By Hanah Cho The Dallas Morning News
A mother of two boys, Psychelia Terry saw a gap in the lingerie market for curvy women like herself whose body changed after having kids.
So Terry took a leap and launched Urban Intimates in 2009.
Today Urban Intimates' bras, underwear and sexy baby doll lingerie are sold at Macy's and J.C. Penney.
Establishing a brand and getting your product into major stores is a daunting task, especially for a first-time entrepreneur.
Terry, 32, didn't have any experience as a designer. What she lacked in retail experience, she made up with business acumen, persistence and people who believed in her vision.
"Psyche had a passion for it," said Maya Brown, marketing director at cosmetics brand Black Opal who has been Terry's mentor for nearly a decade. "Anytime you have a passion for something, it could overwhelm a lack of experience."
Either she was going to succeed or fail trying, Terry said.
"I have to make it and make this happen," she said. "There's no turning back."
Terry's journey began in Nevada, where she was an MBA student at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas. She submitted her idea for a lingerie line in a business plan competition, and while she did not win, it garnered enough positive feedback for her to continue.
In 2010, Terry moved to Dallas with her husband, Vantoba Terry, whose job transferred the family.
From her home office, she made more prototypes of bras and sewed them herself. Without a design background, she hired contractors to help with the process.
She sent press kits to fashion and lifestyle magazines. Soon she got noticed by Essence and Ebony.
A big break came when Terry was accepted into the competitive Macy's Workshop program, which selects up-and-coming minority- and women-owned businesses that could be potential vendors for the department store.
At that point, "I had a bra sample and a magazine feature," she said.
The five-day, boot camp-style program provided Terry access and networking opportunities with Macy's top executives. She also got a glimpse into how to do business with the retailer.
Still, graduating from Macy's program in 2011 offered no guarantee that the retailer would do business with Urban Intimates.
In fact, of the 60 businesses that participated in the program, only five are now Macy's vendors, said spokesman Orlando Veras.
It took another year for Urban Intimates to secure an order from Macy's, which asked Terry for redesigns.
During that time, Terry scrambled to get her logistics and manufacturing system in place. She traveled to China to find a factory that would make samples and produce her line.
"We went to China and went door-knocking," said Terry, who used Google for translation.
She also reached out to old colleagues at Whirlpool, where Terry worked for 12 years, as well as mentors to learn more about managing back-end logistics and working with factories overseas.
Last year, Terry got her first order from Macy's.
Now Urban Intimates is carried in 10 Macy's stores in the Southwest, Mid-Atlantic and Southeast regions. In Texas, the brand is available at the Macy's store in the Houston suburb of Pearland. Bras sell for about $36.
"The assortment of lingerie is novel, fun and comes in bold colors," Veras said. "It's a really great product in the plus-size category."
Sales of women's intimate apparel were flat at $10.8 billion during the 12 months ending in February, compared with the same period a year earlier, according to market research firm NPD Group.
Within that category, though, sales of plus-size intimates rose 3.5 percent to $2.8 billion.
All the while, Terry looked at wholesale opportunities with other major retailers. She visited J.C. Penney's offices unannounced, describing her efforts as "trying to get in the door."
Eventually, Terry snagged a meeting with an online buyer, who expressed interest in carrying Urban Intimates. The retailer's e-commerce site began selling the line last April.
Miracle Harper, a former J.C. Penney online buyer for intimate apparel, said Urban Intimates filled a void in the lingerie market for full-figured women.
What's more, "it's cute and fun," said Harper, who attended an Urban Intimates party last year to celebrate the line's launch.
Terry and her husband invested about $160,000 from personal savings, 401(k) and credit cards.
Urban Intimates rung up about $250,000 in sales last year and expects to double its revenue this year. By 2015, Terry hopes to hit $1 million in sales.
Terry credits the buyers from the two retailers for being patient, holding her hand and believing in Urban Intimates.
Terry said she has also worked hard to foster a relationship with her customers.
She has attended launch events for her brand at various Macy's stores. She describes her customers as women who want to feel sexy and good about their curves.
"It was so important to get in front of customers and say, 'This is who we are, and this is why you should buy us,'" she said.
Recently, Urban Intimates' skin care line, called Urban Hydration, has seen sales pick up dramatically, Terry said. The body butter and scrub are sold online and at stores such as Target and Ulta.
"We've really come a long way. We've had such a huge trajectory," she said.
AT A GLANCE: Business tips
Psychelia Terry's tips for getting your products into retail shelves
Find a need in the market.
Get sustainable data that back up this need.
Decide how you can creatively fill the need.
Prove to retailers you are the only and best person to fill the need.