Theresa Gazdik was tired of struggling to find undergarments, specifically bras, to fit her full figure. In decades past, most shops hired clerks to specifically work in lingerie departments and measure women so they could find the perfect brassieres.
These days, it happens less and less and women of all sizes are forced to try on a few dozen different sizes and styles before figuring out which one might work.
"Large women need even more attention than smaller women when buying their bras," says Gadzik. "It really becomes a hassle because there’s no one out there to give you measurements like they used to."
Gadzik struggled with this issue for years, until finally, in 2002, she opened Voluptuous Secrets, 1740 N. Martin Luther King Dr., a boutique that specializes in swimwear, underwear / thongs, lingerie, robes, pajamas, slips, hosiery and bras in sizes 36C to 54H.
"I was seeing too many large ladies walking around in bad bras. I decided to do something about it," she says.
Gadzik had a unique approach to determining if there was enough consumer interest in her business idea. She handed out stamped postcards to larger women she saw on the street, and asked them to write their names and addresses on the postcard and send them back to her if they were interested in an undergarment shop for full-figured women.
Gadzik says her boss at the time said he would be impressed if she got four or five postcards returned to her. Instead, she got between 75 and 100 cards.
"Not only did I get the cards back, but women started calling me. It was phenomenal. They all said the same thing: that we needed a shop like this in Milwaukee," says Gadzik.
Gadzik wanted to do it right, so she enrolled in the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee’s Entrepreneur Training Program (ETP) in the Continuing Education department to write a solid business plan.
"It took me 17 months to write my business plan and get my finances together," she says. "But I have been here almost nine years and I have managed to keep my door open all by myself."
Gadzik says the shop is so successful it’s almost overwhelming at times. She accidentally fell into a second niche of providing girdles and corsets for full-figured brides and many local bridal shops refer larger brides-to-be to her.
Customers travel from Waukesha, Oconomowoc and Madison. Gadzik says she regularly ships bras to customers in New York and Las Vegas.
"My customers travel a long way," she says.
Until recently, Gadzik was working six days a week -- taking time off just for sleep and to attend church -- but started closing her shop on Mondays so she could have enough time to pay her bills and relax. She says she still works 50-60 hours per week, and that she would like to find a business partner to help her possibly open a second shop, but she has not found the right person.
"Not everyone’s cut out for owning their own business. A lot of ladies offer. But it’s a lot of work. It’s a very special kind of work," she says. "But I would love to grow this business because there are a lot of large ladies out there not getting the attention they deserve."
Lack of competition is not the only thing Voluptuous Secrets has going for it. Gadzik is warm and friendly which makes women feel comfortable.
"I have a very personal touch. I don’t just sell you a bra. I pick a particular style the really works for you. And I understand that just because you’re a larger lady doesn’t mean to have to wear an underwear. I fit ladies for some very nice soft cup bars that work," she says.
Voluptuous also caters to women going on honeymoons or romantic vacations or staycations.
"The ladies shop here to get nice, sexy lingerie that’s good quality. I only carry sexy and what’s in style. No granny gowns at my shop," she says. "Ladies always tell me they have a gown they got here years ago."
Gadzik says corsets with tie strings up the back are particularly popular right now, along with super lacy and sheer gowns.
Gadzik, 52, grew up in Glendale and graduated from Marshall High School. Prior to opening Voluptuous Secrets she managed architectural firm Glenn Rieder, 3420 W. Capitol Dr., where she learned a lot about running a business and says her boss was very supportive of her decision to open her own shop.
"My boss saw that I was always willing to go back to school and learn anything that I didn’t know how to do. He thought I had drive and potential and he let me completely run the office," she says. "I learned a lot there. I got a tremendous amount of organizational skills."
Gadzik's biggest piece of advice for larger ladies is to buy a bra that fits well instead of the one that looks the cutest on the rack.
"I have some very pretty bras here, but I tell larger ladies, when you have a big chest, you already have what’s pretty. Don’t worry about a pretty bra. Pick a bra that fits you well, that’s supportive. If you have a supportive bra, it will make everything prettier. Trust me; I’ve had two husbands and they would both agree," she says.
Molly Snyder started writing and publishing her work at the age 10, when her community newspaper printed her poem, "The Unicorn.” Since then, she's expanded beyond the subject of mythical creatures and written in many different mediums but, nearest and dearest to her heart, thousands of articles for OnMilwaukee.
Molly is a regular contributor to FOX6 News and numerous radio stations as well as the co-host of "Dandelions: A Podcast For Women.” She's received five Milwaukee Press Club Awards, served as the Pfister Narrator and is the Wisconsin State Fair’s Celebrity Cream Puff Eating Champion of 2019.