Illness Changes Everything

Phylise Sands hadn’t held a paying job in 20 years. But witnessing her sister’s battle with cancer inspired her to start her own activewear company

by Amanda Robb
phylise sands image
“When everything in your life is fine, it is pretty easy to be a good person,” says Sands, shown here at The Lara Touch exercise studio. “It’s when things are bad that it’s hard.”
Photograph: Adam Golfer

Until early 2011, Sands had been able to prevent the demands of Red Daisy from interfering with her domestic routine. “My family is used to having me around—cooking for them, caring for them,” she says. “But now I’d get calls in the middle of the night because people were on the other side of the world. Fittings would run over, and I’d miss picking up my son from squash practice. I’d get distracted by e-mails from customs officials. My husband and kids got pretty grumpy sometimes. I felt guilty.”

That summer, Sands attended her first trade show. Harte warned her not to expect a single order—not at the show and not for her entire first year. “In general, retailers won’t buy from new companies,” Harte says. “They have quality-control issues, delivery problems, and they tend to go out of business.”

It is hard to say which of the two women was more stunned when 12 retailers placed Red Daisy orders.

“The product has a unique sex appeal,” says Harte. “In this economy, it took something really special for people to take a risk on something new.”

The risk turned out to be real: The Hong Kong factory promised Sands her products in October 2011—but didn’t deliver them until February 2012. “I called everyone and explained as best I could,” says Sands. “But a quarter of the stores canceled their orders anyway.”

The other retailers, however, agreed to wait. After her first shipment arrived, Sands started doing trunk shows, at least two a month, mostly at gyms and spas, all within a half day’s drive of her home. The shows were so effective that she still does them, and when she needs help, she hires her nieces. The only other people she pays are a part-time assistant, an accountant and a part-time sales rep. Today, just a year after Sands officially launched, Red Daisy’s bras, tanks, briefs and leggings are available in 23 boutiques around the country (see red-daisy​.com). The items cost $28 to $95, and each one carries a little daisy-shaped charm reminding women to get their annual mammograms. Far from earning the zero dollars that Harte had once predicted, Sands has already grossed an estimated $240,000 and donated $5,500 to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation. She doesn’t pay herself yet, preferring to reinvest earnings. “I’m narrowing the line, cutting out briefs and yoga pants that didn’t do well and expanding the color selection of the bras, tops and tights that found a market. My family still gets irritated that I’m not as available as I used to be, but mostly everyone is coping. They love my -sister—she’s still undergoing -treatment—and they understand that Red Daisy is for her and women like her.”

Back at Exhale Mind Body Spa, Sands and her customer are leaving the dressing room. The brunette hugs Sands, thanks her profusely and buys three bras. Sands is pleased, but, she says, “I have a bigger picture: What I love about Red Daisy is that I get to help. Sometimes it’s a sale. Sometimes it’s donating to breast-cancer research, or it’s something else. On really great days, it’s everything.”

Amanda Robb is a freelance writer based in New York City.

Next: Turning your Private Passion into a Career

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First published in the April 2013 issue

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