In 1995, as most of us were still toying with AOL's chat function, two sisters were doing something a little more revolutionary with the Internet: bringing the boudoir to it.
It wasn't exactly planned genius. Debra Keyes was an accountant who happened to be representing a lingerie firm when she visited a popular "theme" hotel, where everything slept on or sold was thematic-except the clothing. Railing over the gap with her husband in their California home led him to propose they launch their own fantasy-themed lingerie store online, and thus First Fantasies was born - three years before even Victoria's Secret published its page.
"We went online when online wasn't popular to offer sexy bedroom costumes so that people could purchase in the privacy of their home," Keyes said.
Sister Vicki-Jo Hone, a few states away in Utah, was a retailer looking for part-time work, so she picked up the shipping and buying. The site's first offerings hit right on its theme: the Sexy Bedroom Costumes line highlighted classic storybook figures like pirates and cowboys, and Fantascripts brought to life fantastic loves of lore, like The French Maid and The Millionaire and The Sheik and the Harem Girl.
Being "somewhat conservative," the sisters didn't tell their children about the nitty gritty of their jobs, saying instead they simply made "adult costumes." After taking a small inheritance, they decided to start a business their kids could enjoy: Costume Cuzzins, First Fantasies' child-appropriate, well, sister.
The sisters' sister-sites now carry costumes and lingerie from several big names; Leg Avenue, Shirley of Hollywood and Hanes are the most popular. Customers spend about $40 a visit, and the demographic is spreading from mostly men from 20-35 shopping for women to equal parts male and female and a broader age range. "As the Internet grows and the acceptability of sexy costume play increases, the age range is growing higher all the time," Keyes said.
To suit that broader age range, the company stocks specialty items, throw-away and high-end in addition to its traditional costume lineup. And it still sells several exclusive lines, "for niches that volume manufacturers aren't targeting," Keyes said. Thirteen years later, the Sexy Bedroom line is still the site's bestseller, followed by men's smoking jackets.
Today, First Fantasies-Costume Cuzzins is still small enough to operate out of its own single warehouse (staffed, appropriately, by the "Warehouse Witches"). But Keyes is in talks to partner with a "very large firm" and hopes to begin buying from more sources, doing her own importing and joining forces with manufacturers.
"The bottom line is that online has become so competitive, with customers shopping for similar or identical products side by side, that lower prices and newer designs are in demand," Keyes said. "We plan to meet that demand and continue to grow as we have consistently since inception."