Lane Bryant, Inc. History

8655 East Broad Street
Reynoldsburg, Ohio 43068

Telephone: (614) 577-4000
Fax: (614) 577-4219

Wholly Owned Subsidiary of Charming Shoppes, Inc.
Incorporated: 1914
Employees: 10,000
Sales: $903.6 million (2004)
NAIC: 448120 Women's Clothing Stores; 448150 Clothing Accessories Stores

Company Perspectives:

Fashion comes first for Lane Bryant and the Lane Bryant customer, who is influenced by the same fashion trends as every other woman in the U.S. Size is only a technical specification of the garment. Lane Bryant continually provides its customer with fashionable apparel that has been inspired by the international fashion designers and global vendors. Customers appreciate both classic silhouettes as well as up-to-the-minute fashion direction. Lane Bryant recognizes that its customer's increasing demand for fashion reflects a growing sense of confidence and self-acceptance. By listening to and taking direction from its customer, Lane Bryant strives to celebrate women's individual sense of style reflected in the diverse range of fashion offerings, uplifting, compelling store environments, energetic, knowledgeable customer service and through marketing, advertising and promotional programs that present positive images for all women.

Key Dates:

Dressmaker Lena Bryant opens a Fifth Avenue shop.
The company is originally incorporated.
A branch opens in Chicago.
Mail-order revenues top $1 million.
Lane Bryant becomes a division of The Limited, Inc.
The Brylane catalog business is spun off.
Lane Bryant begins a rebranding exercise.
Charming Shoppes acquires Lane Bryant for $335 million.
A new flagship store opens near Fifth Avenue.

Company History:

Lane Bryant, Inc., is the largest plus-size retailer in the United States. It sells its modestly priced, mostly private-label apparel through a chain of about 700 retail stores and an innovative web site. Half of American women wear a size 14 or larger; Lane Bryant specializes in the style-conscious, 25- to 45-year-old segment of the market. Lane Bryant, Inc. is not affiliated with Lane Bryant catalog (Brylane, Inc.), which was spun off as a separate business in 1993.

Immigrant Origins

The story of Lane Bryant begins with Lena Bryant, a Lithuanian immigrant who immigrated to New York City in 1895. After she arrived, she found that her family had arranged her marriage to the gentleman who had paid her passage. She refused, and the 16-year-old took a job sewing lingerie in a factory to support herself. She developed her skills and increased her weekly salary from one dollar to $15 over the course of several years, recalls Figure magazine.

Around 1898, she stopped working as a seamstress after she married a jeweler from Russia, David Bryant. Unfortunately, he died a few months after the birth of their son. She then began working out of her apartment, tailoring lingerie for new brides and expectant mothers.

By 1904, Bryant was successful enough to open her own shop on Fifth Avenue at 120th Street. In the process of obtaining a loan from Oriental Bank, her first name was misspelled, giving birth to "Lane Bryant."

Bryant soon turned to producing dresses as well as undergarments for pregnant women, who had a difficult time finding stylish clothes that fit well. Bryant designed a maternity tea dress, called "Number 5" after its place on the order form. According to Figure, no newspaper would run advertisements for her maternity dresses--it was against the mores of the day for "ladies in waiting" to appear in public. When Bryant finally managed to have a small ad run in the New York Herald, she sold out of maternity dresses the day it appeared.

Bryant married Albert Malsin, an engineer and fellow Lithuanian, in 1909. They soon had three children together. Within a few years, the pair launched their own survey of female proportions, obtaining data on 200,000 women from an insurance company and measuring 4,500 of Bryant's customers themselves.

The Flapper Era was just around the corner, and the fashion world was already focused on the slender, athletic "Gibson Girl." Byrant and Malsin found, however, that "women of ample figure" made up more than half the female population, providing an ample, underserved customer base.

Branching Out in 1915

The company was incorporated on June 12, 1914, according to the Ohio secretary of state's office. The first branch store opened in Chicago in 1915. Other stores in Detroit and Brooklyn soon followed.

The mail-order catalog brought in more than $1 million in sales in 1917. A turning point for the company, reported Figure, occurred in 1923, when plus-size clothes outsold maternity-wear for the first time. Total revenues were up to $5 million by this time. Bryant soon added shoes, hosiery, and bathing suits for plus sizes.

According to Figure, Lena Bryant was a pioneer in progressive human relations, among the first to offer employees complete benefit packages including health insurance and profit sharing. The company was left to her sons after her death in 1951. Her son Raphael B. Malsin had become CEO in 1940 and would remain in that role until 1972. Another son, Arthur Malsin, would be chairman of the board until the company's acquisition by The Limited in 1982.

In 1961, Lane Bryant launched a discount chain called Town and Country. It had stores in Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia. The unit was closed in 1977. Plus-size clothing had grown to a $2 billion market by this time; there were an estimated 150 manufacturers competing in the category.

Lane Bryant began the 1980s with 200 stores in 33 states, plus another 29 Smart Size stores in six states. The company also owned Coward Shoe and Farr's Shoe stores, two small regional chains, and the Olof Daughters footwear importer. Sales for the fiscal year ended January 31, 1981 were $400.4 million, up 5 percent from fiscal 1980.

Perceiving a lack of interest in plus fashions from the national fashion press, Lane Bryant began a short-lived publishing venture, It's Me magazine, in August 1981. LB for Short, the company's first catalog for petites, was launched in January 1982. Lane Bryant already catered to tall women; petites, another underserved market segment, were defined as being 5 feet 3 inches or less in height. They accounted for 37 million U.S. women at the time.

Acquisition by The Limited in 1982

The Limited Stores Inc. acquired Lane Bryant, Inc. for $105 million in May 1982. The Limited, based in Columbus, Ohio, operated 440 retail clothing stores oriented toward women aged 16 to 35 and had annual sales of $365 million. Lane Bryant had earlier agreed to be acquired by the Wertheim & Company investment group for $88 million, but changed its mind after market reaction (its shares were then traded on the New York Stock Exchange) indicated that offer to be undervalued. Lane Bryant updated its fashions after its acquisition by The Limited, which was known for the trendy clothes of its other stores, including Victoria's Secret and its namesake The Limited chain.

In the mid-1980s, the plus-size clothing market in the United States was estimated to be worth $8 to $10 billion and was the fashion industry's fastest-growing segment. This caught the attention of other manufacturers, giving Lane Bryant some competition. According to one estimate, the number of manufacturers in the category had grown to 1,000.

Lane Bryant was opening about 200 new stores a year in the late 1980s. It had closed its Fifth Avenue at 40th Street store in 1986, however, after losing its lease. Lane Bryant headquarters moved from New York City to a new $110 million complex in Columbus, Ohio in the spring of 1990.

After The Limited acquired Lane Bryant, the catalog business was renamed Brylane, Inc. and came to include the mail-order divisions of other Limited acquisitions, including Roaman's (1982) and Lerner (1985). In 1993, Brylane was spun off as a privately held company; it was acquired five years later by Redcats, the home shopping unit of Pinault-Printemps-Redoute.

Mid-1990s Makeover

In 1995, reported the Los Angeles Times, new marketers were brought in to update Lane Bryant's image, particularly among younger women. Annual sales were up to $915 million by 1996, producing a $60 million operating profit. Sales stalled in the late 1990s, but Lane Bryant was able to revive them by offering sexier, more close-fitting clothing, accompanied by head-turning advertising. Lane Bryant placed its first ads in fashion magazines Vogue and Harper's Bazaar in 1996. The company was soon advertising in Glamour and Marie Claire as well.

Lane Bryant launched a web site in March 1997. At first, the company did not actually sell clothes online, but offered coupons and conducted surveys to boost in-store sales and to learn more about its customers. E-commerce started on the web site in March 2003.

The company's first fashion show was held in New York City in 1997. Two years later, taking a page from the Victoria's Secret catalog, Lane Bryant simulcast the show live on the Internet as well as on the JumboTron in Times Square. This was followed by what was billed as the first plus-size lingerie fashion show in February 2000. Lingerie accounted for about 20 percent of revenues, reported the Los Angeles Times.

At the time, plus-size models and actresses were gaining more exposure in magazines and on television. Lane Bryant counted among its spokesmodels Camryn Manheim, from ABC's "The Practice," and the curvaceous and notorious Anna Nicole Smith. In 2001, Chris Noth reprised his role as Sex and the City's Mr. Big for TV ads displaying the desirability of Lane Bryant's plus-size clientele. According to the New York Times, Lane Bryant was spending $2.5 million a year on advertising and public relations.

It was apparent the makeover worked, noted the Wall Street Journal, which reported Lane Bryant was one of The Limited's hottest brands. Same-store sales were up and profits were up even though the number of stores had been cut to less than 700. Sales were $934 million in 1999.

Charming Acquisition in 2001

Charming Shoppes, Inc. of Bensalem, Pennsylvania acquired Lane Bryant from The Limited in August 2001 in a deal worth $335 million, $280 million of it in cash. Charming operated other plus-size chains, including Fashion Bug and Catherine's Plus Sizes, which together had yearly sales of $1.6 billion and 1,770 stores. Charming had first entered the plus-size business in 1982.

Charming began to aggressively expand Lane Bryant, particularly in strip malls (most of its 650 existing stores were in enclosed malls), where most of its other stores were located. The plus-size category was the fastest-growing segment of the clothing business, prompting new competition from the likes of Old Navy (Gap Inc.) and Tommy Hilfiger Corp.

Lane Bryant achieved an industry first when it installed 3-D virtual model technology on its web site. The feature, developed with My Virtual Model, Inc. and introduced in the fall of 2001, allowed customers to create a 3-D model in their own likeness and try out outfits on it. In 2003, Lane Bryant hosted a modeling contest whose winner's likeness formed the basis of one of the virtual models on the web site.

In August 2003, Lane Bryant launched Figure, a magazine for plus-size women. Catherine's and Fashion Bug stores also carried it, as did book and grocery chains.

Lorna Nagler was named president of Lane Bryant in January 2004, replacing Diane Missel. Nagler was formerly president of sister company Catherine's Plus Sizes. After a 10-year absence from its original home base of Midtown Manhattan, Lane Bryant opened a new flagship store at 7 West 34th Street in April 2004.

Principal Competitors: Dress Barn Woman;; Torrid; United Retail Group Inc. (Avenue).

Further Reading:

  • Barmash, Isadore, "Lane Bryant and Ohio Chain in $100 Million Merger," New York Times, April 29, 1982, p. D4.
  • ------, "Purchase of Lane Bryant Set," New York Times, April 8, 1982, p. D6.
  • "Bigger Variety Expands Plus Business," DSN Retailing Today, April 8, 2002, p. A10.
  • "Charming Shoppes Buys Limited's Lane Bryant," Morning Call (Allentown, Pa.), July 11, 2001, p. A9.
  • Clark, Evan, "Lane Bryant Returns to Manhattan," WWD, April 14, 2004, p. 17.
  • Cowan, Kevin, "Plus-Size Gals 'Figure' into New Mag," News Sentinel (Knoxville), October 23, 2003, p. E4.
  • Cowie, Denise, "The Plus-Size World Expands; Fashions Fitting for Big Women," Record (Bergen County, N.J.), October 27, 1996, p. Y26.
  • Cuneo, Alice Z., "Chris Hansen: Exec VP-Marketing, The Limited's Lane Bryant Chain; Changing the Shape of Apparel Market," Advertising Age, February 7, 2000, p. S10.
  • Diluna, Amy, "Bold and Beautiful: Lane Bryant's Contest Winner Talks--and Walks--Tough," New York Daily News, February 9, 2003, p. 9.
  • Glanton, Eileen, "If You've Got It, Flaunt It," Forbes, March 5, 2001, p. 145.
  • Goldman, Abigail, "Chain Sees Big Business in Larger Sizes; Lane Bryant Has Been Remaking Its Image to Capture More of the Market Catering to 'Realistic Body Sizes,'" Los Angeles Times, June 25, 1999, p. 1.
  • Jenkins, Maureen, "A Plus for Plus Sizes; Catalog Sells Delta Burke's Clothing for Fuller Figures," Chicago Sun-Times, Features Sec., July 23, 1997, p. 37.
  • Kane, Courtney, "A Male Sex Symbol Enjoys the Company of Larger Women in a New Campaign for Lane Bryant," New York Times, February 1, 2001, p. C8.
  • Kraft, Courtney, "The 100th Anniversary of Lane Bryant," Figure, Summer 2004, pp. 40-41, 114.
  • "Lane Bryant's Canadian Suitor," New York Times, September 30, 1980, p. D1.
  • "Limited Inc. Offices Will Leave NY," Newsday, Bus. Sec., January 31, 1990, p. 41.
  • Nowak, Ann, "A Cut Above: Stores Discover Life After Size 16," Newsday, January 19, 1987, p. 8.
  • Quick, Rebecca, "Fashion's New Frontier: Racy Lingerie for the Larger-Size Woman--Lane Bryant, with Inspiration from Victoria's Secret, Adds Gauzy Chemises, Teddies," Wall Street Journal, February 3, 2000, p. B1.
  • Steinhauer, Jennifer, "The Limited May Sell Off Subsidiaries," New York Times, September 4, 1997, p. D1.
  • "Stores Try Publishing Their Own Magazines," Business Week, July 27, 1981, p. 34.
  • Teitelbaum, Richard S., "Cheryl Nido Turpin, 42," Fortune, June 4, 1990, p. 266.
  • Wall, Joan Slattery, "Get 'Em in the Door," SBN Columbus (Ohio), April 1, 1999, p. 7.
  • ------, "Keep 'Em Coming Back," SBN Columbus (Ohio), April 1, 1999, p. 8.
  • White, Erin, "Charming Shoppes Turns Bigger Sizes into Bigger Business--Lane Bryant Acquisition Adds 60% More Revenue As Aggressive Expansion Plans Ensue," Wall Street Journal, September 5, 2001, p. B4.
  • Yen, Hope, "Clothes Retailer Thinking Big; Women's Plus-Sizes a Growing Market for Charming Shoppes," Journal-Gazette (Ft. Wayne, Ind.), August 23, 2001, p. 6B.

Source: International Directory of Company Histories, Vol.64. St. James Press, 2004.