After making a total career switch from working for the NYC Police Department, Lida co-founded the infamous women’s intimate apparel line Hanky Panky with college friend Gale Epstein. Hanky Panky revolutionized the industry, introducing cotton and inventing the “World’s Most Comfortable Thong®” and found success by generating buzz between women. Through her leadership of Hanky Panky Lida has created change for women both through her massive success designing the next best panty and her commitment to domestic manufacture practices and mindfulness of resource conservation.
Q: Please share with us the story of how your professional journey began and has brought you to where you are today.
A: I received my BA from Barnard College and a PhD from Columbia University in Social Psychology. I was in college when I met Gale Epstein who was working as a designer in NY at the time. Our friendship continued and she gave me a birthday gift that would become the impetus and foundation for Hanky Panky. I had already logged a few years in the workplace doing research on timely and important topics –such as the NYC Police Department response to victims of sex crimes–when Gale gifted me a bra and bikini underpants set that she had created from cutting up and reassembling embroidered cotton handkerchiefs. Our business was established fairly quickly because the product had immediate appeal in the marketplace and orders were placed by most of the better department stores. The business grew organically through reinvestment of income from sales, slowly but steadily and profitably until a front page article in The Wall Street Journal in 2004 cemented our reputation and catapulted the brand’s volume.
Q: If a business has several viable ways to grow and innovate, how do you pick the best road to take?
A: First, you take out your crystal ball…only kidding–but you get my point. Assuming that you have several paths available for potential success, it’s critical to ensure that the road you choose has real resonance for your company. There has to be some fundamental synergy between your brand and the direction you’re considering taking. Shared values will create brand cohesion that will insure a smoother ride.
Q: What’s your best advice for an entrepreneur in an early/bootstrapping phase?
A: Get advice (and encouragement and support) from one or more mentors.
Q: What do you believe makes a great brand?
A: Consistent, reliable quality, great fit (apparel) and a touch of wit, proper value for the price, longevity, willingness to engage with their customers, sharing via philanthropy and “giving back.” Finally, great brands have great personalities.
Q: Do you (formally or informally) mentor anyone? If so, who and why is it rewarding?
A: I’ve had two formal mentees through Step Up Women’s Network and many informal mentoring meetings with others over the years. A young woman planning to become a space organizer was my first formal mentee and I am currently working with someone who is starting an online “custom” bridesmaid dresses business. Both of these women treat our meetings very seriously and always arrive with written notes, plans, timelines and questions. In that way, they also respect my time. Both of them move forward and accomplish monthly goals regularly. It is very satisfying to be in the presence of their consummate self-motivation. This is not an assignment—this is real life! Very exciting.
ON Taking Risk
Q: How do you overcome feelings of insecurity, fear or discomfort when deciding to take a risk?
A: Good question! And I love that you didn’t ask if we ever have these uncomfortable feelings. Of course we do—I would guess most women do. How to overcome them? For me, it’s the same way I’d get to Carnegie Hall if I still played the cello—practice, practice, practice.
ON Time Management
Q: How do you prioritize your time?
A: Fairly easily since I am not a procrastinator. I don’t feel comfortable doing the fun stuff until after I’ve done the heavy lifting.
ON Giving Back
Q: What causes have you chosen to support and why does it resonate with you?
A: I support many organizations but none is more dear to my heart than the Southern Poverty Law Center. The SPLC works to eradicate hate and foster civil rights in our country. It was founded to ensure that the promises of the civil rights movement would become a reality for all. I was raised by an Afro-American woman who grew up in the South (Emma) and was a defining person in my life. I was a teenager during the Jim Crow years and although as a Northerner, I only observed the sit-ins and the boycotts, my ardent support mirrored the magnitude of my love for Emma. That emotionally charged connection is honored and memorialized by my support of the SPLC.
Q: In theory, one should prioritize their own health in order to be in the best state to take care of others (family, kids, work, etc.). But in reality, I’ve found that women often take care of themselves last. What are your thoughts on this?
A: I have an unfortunate example from my own life when I allowed the company to come first to my own detriment, health-wise. It happened after The Wall Street Journal article was published and I found myself working—literally—24/7. I postponed an eye doctor appointment for over a year and by the time things calmed down long enough for me to take care of myself and see various doctors, I had developed glaucoma.
Q: What’s your best buy ever?
A: Two items come to mind, both of which are relatively small but are grand in their longevity:
Mother of Pearl earrings that I bought as a teenager that are sophisticated enough and in good enough taste that I still wear them at 64; an oak dining table that I bought at auction 40 years ago for $90.00 and is still in use (my first significant purchase as a newlywed!)
Q: What are the beauty items you could not live without?
A: 1). Osmotics Anti-Wrinkle Vitamin C Patches
2). Renova®Tretinoin Cream
ON Personal Finance
Q: What are your top 3 personal finance tips for women?
A: 1). Pay off your credit cards 100% every month
2). Take full advantage of all pretax savings opportunities offered by employers such as 401(k)
3). Live within your means