The Associated Press
Monday September 06, 2004
SPENCER -- Loretta Cheney has worked several different jobs in her 79 years, including truck driver, forklift operator and photographer. But her most recent job is a perfect fit -- making designer undergarments called, "Granny's Panties.''
Cheney has been making underwear for years -- for herself and family members and more recently for ladies who stop by the Roane County Committee on Aging, where she volunteers in the crafts room. Through word of mouth, she's sold more than 100 over the years, most of those since a December craft show.
"They say they're the most comfortable panties they ever wore,'' Cheney says. "They don't ride up. They stay.''
Cheney, who was born near Mineola, Texas, has been making some of her own clothes since she was 10. Homemade underwear became a must about 23 years ago after Cheney got tired of seeing the dreaded panty line show through on nice slacks and skirts with some store-bought delicates.
"To me the sight of it is disgusting -- you know, seeing someone with a nice pair of pants on, and the panties -- the elastic showing through,'' Cheney said. "I notice stuff like that.''
Cheney exorcises the panty line demons by making "Granny's Panties'' to completely cover the backside for a smoother fit and with stretchy material on the sides that allows for fuller figures. And customers don't have to strain their budgets; the panties sell for $3 a pair in regular, medium and large.
The response has been encouraging.
Lella Blackaby, a receptionist at the Committee on Aging, said the six pairs she bought are the most comfortable she has ever purchased.
"I like the ones that she makes me because they are very stretchy,'' Blackaby said. "I like the full panties.''
Cheney hasn't changed the pattern for 23 years, although she does customize a pair if necessary.
"Every great idea is born out of a need. I think it's amazing to recognize the need and work to create the solution,'' said Anne DiGiovanna, vice president of Warnaco Intimate Apparel, which includes Warner's and Olga lines.
Department stores nationwide sold more than 50 million pairs of women's underwear last year, not including business from national chains or mass retailers, DiGiovanna said, citing department store information from NPD, a syndicated research service.
Cheney, a great-great grandmother and World War II U.S. Army nurse veteran, is not alone in developing an entrepreneurial endeavor in her golden years.
About 40 percent of self-employed people in the U.S. are older than 50, according to a recent AARP survey.
"The dream used to be, ‘Well I'm going to retire and go to Florida and go to the golf course, and just have a very flexible schedule and not have any commitments,'' said Jules Lichtenstein, senior policy adviser with the AARP in Washington, D.C
"But a lot of people don't want that. They want to be productive, they want to keep busy.''
While other seniors may go into business to supplement their incomes, Cheney, who lives on her Social Security and VA pension and says she can "make 2 cents go further than some people can make $200 go,'' simply enjoys having something to do.
"I can't sit like a lot of people and twiddle my fingers,'' she said.
Cheney said she hopes to get a grant to start a fabric business with a friend and run "Granny's Panties'' along with it.
Although she cuts and machine-sews all the panties she sells, Cheney said she would consider enlisting some help in the event of a business boom. But good sewing skills are a must, she said.
"When it comes to my sewing, I'm kind of picky,'' she said.
Cheney moved to Spencer from Texas about two years to visit her granddaughter for vacation -- and never left.
"I'm still on vacation,'' she said. "I love the people here. They're just nice, sweet, wonderful people.''
Cheney also makes doll dresses, baby blankets, quilts and afghans. Some she sells; others she gives away to neighbors or families in her church. Her work eases chronic pain from past surgeries on her knees and back.
"This is my pain medicine,'' she said, patting her sewing products.