A dare led to a more than 50-year career for Janet Peters.
'I loved the business,' said the 82-year-old Fleetwood resident who shares memories of a decades-long career in intimate apparel manufacturing at Vanity Fair and later at H. Warshow & Songs, a fabric company. 'I was in the business for 54 years.'
The Hamburg native was 21 when friends dared her to respond to an ad in the paper for a designer's fit model for Vanity Fair in Reading. Out of 288 girls interviewed, Janet landed the job.
Intimate apparel designers would fit their original creations on live models, like Janet, who said 1951 was a time 'when robes, gowns, p.j's, slips were beautiful and later on beautiful bras and girdles that truly fit any size and every product had wonderful fabrics and great quality.'
But Janet soon found herself bored by the job. She wanted to learn the business. On the verge of quitting, her boss convinced to her stay, continue modeling and learn everything from purchasing to marketing and sewing.
'Vanity Fair was vertical, this means they could depend upon themselves because they made their own fabrics, dyed and finished their fabrics, and were the first for permanent pleating, meaning you could launder garments and the pleats would not disappear. Some of these gowns and peignoir's made with permanent pleating were so beautiful you could wear them as evening gowns,' she explained.
At age 24, Janet married her husband Henry Peters in 1954 and they moved to Fleetwood. Janet and Henry met at the Kutztown Pool when she was 15. They have been married 58 years.
As Vanity Fair grew, so did Janet.
'My being a female in that business, it was rough. Then when they went into the private label business it was a disaster,' said Janet. 'Men were salesmen, they were buyers, they were merchandise managers... There was only one woman at JC Penny that was a buyer... all of them were men. It didn't matter if it was bras, panties, slips, whatever, it was always men. Now it's women.'
How did she meet this challenge?
With a smile on her face, she said, 'The nastier they were, the stronger I got because they were nasty inside the company and outside the company.'
In 1968, she was appointed merchandise manager when Vanity Fair entered the private label market. In 1972, she was named Divisional Manager for the Vanity Fair Private Label after its successful establishment as a profitable business division.
Several years later, as the business expanded with its private label, Janet was elected vice president of Vanity Fair.
In 1977, she was elected a vice president of VF Corporation, becoming the Corporation's first female vice president.
'Being vice president of Vanity Fair was one thing but being vice president of the corporation is different,' she said.
In 1995, she was named senior vice president of intimate apparel at VF Corporation.
After 47 years with the company, Janet retired in 1998 but continued her work in the industry as a consultant with H. Warshow & Songs, a fabric company. Four months later she was named Chief Operating Officer which she served for seven years until her retirement in 2005.
Her career includes many accolades including The Femmy Award of the Underfashion Club, Inc. in 1992, The Goodfellowship Corset Club Award in 1995 and the Intimate Apparel Square Club's Al Jaffin Award for distinguished service in 2002. She also received the Spirit of a Woman Award during an event co-sponsored by DuPont and Vogue during Lingerie Week at a charity auction in 1995.
The Intimate Apparel Square Club will honor Janet once again in November at their annual H.U.G. Awards gala, which raises funds for pediatric services at NYU Langone Medical Center's Rusk Institute of Rehabilitation Medicine and Tisch Hospital, a place close to her heart. She enjoys 'seeing the kids happy.'
When asked to describe herself, Janet said, 'I love life, I love everything about it. I never complain. I have a positive attitude.'
Janet is also known as 'The Strawberry Lady' for the strawberries at her and husband's fruit and vegetable stand at the VF Outlet from 1973 to 2000. She is also a member of the Fleetwood Rotary Club and she volunteers for Meals on Wheels.
Her life philosophy is to 'Live everyday as if it's your last.'
Janet Peters' Top 10 Beliefs Here are my top 10 beliefs on the keys to success (that can apply to any industry):
1. Find a mentor or inspiration to teach you the business. If you want to succeed, don't be afraid to work hard and know your business from the bottom up. If you do, no one can ever take it away from you.
2. Be prepared and quick. Always strive to get things done fast – 'If you're not first, you may never get the chance to be last.'
3. Build relationships – Never forget your vendors and suppliers – in many cases, they will help you when you get into a jam and no one will appreciate your loyalty and respect more than people that rely on you for their own livelihood.
4. Be a leader and push people – I don't mean 'push' in a negative way, but many times people are not completely sure what they are capable of and with a little 'push' (you can also call it encouragement) you can help them achieve things they never thought they could do.
5. Focus on product. You must have the right product, no matter what business you are in.
6. Give credit where and when it's due. Recognize your team and those who support you. It will all come back to you ten-fold in the long run.
7. Have integrity – do the right thing – always.
8. Ask questions! Seize every opportunity to meet or connect with another person. In the elevator, on the street – be friendly and interested in others. Life is mysterious in that way. You never know who you could meet and what door could open for you.
9. Care about what is happening in the world – our environment, our government and take a stand.
10. Always say 'Thank You' and give back to those that have helped you!
'Whatever the circumstances, finding a way to say thanks enhances life. Our gratitude can make others happy and promote such qualities as unselfishness, patience and good will.'
'I can't imagine a person becoming a success who doesn't give this game of life everything he or she's got.' –Walter Cronkite
'Life has got to be lived – that's all there is to it. At 70, I would say the advantage is that you take life more calmly. You know that 'this too shall pass!'' –Eleanor Roosevelt, American First Lady (1884-1962)