"I'm a 32G, GG, H, depending," said Jenette Goldstein. "I could not find a bra that would fit me."
Goldstein is not some plasticized, silicone-filled Playboy bunny. She's a 50-something character actress who happens to have a large bust with a small rib cage. "You know, nice Jewish girl," she laughed.
The actress is most famous for playing the role of Vasquez, a take-no-prisoners Marine in the 1986 movie, "Aliens." Vasquez was buxom and bad, and in real life, Goldstein's own toughness and outrage turned her into an entrepreneur. "It starts with me, it's all about me," she said.
Goldstein said the traditional way of buying women's undergarments has disappeared. "I remember going to the bra lady as a 12-year-old who developed early, and the bra lady was an institution in every community," she said. The "bra lady" concept faded with the rise of department stores.
These days it's difficult in the U.S. to find bras engineered for women outside the norm, even at Victoria's Secret. Most of the time, bras are crafted so that smaller chest bands are matched with smaller cups, and vice versa.
"I would either wear a D cup, and be falling out of it, or if I went to go find a double D, it was a 38, 40-inch band, more of a plus-size woman," she said. The dilemma made her feel like "there's something wrong with my body."
She discovered better-fitting bras in Europe, where generations have maintained the craftsmanship and engineering necessary for well-made undergarments that also have lace and color.
These bras exist. Why aren't they being sold in the United States? Goldstein asked herself. She turned to her husband, artist Aaron Noble, to complain, Why doesn't someone open a store like this? he replied. Why don't we do it?
Goldstein then wrote up what she calls her manifesto for a new company, Jenette Bras. "It was from a feeling of anger and righting a wrong," she said. Part of the manifesto read: "We are the girls who skipped the training bra and went straight to the major leagues. We are the girls who had wolf whistles."
She had one problem. It was 2009, in the middle of the recession. "No one would lend us money." However, Goldstein had earlier opened a line of credit "when they were giving lines of credit to anyone," and she tapped into it. She began researching where to find bras in Europe to import, spending $10,000 to buy her first shipment. She found retail space on the cheap in Los Angeles and set up shop. "We offered personal service."
There were challenges. Neither Goldstein nor her husband knew anything about business. Selling online was a bust (;-), because the business model really required in-store service. She fired herself as bookkeeper when she overpaid the IRS. But the couple also realized they had one unfair advantage.
"We were artists, and what we were good at was visual." They created a store experience that is both old school and modern, and they came up with creative slogans like "The Alphabet Starts at D."
Seven years later, Jenette Bras has three locations, and the company is on track to do $1.7 million in sales this year. Celebrities like Katherine Heigl shop there, as well as many who prefer to remain anonymous. "A lot of actresses don't want their size known, because there is that feeling that if you're over a D, you're fat, you're fake, you're a circus freak," said Goldstein. "There's a weird conception of what that means."
The bras are not cheap, and Goldstein discovered the more expensive bras sold fastest. "Our best-selling bra is $126, $130," she said. "You put it on, and you just say, 'This is worth it.'"
Jenette Goldstein is now rarely recognized as an actress. But she's still recognized, now as the local high-end bra lady. Women around Los Angeles see her and begin "flashing me their underwear," she laughed. "I still can't believe I'm a businesswoman, and I own three stores, and I'm the boss. It feels great to be a master of your own destiny, which, as an actor, you are not in control."
There's a famous scene in the movie, "Aliens," where a fellow Marine asks Goldstein's character, "Have you ever been mistaken for a man?" Goldstein recalls telling director James Cameron at the time given the way she filled out a T-shirt, "This line is not going to work. I don't think anyone would ever mistake me for a man."
So she had an idea. "I said, 'I am actually very strong, and I can do these really difficult pull-ups.'" Goldstein suggested they rig up a pullup bar and the line could be asked sarcastically as her voluptuous character exercised like a man. "And that's how they did the line."
After the movie came out, she was inundated with fan mail from gay and straight fans, men and women, even Marines. However, when it came to merchandising, there was no Vasquez action figure. "The powers-that-be who made the toys said, 'Meh, who wants to play with a girl action figure?'"
This summer, however, that omission will be remedied. To help mark the film's 30th anniversary, NECA Toys is coming out with a Vasquez action figure. "It looks fantastic," Goldstein laughed.