind These Lingerie Pros”

  1. Laurie Shapiro says:

    This is so touching and inspiring! Thank you for sharing the human story behind each of these brands.

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