A Jewish Orphan from Lithuania Who Became a Household Name in America

In 1897 a 16-year-old Jewish orphan from Lithuania named Lena Himmelstein arrived in New York City and found work in a sweatshop for $1 a week. After her first husband David Bryant died at a young age, Lena supported herself and her son by making and selling tea gowns. When she applied to open a bank account, someone misspelled her name as “Lane.” The clothing line Lane Bryant was born.

In 1907 a customer asked Lena to design her something to wear during pregnancy, unheard of at a time when pregnant women were usually secluded until after birth. With some elastic and an accordion pleated skirt, Lena invented maternity wear. Her dresses were a hit, though she often had to be inventive about advertising, since American society still couldn’t accept the shape of a pregnant woman.

Soon she branched out into creating fashions for plus-sized women as well. She met an eager audience. Together with her second husband and business partner Albert Malsin, Lane Bryant broke new ground by selling stylish, ready-to-wear clothing in larger sizes while offering employee benefits such as insurance plans and pensions.

Respecting all body types and the needs of employees, not a bad legacy for a poor orphan from Lithuania.

Full story here.