Lingerie maker excited to have more skin in the game

New customs: Impish Lee's unique brand of hot now tempts visitors to the Custom Consortium.

When it comes to exposure, they’re not shy at Impish Lee.

Cofounders Noelle and Kali Ventresca have plenty of skin in the game already. Since pulling their startup lingerie-manufacturing business off peer-to-peer e-commerce site Etsy in 2015 and reforming it around a proprietary online customizer – users choose the garment, size, color and more – they’ve eschewed outside funding, “at least until we’re profitable,” according to CEO Noelle.

Exposure, therefore, is key – and for a startup marketing on a shoestring, a perpetual challenge. Social media marketing, word of mouth, a $15,000 Kickstarter campaign and some $30,000-plus in family and friend investments have kept the industrial-strength sewing machines whirring in Impish Lee’s 600-square-foot Sea Cliff headquarters, but growth is definitely on the cofounders’ minds.

To that end, the Ventresca sisters are trying on a new opportunity that might make it easier for customers to (almost) take it all off: Impish Lee is among the first brands available on Custom Consortium, a new online marketplace specializing in customizable products.

Promising a “world of customization,” New York City-based Custom Consortium – brainchild of founder and CEO Sam Payrovi – went live in January and currently features four brands, including Impish Lee. Also on the site: Brooklyn-based watchmaker Martenero, NYC handmade footwear specialist Awl & Sundry and women’s and men’s baggage specialist Saintly Bags, also founded by Payrovi.

Coming soon: customized handbags, tailored leather gloves and more. The idea leverages fashion’s up-and-coming “bespoke movement,” referencing items that are commissioned to particular specifications.

In theory, that fits the Ventresca sisters like a customized leather glove, or … never mind. Suffice it to say, the entrepreneurs are excited to be part of the Custom Consortium family, although they noted some technical challenges to overcome.

While the Impish Lee website has as its centerpiece a proprietary customizer designed specifically to work with the lingerie manufacturer’s specific combinations of fabrics, colors, trims, etc. (there are literally trillions of combinations), customers must utilize a less-specific, more-generalized customizer on the Custom Consortium site.

Skins game: They’re (mostly) self-funded so far, but Impish Lee cofounders Kali (left) and Noelle Ventresca are raising the stakes.

“Part of the problem of having a store with multiple customizable brands is all the customizers are different,” Noelle said. “It makes the user experience really challenging, to figure out to use this customizer and how to us this one and so on.

“So they’re kind of pulling it all together and doing one customizer that includes all these different products.”

Custom Consortium’s common customizer is “definitely different” from Impish Lee’s finely honed version – but that’s not to say it doesn’t work, Noelle added.

“I think once they kind of hone in and get rid of all the kinks, it will work relatively well,” the CEO said. “Maybe very well.”

Meanwhile, with Payrovi’s bags and the other brands already attracting attention to the Custom Consortium and the additional bespoke-themed vendors on the way, Impish Lee is thrilled to be out there and mingling with “all kinds of luxury, high-end items,” Noelle told Innovate LI.

“We’re excited to be on board with them because they have some backing, some financing, that we don’t have,” she said. “We have not really moved forward with financing. We wanted to be profitable first, which will make it easier to get more of it, and probably get a better deal on our own terms.”

And that can’t happen fast enough, according to Impish Lee’s chief creative officer.

“We’re not paying ourselves yet,” Kali said. “We’re still very much in the startup phase.”

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