SOQUEL — A long time before the thong became ubiquitous in the lingerie drawers of women battling unsightly panty lines, part-time fitness instructor Korrine Fitz was thinking about the problem and making plans to prevent it.
“I would wear it [the thong] so I wouldn’t look so tacky,” Fitz says, “but I couldn’t wait to take the darn thing off.” Rather than suffer as many women certainly have, she took action.
There were, she says, several pretty “funny-looking” prototypes early on. Fitz, who had no fashion, manufacturing or sewing experience, learned about flat-lock stitching and synthetic fabrics. Eventually, while working with a seamstress in San Francisco, she settled on a thin, stretchy fabric and a two-piece design that covers waist to upper thigh.
“The beginning few years were the most challenging,” she says. “Manufacturing a product is a nightmare. Everything that could go wrong did.”
But, she says, this was something that women needed. “I did my research. Once I achieved the design we have now, it hasn’t changed much.”
In 2004, after more than a year of research, Fitz launched Smarty Pants, an online women’s athletic underwear company that now offers a simple design in three colors that looks a lot like a bike short.
Fitz, who has a bachelor’s degree in French and a master’s degree in international policy, used to tutor children in Hebrew. She says Smarty Pants is a product concept that requires some education for most consumers. Unlike a girdle for slimming or a compression short for the serious athlete, Smarty Pant garments are meant for comfort, hygiene and seam minimization.
“It was a challenge to have females understand the concept,” Fitz says.
Although she imagined customers would be dancers and athletes, the market has grown to include equestrians, seniors and people with disabilities. There’s been interest from firefighters, surfers and triathletes, and from people with ostomy systems and prosthetics. About 25 percent of her revenue comes from retail sales, the rest from wholesale distributors who sell in stores locally and throughout the country and Canada. She also sells directly from her website.
“It’s more versatile than originally I thought.”
The recession has been challenging with buyers dropping nearly 30 percent in 2008 and dropped slightly again last year. They are coming back up now, she says. “I just kind of hung on. People seemed to still purchase underwear.”
This year, she’s expanding her line to include new colors and possibly an eco-friendly women’s brief made of something akin to wood fiber. The plan is to introduce a new Smarty Pants created from sustainable, organic products such as Tencel or Modal, biodegradable fabrics made from wood pulp cellulose. “We want to go in this direction where we are earth friendly.”
And Fitz is busting out the color with purple and “maybe something zany like hot pink.”
At a glance
WHAT: A privately held Soquel-based company that designs and manufactures lightweight, non-binding women’s athletic underwear that looks like a thin bike short but promises invisible seams and anti-microbial features.
HEADQUARTERS: 2710 Lafayette St., Soquel
BACKGROUND: Founded in August 2004
LEADERSHIP: Owner Korrine Fitz
INFORMATION: 831-476-WEAR, smartypantsunderwear.com
LOCAL RETAILERS: Aptos Shoes & Apparel, Legs, Jerry’s Sports, Running Revolution, Victoria’s
This article first appeared here.