we've an ELLE of a history
Ms. Shape's British Heritage
British parentage? Yes! But, Ms. Shape is her own woman! Like America, Ms. Shape sought independence to find her own identity! The knowledge, expertise and reputation of the UK ELLE brand was beautifully packaged into Ms. Shape, a brand with a story which is finding resonance with both men and women across the US. Today Ms. Shape brings you a range of tights, leggings, shorts and tops. All designed and manufactured to fit every size, perfectly. Ms. Shape is inclusivity & empowerment.
history of ELLE
But, what is the story about Ms. Shape's origin? Well, William Wileman, the founding father of the luxury brand ELLE in the UK, set up his very first business in 1919, at a time when the hosiery industry was on the brink of an exciting revolution.
A glimpse of stocking…
“In olden days, a glimpse of stocking
Was looked on as something shocking.
Now heaven knows,
When Cole Porter’s hit musical ‘Anything Goes’ made its Broadway debut in 1934, women’s fashions were indeed changing. Hemlines were on the up, it was becoming socially acceptable for ladies to show their legs and the sale of fashion stockings rose dramatically. As new, synthetic fibres replaced cotton and silk, demand for fashion stockings soared even more, fueled by the introduction of the new, more affordable synthetic fibres which replaced costly silk.
The Wileman Empire
William was well placed to take advantage of the new trends. He had grown up in the hosiery trade and came from a long line of prominent Leicestershire hosiers. In 1845 his ancestor, Richard Wileman, claimed to be ‘the oldest manufacturer in the kingdom’, weaving traditional men’s worsted stockings from the excellent Leicestershire wool.
William worked out of a humble shed in Earl Shilton near Leicester - the historic heartland of the UK hosiery trade. With just 4 employees on the payroll and a handful of knitting machines, he must have worked hard for in 1920 he joined forces with Arthur Nicholls to found Nicholls & Wileman Ltd and relocated to spacious factory premises - The Mpyre Works in Wood Street. Nicholls & Wileman Ltd went on to become one of the biggest hosiery manufacturers in the UK, employing over 450 local people. They worked with some of the most advanced machines in the world which were updated regularly as technology, yarns and fashions changed. William’s son Keith made regular trips to hosiery factories in the USA to keep up with the latest innovations.
Initially Nicholls & Wileman produced stockings made from rayon, known as artificial silk. But when revolutionary Nylon really took off they diversified into seamed Nylons – the embodiment of perfection for any lady of style!
There was no stretch in Nylon so stockings came in half sizes and were ‘fully fashioned’ to the shape of the leg for a perfect fit. Advertising was an important driver of stocking sales so Nicholls & Wileman had a portfolio of brands, including the highly successful ELLE brand, invoking luxury and romance, quality and value.
Ultra sheer branded stockings were manufactured to exceptionally high standards with very strict quality controls in place. Every single pair of stockings was finished by hand and underwent 7 inspections at key stages to ensure perfection. Stockings were despatched to UK warehouses and to agents all over the world, as far afield as South Africa and Trinidad.
William and Arthur may have been very demanding employers but they looked after their loyal and highly skilled staff. The company’s 30-year commemorative booklet proudly states that staff have their own canteen providing a full meal service and ‘The girls are comfortably seated in chairs and sing to broadcast music’. Better than many production lines today! A summer Works Outing by train to Blackpool was a highly anticipated annual event and everyone received a pork pie at Christmas as a token of thanks.
As new technology including seamless tube knitting and stretch Lycra came onto the market, William and Arthur diversified. They set up other hosiery companies in the region including Barber & Nicholls, run by William’s son Keith. They extracted the brand ELLE and started up Elle Hosiery Ltd in the early 1960’s – around the time that the first mini-skirts appeared.
It was difficult to avoid a glimpse of stocking tops under such a short skirt so tights – or pantyhose as they were known - were the practical solution!
Elle became synonymous with innovative tights and socks. Not just sheer and plain tights but patterned and brightly coloured designs featuring strong fashion themes such as spots, bows and diamonds. Exclusive designs, luxurious yarns and a focus on quality allowed ELLE to sell and market premium fashion hosiery, as they still do today.
William and Arthur eventually retired from business and ELLE has been in the hands of current owner, entrepreneur Anja Kahn, since the 1990s. Now with bases both in the US and UK, the company has continued the tradition to develop niche market sectors channelling through ELLE in the UK and Europe, and Ms. Shape in the US.
Over a 100 years and the key philosophy remains unchanged: luxurious, quality products which are fit for purpose, not only looking good, but doing good. The product ranges have extended to include medical grade graduated compression socks made from milk fiber (yes, drinking milk!) capable of boosting circulation by a massive 40%, shape wear, high strength compression wear, and our current developments are progressing into active wear.
True to the mission to 'meet the needs of our consumer base', the Ms. Shape team rose to the challenge of Covid-19 in 2020, switching production to manufacture washable medical grade, N95 and Type IIR, face masks under the 2p1e label, with innovative cutting edge technology tested effective in de-activating SARS-COV-2 within minutes of virus landing on the surface of the masks, a global first. It was testimony to the decades of experience in specialist fibers and knitting techniques that such environmentally friendly and fit for purpose masks were able to be designed, manufactured and shipped within a couple of weeks of Covid 19 hitting. Working round the clock, in multiple time zones, and job roles fluid, it was a very personal, and emotional, journey for each member of the team.
Covid-19 Response Team; a not-for-profit project within the business.
We hope you enjoyed reading about the heritage of Ms. Shape, and we hope across our site we have conveyed our values; to you our customers at the center of our business model, we strive to exceed your expectations and continuously improve to always bring you the right solution for your needs, to the people who work at any point in the manufacturer-to-consumer-chain, we pledge ethical and just policies, and to the environment we hope to leave our children, we actively work towards only eco friendly processes and materials.