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Behind the Scenes with the Inspirational Founders of Hanky Panky

Imagine starting a company with one of your close friends. Now imagine that you two are celebrating your 35th anniversary in business, having created not only a profitable business but one that supports the local economy and thinks green. And you get to bring your dog (“Chairman of the Board” Henree, below) to work every day in the same office you’ve used for 35 years. It’s safe to say that Gale Epstein and Lida Orzeck, co-founders of Hanky Panky, are indeed living out many female entrepreneurs’ dreams, and they have legions of devoted fans who cannot imagine getting dressed in the morning without the brand’s legendary lace thongs. And you can shop the thongs, along with the rest of the full collection, starting at noon ET on September 27, on Gilt.com!

The company started when Gale created a bra-and-panty set out of embroidered handkerchiefs as a birthday gift to Lida in 1977, and they quickly realized that others might like the original concept. “When we started we were a cotton collection in a nylon world. It was very refreshing to have a new kind of product,” explains Epstein. The idea was revolutionary enough to land one of the early prototypes in the permanent collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. But it was nine years after the company launched that they finally introduced their signature lace thong. “We had a strong panty and G-string business at the time,” Gale tells Gilt StyleFile. “I was looking for a new product that would be more comfortable than a G-string but sexier than a panty. I experimented quite a bit with different fabrics and trims until that happened, and then when it did, it was clearly very right.” With the popularity of low-rise pants, the low-rise silhouette was born in 2004, and the rolled-up presentation followed soon after in 2005.

The secret of the brand’s mix of sexy and comfort lies in the design and the materials. After all, it’s not every panty that’s truly one-size-fits-all (and yes, there are plus-size and petites for those who prefer them). Gale says, “This is all stretch lace trim. This waistband has no elastic in it. It stretches but doesn’t bind. That’s really the success of meeting all those sizes, and being so comfortable without creating bulge.” And while the brand has a full range, including bras, camisoles, sleepwear and more, they recognize that their customers really look at them as a piece of their wardrobe to coordinate with. “Because we’re best known for the thong and women match them up with their favorite brand of bra, it’s sort of a sportswear approach to wearing underwear, mix ‘n’ match.”

As much thought is put into the colors and prints that the brand produces every season, they are thinking equally about how they are manufacturing and being good stewards of the earth. Everything in the line is made in America, with samples being made in their midtown showroom and most of the production done in the Northeast. “This is the way we like working,” says Lida. “We have personal relationships with our contractors; they’ve grown up with us. There are faces involved in the people who are employed by us. They aren’t a distance away. It keeps our economy running on a personal level and also on a national level and a community level that’s not quite as personal, but has a tremendous impact on our economy.” They are also able to keep a close eye on quality, try out new trends faster, and produce more custom orders to satisfy their fans.

They are even producing “Cotton with a Conscience,” the result of spending years working to make eco-friendly cotton affordable enough to present to their customers. And while it’s not the cheapest cotton on the market, Lida is fine with that. “It’s a little more expensive than regular cotton for that reason, but it’s important to us and important to our consumer. We want to be good stewards of the earth.” And they are, even down to donating scraps from their factories to local arts charities to be used for arts and crafts projects. Lida is thrilled to report that “We get thank-you notes every day from organizations that have used our scraps in creative ways. That’s the green mission and the social mission all in one.” Learn more on HankyPanky.com and shop the sale on Gilt.com, starting on September 27 at noon ET.

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