Caroline Blair
City Business

Althea’s Lingerie Has a Unique Niche

The owners's goal: the perfect fit for every customer.

By - Aug 22nd, 2017 12:54 pm
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Althea Callahan Meinhardt. Photo by Caroline Blair.

Althea Callahan Meinhardt. Photo by Caroline Blair.

“You are a shape, not a size.”

For the last 20 years, that has been the motto of Althea Callahan Meinhardt, owner and sole-employee of Althea’s Fine Lingerie at 777 N. Jefferson St. She has been helping women feel their best by looking their best: from the inside-out, that is.

Althea first learned about the importance of fit and comfort while enrolled at Marquette University where she took various courses in costume making in the Theater Department. These courses taught her how to properly fit and alter clothing as well as how to create clothing to flatter all kinds of different body types.

Prior to starting Althea’s Fine Lingerie, Althea spent years helping clients with fittings for weddings, galas, and other special events. Before she knew it, the phone was ringing off the hook, and women were knocking on her door for “the Bra Lady” as some came to call her, asking if she could properly fit them in undergarments.

“I had been advising people what type of undergarments to get, and it was so difficult to describe it, so rather than just point to things on a computer screen, I decided to have an inventory [of lingerie] myself,” Althea says.

Eventually, she started Althea’s Fine Lingerie in March of 2016. Since then, she has worked by herself in one of the only personal lingerie stores in metro Milwaukee.

“My objective in this store is transparency. I want you to be able to see virtually every style I’ve got,” she says.

Since starting Althea’s Fine Lingerie, Althea has helped customers find the perfect fit in undergarments for special occasions, everyday use, and pieces just for fun. “It’s a rollercoaster, and it is different every day,” she says.

Whether clients know exactly what they need or are just window-shopping, Althea strives to make sure the fit, style, and comfort is unique and perfect for every body type. “I never know what kind of woman is going to walk in the store and what her needs are that day,” she notes.

Althea prides her store on not only having beautiful, high-quality lingerie, but lingerie for nearly every body shape and size. “I go from A through J, and I go from 30 to 46, and there’s a lot of people on either end of the spectrum, much less in the middle, who feel as though no one appreciates that and no one wants to carry merchandise for them,” she says.

Her motto, “You are a shape, not a size,” emphasizes how fit and comfort are the most important aspects of lingerie. “Ignore the label, because it doesn’t matter what’s on the label. It just needs to fit.”

Along with Althea’s years of training, the physics of lingerie, and the uniqueness of each body, one of the most important aspects of knowing whether something fits is the look on a customer’s face, she notes: “It’s a fairly technical process, but if your face is glowing and you’re happy, then it’s probably the right size.”

Althea credits much of her success to referrals from happy customers and says about 30 percent of her new customers come because of a referral from a happy friend or co-worker. “I’ve had a number of women literally cry after a positive experience and they frequently hug me before they leave.”

For her, that’s the most rewarding part of the job. “I’ve had men come in after their wife or girlfriend had shopped here and thank me for the time that I spent with them and how pretty I made her feel and how happy they were after the experience,” she says.

As the owner and sole-employee, Althea wears numerous hats from the interior designer to the accountant to the saleswoman. “I am the store. I don’t have employees for a good reason, because if I’m not here and not working, then they become a representation of me, and it is very hard to find someone that has the same dedication to fit.”

She carries pieces for nearly every use, from beige and black t-shirt bras that are seamless with a molded cup, to lacey special event lingerie. And she has inventory from all over the world, ranging from Texas to Australia, from newer vendors to those that have been in the lingerie business since the 1860s. Twice a year, Althea attends the National Lingerie Show in New York for three days where she picks out new pieces for her store. Before each show, Althea narrows her focus and goes into it with a specific mission.

“I go very differently, I’m told, into the different vendor’s booths with my ideas and appointments than the average retailer, because I come from a fit background.” Althea says.

Often times her vendors are small companies where she gets to personally talk to the owner and designer, so she is able to get the exact quantity, colors, and sizes she wants.

As for future business plans, Althea is unsure if expansion is in her future. She has considered moving into the swimsuit business, but for now is purely focused on lingerie. And on the customer who needs this.

“I don’t believe this kind of business can be successful if someone is simply running it based on profits,” she insists. “You have to have a passion for women and for women’s needs.”

Categories: Business, City Business

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