When Rhonda Shear was in her late 40’s, she said “Ahhhh” on the Home Shopping Network and the rest is history. Shear was describing the feeling of the bra she’d just created—a completely seamless undergarment with no hooks that gave shape and lift but didn’t push into the skin. Since then her “Ahh Bra,” made of spandex and nylon on special Italian knitting machines, has become a sensation and turned her into a multimillionaire.
No matter how she tried, she couldn’t escape the typecast of “blond bombshell.” But this ended up working to her advantage.
Shear had many careers before becoming the Queen of Lingerie: she acted in small roles in hundreds of movies and television shows such as Happy Days, Dallas, Cheers, Married with Children, and Full House, among many others. In addition, she was a stand-up comic who headlined in Las Vegas. No matter how she tried though, she couldn’t escape the typecast of “blond bombshell.” But this ended up working to her advantage.
Her best-known gig was as the sexy Friday night host of USA: Up All Night—the USA Cable Network’s weekend program featuring funny skits in between a slate of movies. While the UAN folks liked her sex appeal, they also knew she was smart and funny. She used all these skills as host and often wore lingerie in the sketches. “That was the start of my earliest lingerie design ideas, and it was also when I started realizing how empowering intimate wear could be,” Shear says in her recent memoir, Up All Night: From Hollywood Bombshell to Lingerie Mogul, Life Lessons from an Accidental Feminist.
Shear took time to answer questions for NextTribe. This is an edited version of our conversation.
Before the “Ahh Bra,” did you have business experience?
My husband (Van Hagan) came from a traditional business background. Mine came from marketing myself. As a comic, you have to sell yourself. We had to learn how to find manufacturers and people that would work with us because we were a small company.
I want women to realize that it’s not too late to find love. It’s not too late to change careers
You never give up, and I always say never burn a bridge if you can help it. You always keep those doors open. We had to learn completely on our own everything from textile, manufacturing, etc. There was no one there to give you the roadmap.
Then you figure it out, right?
If you’ve got a brain, you can figure it out. People are just lazy sometimes, and they want someone else to do it for them. If you want to really get ahead in life, you should do it yourself.
At the end of the day, you have to be able to do every job yourself and love it, and live it, and breathe it. Whatever you’re doing, I think you have to enjoy it. I do still think that you can accomplish at any age as long as you have the health to do it.
Is HSN your biggest customer?
Yes. HSN, which was bought by QVC, is still our largest customer.
When we first started in business, all I wanted to do was be in Bloomingdales, and I was driving my husband crazy because it sounds easy. But it’s not anywhere near the kind of business we do, because we’ll sell like 100 thousand units in a day on HSN, where you can’t do that in a brick-and-mortar store. But I just wanted the cache.
Besides QVC/HSN, we are probably in about 100 boutiques around the country.
Our biggest online presence is Zulily.com. I believe women would rather shop for intimates online than have to go into a department store and try stuff on. We sell a beautiful quality product—more than just bras and panties. We now have “Ahh Dreams,” which is a complete loungewear leisure line that I’m so proud of. As life changes, you realize that it’s all you want to wear anyway.
With the “Ahh Bra,” I thought most people have to wear a bra—why not make it a comfortable one?
With the “Ahh Bra,” I thought most people have to wear a bra—why not make it a comfortable one? We have a lot of versions of the Ahh Bra.
Now we have designers who work for us. I don’t sew, but I love designing. I’ll see things that they don’t. And I ask the questions like “Why doesn’t this work this way?” You learn by doing. I’m still very revved up in my life, and every day, it’s something new and exciting for me.
If you had the chance, would you ever go back to comedy?
Oh, gosh, no. I get to be comedic every day in what I do because I sell with levity. The reason why we have over 700,000 repeat customers is that they trust me. They trust the line, but they enjoy my craziness and my fun and my completely being open.
You have to talk the talk of what this stuff does to you and why it does it. I think a lot of people would handle those delicate situations more delicately than I do, and I guess my stand-up background allows me to be really candid on air.
To do the road again—oh my gosh. I would die.
What are some of the most important lessons that you’ve learned?
I like giving back. I find that when I personally give back—whether it be through action or charity—I find that that’s really rewarding, and I learn from that.
You’re now asked to give motivational talks. What kind of things do you hope that women learn during your talks?
There are women who just give up and throw the towel in about anything. I hope my book is inspirational about what you can do. Like I didn’t marry my husband—we’re reunited junior high school sweethearts—until I was 46.
I want them to realize that it’s not too late to find love. It’s not too late to change careers. My story shows that anybody can start from ground zero. If you can’t believe in you, how do you expect a banker or anybody else to believe in you?
We still feel like we have it in us to continue growing. I just don’t think I’m the kind of person to sit and knit.
Is there anything you haven’t done, that you still want to do?
I love that we’re doing this new leisurewear part of it, which is really exciting for me and that the bras continue to grow. I would like to continue to write and make speeches.
I think the only thing my husband and I would do is have a Chihuahua farm. These little pups take over our lives. They’re like our bosses. So maybe just a Chihuahua farm, and I’ll be good.