No matter how much weight she lost or how often she exercised, Lisa Rudes Sandel couldn’t flatten her stomach. “I used to joke that I’d always have a pooch.” And she was fine with that … until low-rise jeans came along.
“I couldn’t fit into my regular size six,” recalls Rudes Sandel, who had to go three sizes bigger to find a pair that fit. “They were uncomfortable, and they felt like they would fall down. I wondered, Why isn’t someone making nice, hip jeans for women with a figure like mine?” Like many entrepreneurs, Rudes Sandel turned her complaint into a business opportunity. The founder of Not Your Daughter’s Jeans (NYDJ) has created a multimillion-dollar business simply by designing jeans for women with womanly bodies.
Since its launch seven years ago, NYDJ has become the largest domestic manufacturer of women’s jeans under $100. The company ships more than 40,000 pairs per week to 2,000 stores and 20 countries, from Australia to Canada. Not bad for a girl who dreamed of becoming a plastic surgeon-until she took a biology course at UCLA.
With only an idea and very little capital, Rudes Sandel and her sister, Leslie, called on the family for help. They lured their father, George, out of retirement (he’d been the powerhouse behind Saint Germain, the women’s sportswear company) and recruited their brother, Kenny, from a denim company in Mexico.
Rudes Sandel had gotten some experience in production and design when she worked for her father, but she still faced a challenge: to design a comfortable jean with a figure-flattering fit. The secret? Recovery. “You know when you wear certain things and the knees get stretched out?” Rudes Sandel explains. “That’s because there’s not enough recovery in the fabric.”
After months of tinkering with the denim, Rudes Sandel determined that 4 percent Lycra—not the usual zero to 2 percent—was the magic amount. “It sculpts you and gives the appearance of a lifted derriere,” she says. And because of Lycra’s give, women can wear a size or two smaller. NYDJ’s patented Tummy Tuck technology debuted in 2005.
Even with the family’s connections, NYDJ had growing pains. “Fabric vendors would give us only seven days to pay them,” she says. “We had to pick up small orders ourselves because they wouldn’t drop them off. We had to prove ourselves at every point.”
But gradually, they did. They started with old-fashioned word of mouth, then took out newspaper ads, landed the Good Housekeeping Seal, and hired a PR firm to “really get the buzz going.” They sent jeans gift wrapped in red tape—measures to magazine editors and touted NYDJ on mall kiosks. Today, says Rudes Sandel, “my biggest problem is I can’t ship fast enough.” That’s a problem any entrepreneur would love to have.