Founded in 1977, Hanky Panky is widely famous today for their revolutionary, one-size-fits-all thong. Today the company continues to be an inspiration to all entrepreneurial women. Founder Gale Epstein first started the company when she crafted a one-of-a-kind bra and panty set from Chinese handkerchiefs given to her by neighbor and friend Lida Orzeck. From this first design sprung an incredible business partnership that has lasted almost 40 years and counting.
The two founders are total opposites, so it’s even more impressive that they have built a successful company together and kept a loyal client base for this long.
Creative Director and President Gale Epstein was raised in St. Louis, Missouri and studied at Washington University and Parsons School of Design. She is a committed vegan who loves spending her days on her upstate New York farm, riding her horse and being outdoors. It’s Epstein’s love of natural textiles and intricate handwork that has kept the designs of Hanky Panky on the cutting edge of the lingerie fashion world. When she and Orzeck first began their company, Epstein was the sole designer and hand-sewed all the orders they received. Her hard work and dedication to the vision she and Orzeck share is the backbone of the success for Hanky Panky.
Lida Orzeck is the polar opposite of her business partner. She was born in Brooklyn, New York and has a doctorate from Columbia University in Social Psychology. She’s a city girl through and through and an avid Yankees fan. When she received her birthday gift back in 1977 from Epstein she was delighted, but immediately saw the potential for creating a lingerie with the fabric. After discussing the idea and making a plan with Epstein, Orzeck got on the phone and began making calls to department stores and boutiques to show them her friend’s handiwork. From that moment, Orzeck became the CEO of the operation, focused on sales and marketing. With her driven, urbanite personality, she was able to make connections with stores like Nordstrom and Lord and Taylor. It wasn’t until 1986 that they rose to the top with their revolutionary thong. Orzeck describes the idea as, “something that was more comfortable than a G-string but sexy like a panty.”
Their success wasn’t without trials, though. In 2004, the Wall Street Journal ran an article declaring the thong to be a fashion phenomenon. With Hanky Panky being a leader on the market for their one-size-fits all, stretchy lace thong, they were swamped with orders. At this point they were still just a homegrown business who employed friends and family. The sales explosion overwhelmed and almost shut down the company.
Orzeck acted quickly by tapping the company’s line of credit and ramping up production, while Epstein oversaw the designs and assisted the monitored the salesforce to determine which styles were selling the fastest in the stores. While they may be two very different women, their unique blend of knowledge has created one of the most successful partnerships in the corporate world.
When asked about what makes them work so well together, Epstein responded, “We share the same vision. Our success is based on each of us having our own strengths, our own areas of expertise.” Their offices are on opposite sides of the company’s 11th floor Manhattan headquarters, but they keep in contact throughout the day. Both women feel it is essential to have input on their respective departments.
In an economic climate where many specialty fashion designs are being copied and “knock-offs” are created every day at a quarter of the price, it seems like the future would be bleak for Hanky Panky. Quite the opposite is true. Because of the strength of their vision and tireless efforts to ensure the success of their company, Epstein and Orzeck have built a company that will not only last long after they retire (whenever that might be), but will also serve as model and inspiration to many entrepreneurial spirited women around the world.