By Tony Wittkowski | Business Reporter | The Herald-Palladium
BENTON HARBOR — It’s been a tough road for Psyche Terry and her business.
The Benton Harbor native started her own company when she cashed out her 401(k) and flew her family across the world in search of a manufacturing and sales contract.
Everyone comes across adversity in life. It’s just a matter of how it’s handled.
Terry went from temporarily staying in someone’s basement to running a multi-million dollar global enterprise. However, the story behind her success came when many doubted her and her business plan. Terry is known as the founder and owner of Urban Intimates, a lingerie and apparel company that caters to plus-size women.
Terry, a Benton Harbor High School alumna, started the business with her husband while she was getting her master’s degree at the University of Nevada – Las Vegas in 2009.
The couple wanted to enter a business plan competition that would help them gain funding in order to leave corporate America and go off and start their dream. Terry’s dream was to start a company that empowered women in some form. Something that would make women feel beautiful.
Terry and her husband were living in Las Vegas and thought they would write a business plan about a company that made products for girls with new body types and new figures that still wanted to be considered attractive.
“My body type had changed at that point. I went from a B-cup to a G-cup bra, which is a huge change,” Terry said. “I went from my ‘cute little Benton Harbor High School cheerleader’ size to a ‘new mom of one’ size. The things I would shop for in South Bend and Chicago, those styles would be different for me as a new mom and I wanted to wear something different.”
A tough decision
They applied to three different competitions and lost all three. Terry said they felt like failures.
What kept her coming back and re-entering competitions was how every time they were cut, they heard “good go at it, but we don’t see a need for your product.”
During their trek through several competitions, the economy was going through a tech boom. Incidentally, a lot of people were losing their jobs because the housing market bubble had burst and people’s investments were going belly up.
Terry was faced with a tough decision.
Terry was working for Whirlpool Corp. at KitchenAid as an account manager in Las Vegas. She and her husband had been promoted and moved there from another Whirlpool location.
She chose to say goodbye to her secure job, withdrew her 401K and spent another two years trying to get her business off the ground.
At that point, Terry – along with her husband and then 6-month-old son – set out to find a mentor in fashion for building up the business. She tracked down a woman-owned business that made intimate apparel. Terry and her son slept in the business owner’s basement at night and came up during the day, where she learned to design lingerie for retailers.
What were the odds?
Terry started her business by way of entering into another business competition called The Workshop at Macy’s.
Macy’s had a department that looked for women-owned businesses they could develop. Terry said she thought this might have been her last chance.
Upon arrival, Terry and her husband discovered they were among 19,000 people who signed up for the workshop. With that amount of entries, Terry had a 0.001 percent chance of making the final cut.
“It was such a tremendous opportunity,” Terry recalled. “I got into the program even though they were only choosing 22 people. We were one of those nearly two dozen businesses to make the cut.”
That’s when Terry began to make the transition toward garnering a successful business. Terry flew to China with her family in order to find a maker. Because she wasn’t working a normal job, they were forced to open another credit card just to afford the tickets.
They met with factories for a couple of weeks and pitched their idea across the country. The language barrier added a few more hardships during the visit. When they flew back, Terry approached Macy’s to see if they would carry her brand of lingerie.
They said no, not yet.
Terry’s persistence wouldn’t pay off until a year later in 2013, when Macy’s wrote its first order with Terry and her new line. It was for 10 stores, and her lingerie was launched in Atlanta, Baltimore, Houston and Los Angeles.
The road ahead
Four years after making the business plan, the Terrys turned their first order with Macy’s into a national brand for plus-size women.
In January, Terry’s business grew even more after an appearance on “The Steve Harvey Show.”
“Meeting Steve was a dream come true,” Terry said. “On the show, I had the chance to tell the story of how we got started. We’ve been on a lot of television shows since then and we’ve been interviewed for the Wall Street Journal and Forbes Magazine.”
Terry’s business is now based in Dallas – a location they chose because of the school district and the city’s proximity to other retailers they wish to work with.
The entrepreneurial couple has three children, who were born through different stages of the business. Their two sons came during the early stages of Urban Intimates, while their youngest – a daughter – arrived when Terry was in the midst of expanding.
“We didn’t expect our little girl, so it was interesting to have her right when we were hoping to launch in Wal-Mart,” Terry said. “We named her Faith because we needed to have faith to grow our business in such a scale.”
Terry said her drive to start a business is based on her faith and knowing that she could do the impossible. At 30 weeks pregnant with her daughter, she had the task of opening a factory.
“That was a faith moment for me,” Terry said. “I had no factory or employees. No way of making a 100,000 units of anything. Weeks later we were shipping our product, and I had my little girl.”