Mothers Work Inc.'s (MWI) meteoric ascent as the prominent retailer of maternity fashion was launched from the front closet of Rebecca Matthias' Philadelphia home in 1982.
With nothing more than a vision, and $10,000 of her own savings, Matthias founded Mothers Work when, pregnant with her first child, she was unable to find clothing appropriate for her role as a civil engineer. A public offering followed 11 years later; since then, the dream of Matthias (founder and COO) has manifested itself into more than 1,000 stores across the United States with four brands serving different market segments (Motherhood Maternity, Mimi Maternity, A Pea in the Pod, iMaternity) and a recent Maternitymall.com online venture. While MWI enjoyed record sales ($493 million) and doubled its net income ($14 million) during the past fiscal year, the entire franchise remains true to Matthias' original vision, according to the company's vice president of manufacturing and imports, Rick Adelman.
"I've worked for several companies but never one that was so focused on their customer," he says. "Maternity is a specialized business, and serves a customer with some very special needs, and unique challenges and preferences. All our divisions, while varying in price points, are based on the same premise that the customer should still feel just as comfortable and fashionable when she is pregnant. And we're very dedicated to that. It's what I like about working here."
Adelman says Mothers Work faces its share of production and sourcing challenges as it carves out its niche serving a highly specialized marketplace. "Not all fabrics do well in a maternity situation," he notes. "We have to follow the same fashion trends, but trying to interpret a designer's idea into maternity apparel is not always easy. It requires a lot of research and customer feedback. We have a lot of women who are pregnant as models throughout our offices. We take it very seriously."
While the company's international sourcing mix extends into Asia, Europe and the Indian subcontinent, Adelman says that Mothers Work keeps a core base of vendors close to its Philadelphia headquarters to achieve speed-to-market. "We manufacture a lot of garments that way very quickly," he says. "We can execute a new style in our pattern room and within a few weeks have those garments in our stores."
While Adelman indicates that MWI may increase some sourcing efforts in China with the elimination of quotas, he says he anticipates maintaining stable relationships with existing partners.
"We may try to maintain a little more vendor continuity than some others might," he says. "We spend a lot of time working closely with our vendors, helping them understand maternity fit so that they're able to help us execute it on a timely basis. That's a very big part of our past, present and future."
It's a future that looks increasingly bright, as demand suggests: "The marketplace has dictated that maternity retail be fashionable and comfortable," Adelman says. "The days of the pregnant women dressing in muu-muus and looking dowdy and matronly are pretty much over."