Echo Park -- When Chelsa Hughes first started a lingerie line, she thought all the sizes had to be fit a Victoria Secret model. “You know, size 2,” she says.
“But I soon realized that I wanted to create items that would have a positive impact and complement everyone, Hughes said. “To honor people and their true selves.”
Her more inclusive line of lingerie is now featured in her new Echo Park store -- Cantiq (Indonesian for ‘beautiful’). Including plus-size and gender fluid individuals into her audience has given Hughes a unique edge in the fashion world – Nordstrom recently picked up her lingerie line.
The new shop at the corner of Sunset Boulevard and Echo Park Avenue is substantially larger and more visible than her previous store in Silver Lake.
“The space here is three times the space we previously had,” said Hughes walking around the store that had been vacant for more than three years. “The community has really welcomed us, too.”
No padding or underwire in Cantiq lingerie
Among the hair and skin care products, potted plants and bar wear, are hanging racks of colorful lingerie, lace and mesh creations that do not use padding or underwire, but rather straps strategically placed for support and shape.
The bras, panties, boy shorts, loungewear and bodysuits also cater to an inclusive audience in more ways than one. Sizes range from small to 5X and there’s also gender fluid variations – panties are created with more room in the front. In short, all body types and identities are welcomed.
When the pandemic hit last year, Hughes saw her business blossom. “Sales in the first month almost tripled,” she says. “I still can’t believe it.” Retail price ranges from $30 for panties to $150 for bodysuits.
The origins of her design can be traced to thrift stores in Spain. When younger, Hughes would often accompany her family for visits to Spain, (Hughes’ mom is originally from Spain) where she would make time to scour the vintage segunda mano stores for fabric. “All I could usually find would be tiny pieces, maybe a yard or half a yard,” said the 31-year-old Hughes. Not much fabric for full garments.
Vintage fabric inspires new lingerie line
So years later, Hughes was up late at night (“I get bad cases of insomnia; that’s usually when I work on new ideas”) she pulled out all those small pieces of fabric out of storage and realized the only thing she could make from them would be a one-off bra and panty set – which she did.
She placed the finished pieces on a mannequin; when friends came to visit they asked if she could make a set for them. When more requests came in, Hughes started selling the lingerie via Etsy; she still remembers the day when she got an order from a customer in Kentucky … and then the United Kingdom…and then Canada. Up until that time, the only ones placing orders were her friends and family.
“It just snowballed from there,” she says explaining how she was also being contacted to use her designs for photo shoots.
“I first started stitching these things in my kitchen in my 350 square-foot apartment on my 1972 Kenmore lavender sewing machine,” says Hughes with a laugh. These days, she employs two full-time and one part' time sewer who work on site at the Echo Park store.
After graduating from fashion school, Hughes spent time as a designer in Indonesia; she’s seen the horrors of sweat shop labor.
“Our sewers know all too well the sweat shop scene here in Los Angeles,” she adds explaining that today her products are made in “small batches with no assembly line. Sure, they take a little longer and you may have to wait but you are getting an ethical product.”