In the midst of exponential technological advancement, massive demographic changes, ‘90s nostalgia, and social media dominance, a significant cultural phenomenon has quietly coalesced: the professional Millennial woman. According to the Pew Research Center, 45% of Millennial women (ages 18-24) are enrolled in college and 38% of Millennial women (ages 25-32) hold Bachelor’s Degrees. These young women represent a potentially powerful economic bloc. However, despite the influx of Millennial women flooding corporate America, the fashion industry categorically fails to create garments that accurately reflect the demands and aesthetics specific to the unique lifestyles of young, professional women.
While young women flood the marketplace, American culture’s bubbling discontent with the limited representation of curvy women erupted into the emergence of the Body Positive Movement. According to a 2016 study by the Department of Apparel, Merchandising, Design and Textiles of Washington State University, “the average American woman now wears between a size 16 and a size 18,” with “approximately 100 million plus-size women living in America.” However, despite the reality of American women physiques, the television, film, and fashion industries continue to display images and apparel that solely caters to impossibly thin, prepubescent body shapes.
On the heels of 2016 New York Fashion Week, fashion guru Tim Gunn (“Project Runway” mentor and former Fashion Design Department chair of Parsons the New School for Design) penned a scathing indictment of the fashion industry in The Washington Post. Within his article, Mr. Gunn criticized the fashion community for its imprudent, antiquated, economically unsound and blatantly discriminatory attitudes towards creating clothing that flattered the figures of American women. While some fashion designers (including, Christian Siriano, Tracey Reese and Kate Spade) covertly support inclusivism, most fashion and beauty insiders refuse to acknowledge the underrepresented “real women” market. After years of being ignored and stigmatized, American women are finally tired of their absence from mainstream media and clothing stores. Rampant fatigue of the fashion industry’s insistence of only displaying petite frames manifested into a movement that praises the diversity of real American women.
Despite the dismissive neglect of Millennials and American women with 21st century bodies, there is a company that creates products specifically poised to fit the needs and aspirations of these demographics: Hipstiks.Hipstiks are the next generation of hosiery. This product shrewdly incorporates the tenets of the cultural zeitgeist with designs and selective materials primed for the aesthetic preferences and practical realities of its customers.
Hipstiks are the next generation of hosiery. This product shrewdly incorporates the tenets of the cultural zeitgeist with designs and selective materials primed for the aesthetic preferences and practical realities of its customers. Hipstiks provide a sleek, polished, and comfortable experience for women embarking on the professional and practical demands of the modern world.
The CEO of Hipstik, Laura McGuire, is the quintessential American dream. She’s passionate, intelligent, warm, polished, receptive, confident and instinctively attuned to her customers. As a successful marketing executive, her intimate knowledge of the image and customs of real women is the secret ingredient to the success of Hipstik.
Tells us about your journey to Hipstik. Legend has it that the idea for this product was sparked when you couldn’t find comfortable pantyhose.
“It’s absolutely true. As a professional woman, I love to dress up. I love to look the professional part. I’ve worn outfits with pantyhose and after lunch, I would feel uncomfortable. I’d buy a pair of pantyhose, wear them in the morning, and after lunch, I would take a pair of scissors into the bathroom and cut down [in the control top], it formed a ‘V’ so that my stomach could breathe. This worked great for the first hour because it would relieve my stomach, but then I would have to shimmy for the rest of the day to keep them up. One day, I came home and got undressed, I couldn’t wait to get out of my outfit, and my husband was like, ‘What have you done?’ I told him, ‘I’ve cut my pantyhose – I had to! You don’t understand; men don’t have to wear these.’
After several pairs, I started thinking about the way hosiery is made and how control tops are the only hosiery available- that is flabbergasting! I went to the stores and it seemed like [manufactures] assume every single woman wants to be squeezed in at 10am on a Tuesday. I thought, ‘This is insane, Shapewear is insane. Why do women put themselves through this?’
For years I searched through non-control tops and low-rise hosiery. There are a lot of flaws with these designs, they are made for women who are like a Size 2- you open a package and think, ‘I don’t even know how I’m going to fit my thumb through this – they really want me to get both legs into this?’
I was frustrated with the product category when I realized what I needed wasn’t out there, and I could make it. So, I started talking to other women, and I asked them, ‘Do you wear pantyhose, do you wear hosiery?’ Most replied that they hated hosiery. I thought, ‘There’s a reason why women don’t wear hosiery.’ So, the story is true.”
So, you can’t find the perfect pantyhose, what was the moment that made you decide to take on this project and really jump into this industry?
“There were several moments in my life that led me to the hosiery industry. I come from a town that was built on the hosiery industry. I saw a lot of people lose their jobs. Also, my two sisters and I saw my mom wear hosiery while growing up and she hated it. She kind of set the precedent-all three of us thought, ‘Ugh I don’t want to be an adult because that means I have to wear pantyhose.’ So, there were many moments, including the one I mentioned about earlier. But, there was one key moment that occurred for me. I was on an Amtrak train from my parent’ house to Charlotte, North Carolina. The train ride was so peaceful; I had a moment to just think and look out the window. Riding through North Carolina, you can see a lot of the old hosiery mills that closed down along the train line. At that moment, while wearing pantyhose with a V cut into them, I thought, ‘I can make these.’ So, it was a combination of many points and having a moment to think, which is so rare in today’s world, it’s so fast-paced. This beautiful moment happened, and I’m very thankful for that train ticket that costs me eighteen dollars.”
I didn’t know North Carolina had a history of hosiery mills. With this in mind, did you always have an interest in fashion?
“I would say that I’m more of a normal gal. I’m more of an everyday woman who wants to wear what’s stylish and look professional. I want other women to see me as professional. So, I don’t know that I’m the stereotypical fashion world person. I’m really more of a woman who likes to wear cute outfits. I also want to be comfortable. I’ve always been someone who likes to dress up. But, the fashion world is shifting a bit. Even Tim Gunn during fashion week said that fashion designers have to make clothes that fit real women today. He said they’ve got to be more approachable. My background is more marketing and product development, not necessarily in fashion.”
As you mentioned, most women want to look good but it seems as though the fashion industry doesn’t accept everyday women.
“Right, it isn’t reality. However, the game is changing, the game is definitely changing. I can’t wait for the moment when women walk down the runway and they are smiling. Wouldn’t that be an amazing day! I think we are getting there, I think we are moving to that place where the fashion industry is not going to take itself so seriously, it’s going to be more approachable, it’s going to be more real women. I think Instagram and the fashion bloggers have definitely started paving that way for everyday looks, everyday fashion, and everyday comfort.”
It’s about time. You mentioned that you have a background in marketing and product development, were any of the practices or information from your background applicable in the creation of Hipstik?
“Absolutely, I think to be an entrepreneur – to make an idea move forward beyond an idea, you’ve got to have some confidence. Confidence is key and my confidence was built in development of products. For the past ten years, I worked to help other entrepreneurs develop consumable products; my background is in food and beverage – which is why I needed to cut my pantyhose after lunch. In my field, I helped bring to life and bring to shelves other people’s food and beverage ideas, whether it be a pasta product, a turkey burger or ice cream. My background is rooted in my marketing knowledge of what it takes to get a product on a shelf, to get a retailer to care, and also to get a consumer to care about a product. I’m using that knowledge to help launch Hipstik. Yes, it’s a different world because it’s a different type of retailer, it’s a different type of product, but the human side of getting someone to care about Hipstik is very similar.”
I love how Hipstiks make you feel cute and sexy. The lace top and other details are really special.
“As a woman, if you’re wearing your control top and you take off your dress after a fancy dinner, and you look at yourself in the mirror, you’re like, ‘This is so horrible looking.’ You don’t want anybody to know that you’ve worn control top pantyhose. So, I do love women’s reaction to the product. Our hosiery fits your body because of the elasticity in the lace. It fits the way your body is formed, so it’s going to naturally feel comfortable. Also, from an appearance standpoint, you will feel more comfortable and confident. It’s all about confidence. When you’re trying a new style and putting together outfits, all you need is confidence, there are no rules. If you wear it and feel good in it, then it’s going to look good outwardly.”
Since Hipstiks are so stylish, they can be worn alone, like leggings, or underneath clothes.
“Exactly. Yes! I know there is a space for Shapewear, but it baffles my mind that women would want to continue to be squeezed. I mean how often does a woman say, ‘I love the Shape wear I just wore to this wedding, and I can’t wait to keep it on all night long’- she can’t wait to get it off. Sometimes, I go home, and I just lay on the couch in my Hipstiks because they feel like leggings and that’s my aim. Women today are going for cover and comfort – comfortable yoga pants and comfortable jeans. There is a reason why women don’t wear hosiery anymore. But, it doesn’t have to be that way; hosiery can be comfortable enough that you want to wear it as much as pants.”
So, how did you come up with the name, “Hipstik”?
“That is a funny story – my dad of all people. He is a man in a household of four women- his wife and his three daughters, so he knows women pretty well. After my train ride, I told him about the concept and we talked about functionality. We discussed that the product needed to stay up, it needed to be comfortable, and it needed to allow your stomach to breathe. Those attributes [indicate] it’s going to be on your hip – not on your waist- it’s not going to squeeze you. It’s going to stay up with a silicon strip. It’s not going to fall down; you’re not going to have to dance to keep them up. So he said, ‘Oh, it’s like a Hipstik.’ I was like, ‘Dad, that’s it, thank you.’ Then, Hipstik was born.
It’s a family business. Is your husband a co-founder as well?
“Yes, it is, my husband is a very skilled designer. He’s been building brands from a creative standpoint, from a visual, verbal, and messaging standpoint. He’s all into it – the only thing I haven’t gotten him to do yet is put on a pair of Hipstiks – which I will someday. But, he is so into it. My family, my dad, my sisters have all been so helpful. I believe that it feels so ‘Aha’ to everybody that they want to be a part of it, and I’m very blessed in that way.”
I love that you took the initiative. When that moment happened to you on the train – you saw it as a gift and believed that you could have an impact on the hosiery industry. That’s inspiring to women who sometimes have this passion inside them, but they push it away for whatever reason.
“Yes, this is a game changer and I couldn’t ignore it. I just couldn’t ignore revolutionizing a very stodgy category of hosiery. It would’ve been sad if I didn’t do anything about it because women deserve this kind of comfort.”
How do you balance your creativity with the business aspects of running this company?
“I think you have to harness moments when creativity comes to life. You’ve got to move forward with that creativity and not let it sit. I’m a very urgent person- I’m like, ‘Let’s check it off, let’s do it, and let’s change it.’ I’m not afraid of change, I’m not afraid to make a decision, that gets me into trouble-sometimes I make a decision too quickly. But, I think the balance between creativity and the business, seeing where the creativity goes, and not stopping it before it becomes something.
We’ve done a lot in our product development; we don’t just have that one line. We have products in the works that speak to women in different careers. For example, many teachers want to dress up and wear skirts, but they can’t bend down and help their classes. Many teachers want confidence that their undergarments and pantyhose are not being seen. So, we have some ideas in the works that are game changing as to how women think of hosiery. We are harnessing these ideas and seeing where they go.”
What was the most challenging part of transitioning to becoming a full-time entrepreneur?
“It’s very hard to know when your entrepreneur project is a full-time career. I’m sure that’s where a lot of entrepreneurs get worried, and they don’t cross over that line. I would say that is the biggest challenge – knowing when you have approached that point and knowing when you’re big enough to commit full time. Also, scaling up – knowing when to take the business to the next stage because we just received a huge order. It’s scaling up with the business as it grows, that is the biggest challenge.”
So, how do you stay inspired and motivated with all of these changes happening rather quickly?
“I’m inspired by women’s feedback. Women’s feedback pumps me up every day. When a comment from a woman states, ‘I don’t wear panty house-I hate them.’ Well, she doesn’t wear them for a reason. That makes me want to get her in a pair of Hipstiks. I’m like, ‘Okay, yes, you have been squeezed your whole life. I’m going to show you something different.’ Or customers that tell us that Hipstiks needs this or that – that’s what inspires me. I’ve got to get this out to as many women as I can.”
You can feel your passion in your product, the details – the fabrics, the lace. Obviously, Hipstik is a labor of love by a woman who cares about women’s experiences.
“Yes, we had to go to several manufacturers – there are very few left in the United States. It was very important to me that we make this product in the United States. I not only wanted to fuel the economy and the hosiery space again- I did not want Hipstik to be an overseas product. I went to several manufacturers and most said, ‘We’ve never done anything like this before.’ Finally, we found one that said, ‘We’ve never done anything like this before,’ but they didn’t throw their hands up in despair, they said, ‘And we want to do this.’ That was super cool; that was an amazing moment. They were passionate to make something that they’ve never done before – just like me. So, it was a beautiful partnership with the manufacturer in North Carolina. Our packaging is made in North Carolina, the entire product, except the lace (which comes from Italy) is made in North Carolina.”
Has the fact that Hipstik is based in North Carolina uniquely impacted your business or the way your product is developed?
“The state I grew up in is called the ‘Hosiery Capital of the South.’ That’s a pretty bossy statement. The state no longer holds this title since we’ve lost a lot of manufacturing jobs to China over the last few years. I think the fact that North Carolina is a part of me, and the product is developed locally is hugely beneficial. However, the one struggle we do have is that North Carolina is a very hot state, and there is a very small window of time in which women wear hosiery. So, we are not going to be the state that has the most sales, definitely the more northern states are trending that way. But, from the standpoint of the economy and being close to where it’s made – it is very important to me that Hipstik is in North Carolina. I mean we took every step to make that happen.”
So, you are the American Dream, this is everything that we read about in books and movies. What advice would you give entrepreneurs who may have a spark, but don’t know what to do next?
“I actually think it’s pretty easy. You’ve got to surround yourself with people who have the same fire and desire to make it happen. The one piece of advice that trumps all other pieces of advice is to align yourself and work with people who share in your excitement. These people can be honest with you. You want them to tell you honestly if you are off the rails on something if you are spinning your wheels on something that is not really close to your product’s attributes. Your job as an entrepreneur is to encourage and accept their feedback. You cannot do it alone. There are too many aspects to growing and building a brand; you’ve got to surround yourself with people that can help you and bring new skills to the table. Without a shared vision and trust, you cannot problem solve quick enough to make a difference. So, having that shared vision and trust and having people who are just as excited as you are, that’s the key – you can do anything at that point if you’ve got a little group of people making it happen.”
Do you have an idea in mind of the kind of woman that wears Hipstiks?
“There is an ideal woman, and it’s not the woman who necessarily wears pantyhose every day. It’s a woman who is fashion forward in her own way. She likes to wear different things; she’s not stuck on wearing jeans every single day. We are targeting a younger demographic, between twenty-five to thirty-five years old because we’ve got a pre-revolutionary idea and the Millennial group is very receptive to new ideas. She’s someone who is just interested in clothes, whether that means she’s interested in designers or curating cute outfits.
Also, she’s a woman with a real body. She’s a woman who has body shape, not regulated to size zero or two. We did our sizing in a revolutionary way. The category has basically done sizing a certain way forever. We had our manufacturer think through the sizing differently, we took women’s body shape and took their height, and we made a product that was specked out to body shape, not weight. A one hundred and sixty-pound woman in one shape versus another – they carry their weight in very different places. You can’t just rely on weight, it’s not fair to the woman who picks up that package and tries to wiggle into them. We are not based on weight or dress size; we are based on shape.”
How did you come up with that measuring system?
“It’s absolutely based on comfort and based on our attributes. If she’s going to have a different experience; then she’s got to pull it [Hipstiks] out of the package and automatically say, ‘Oh, I’m going to be able to get into this, this will be comfortable.’ I’m not sure of the moment that we thought of body shape, but it’s totally based on the function of the product. The lace is measured based on body shape, so what we have sewn into the garment is in relation to that. Our manufacturer had to think differently to put this type of product forward.”
You’re pushing the manufacturers, you’re pushing the industry, and you’re pushing all aspects of innovation of this product.
“Well, I’m sure you, as well as many women, have flipped over that package and saw three options – small, medium, and large – that’s not fair. We don’t come in just three sizes. There have been low -rise products on the market that failed; the largest size was not even big enough for a normal sized woman. So, we had to make a change since we wanted to bring in people who were never able to be comfortable in hosiery.”
So now that you’ve launched this ground – breaking product, what are your goals?
“Well, I definitely, need and want more women to find out about Hipstiks. We have to get this product out to the world that is my number one priority. We are also working on new product lines. We have our flagship that exists today, but we are in the process of creating different prototypes- some that are sheer rather than opaque, more colors, and more patterns. We are not stopping there, we want products that have low-rise attributes, but functionally geared towards lifestyles such as teachers or moms who are on the go but want that extra bit of confidence when wearing a skirt or dress. We are also working on fitness apparel. We are sorting through all of these ideas of how we can get it done in North Carolina and when we can get them out.”
Is there anything else that you would love to convey to your customers?
“The coolest thing that could ever happen is that a woman buys Hipstiks and tells her friends what she’s wearing. It would be so cool for a woman who’s never worn pantyhose or tights to show up somewhere wearing Hipstiks and her friend says, ‘Whoa! You are not wearing pants today,’ and for her to be able to share her own feedback. That would be so neat. If Hipstiks became a part of that shared conversation, it would be a dream come true for me.”