In March 2014, Los Angeles-based entrepreneur Melisa Mae put her creative expertise and entrepreneurial spirit into action and launched her first website, KittenLingerie.com. The online boutique offers an extensive selection of lingerie, costumes and hosiery from well-known manufacturers such as Seven ‘Til Midnight, Oh La La Cheri, Mapale, and Rene Rofe.
In addition, KittenLingerie.com also offers bath and body products and select adult toys. Mae’s one-woman ecommerce operation promotes a body-positive approach to self-love at all sizes. Plus-sized models are regularly showcased, and an entire section on the website is designated specifically for the “Curvy Kitten.”
I’m passionate and creative, and when something jumps into my head, I go for it 110 percent.
Mae’s brand message and feminine, vintage aesthetic is geared towards a strong, playful consumer who is “easygoing and sensual with a desire for fun. At the end of the day, all a woman really needs are some pretty panties, pheromone infused body butter, and a good vibe (literally and figuratively),” according to Mae.
After several years of administrative and bookkeeping experience, Mae decided she was ready for a new challenge, and dove head first into starting a small business.
She said, “I’m passionate and creative, and when something jumps into my head, I go for it 110 percent.”
When the website first launched in 2014, Mae was maintaining a full-time job, a part-time job, and was also attending school.
“I was clearly crazy,” she added.
It wasn’t until recently that she transitioned into KittenLingerie.com full-time, bringing her passion project and side hustle into full focus.
Mae knows that content is queen in a competitive online market, and is relentless when it comes to social media content in particular. In less than four years, the Kitten Lingerie Instagram account has acquired nearly 47,000 followers (and counting), each follower achieved organically with zero online advertising. The brand likely would have not seen such exponential growth without Mae’s penchant for consistent content, and the power of social media.
“Without it, my mother would be my only customer,” Mae said.
In this exclusive Q&A, Mae shares some details on her work ethic, tips for success, and how she pushes through when the going gets tough.
XBIZ: What was your original vision for KittenLingerie.com?
Mae: I wish I could say my intention for Kitten was to be the largest retailer of boudoir products in the universe but the truth is I really just wanted to see if I could start and maintain a functioning business. Now that she’s been up and running for a while (yes, Kitten is a she), my intent is clearly for world domination.
XBIZ: How have your business goals evolved since Kitten first launched?
Mae: Over the past three and a half years, my business goals have evolved substantially. There was and still is an intense learning curve when starting your own business from the ground up with only yourself to rely on. You need to be ready to go with the flow or change on a dime, depending on what the market dictates. This entire ride has been a process of trial and error. I’m constantly learning new things about myself, about business, about the Womanizer (OMG), and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
XBIZ: What are the three most critical factors that you attribute to your success?
Mae: 1. Time and energy. You absolutely need time to focus solely on your business.
2. Be relevant. If you aren’t considering what your customers want or keeping your content updated and fresh, you will be forgotten.
3. Be tenacious. Stick to it. Nobody is going to do it for you.
XBIZ: How do you define the KittenLingerie.com consumer?
Mae: The Kitten Lingerie woman is me. She is strong and playful and not afraid of trying new things. She is feisty and meek, traditional and modern, quiet and boisterous. She is anything she wants to be.
XBIZ: Do you monitor your competitors? How do you stay competitive in the lingerie market?
Mae: One wouldn’t be in business very long if they didn’t monitor their competitors. In a market that tends to be a bit saturated like lingerie and dildos, staying competitive has its struggles. You do your best, you try new things, and you don’t give up.
XBIZ: What is the biggest challenge of owning an ecommerce business?
Mae: Money and time.
XBIZ: Do you take time for self-care when you are feeling drained? If so, what is your ritual of choice?
XBIZ: How do you push through your hardest times?
XBIZ: What do you wish you knew today when you first started your website?
Mae: Not a thing. The learning process is the fun part. The information I’ve learned along the way is invaluable. I have been able to help others and actually enjoy doing so. Had I known everything from the get-go, I doubt I would have had such an awesome ride.
XBIZ: How do you respond to negative comments or feedback?
Mae: Anyone in business will tell you negative feedback comes with the package. It’s unavoidable. You want every single customer to walk away thinking you sold them the best garter belt and thigh highs, but that doesn’t always happen. When something goes haywire you try to rectify the situation as best you can and move on.
XBIZ: What are three tips that you would recommend for making the best use of one’s time?
Mae: 1. Get an intern.
2. Set a schedule.
3. Turn off the TV.
XBIZ: Who is your personal hero?
Mae: My father. I was never what one would consider a “Daddy’s Girl” and he never referred to me as princess. My father is and always has been a man of great integrity and respect. He has always believed in me and shown support, regardless of how crazy my ideas are.
XBIZ: What is your biggest piece of advice for female entrepreneurs?
Mae: Just do it. There’s no reason not to and a million reasons to go for it.
XBIZ: What three tools would you recommend to anyone trying to start his or her own business?
Mae: 1. Get an accountant.
2. Learn social media.
3. Get a Costco card. They have the best deals on whiskey.
XBIZ: What do you love about your job?
Mae: Everything. Absolutely everything.
XBIZ: What is your big-picture vision for your business?
Mae: To take over the world, of course.
While a woman leading in business is definitely not breaking news, the growing demand for services and products spanning all industries, especially in the adult online marketplace, has continued to create opportunities for female entrepreneurs. In a highly competitive market, it is exciting to watch a woman build a successful small business completely on her own with sheer determination ... and a little bit of pheromone-infused elbow grease.