By Gina Malone
You might say that Elise Olson owes her thriving business, to some degree, to the Grateful Dead. When she moved to Asheville at age 18 to study at UNCA, she found herself falling back on an old skill picked up from a friend in high school—sewing. At the time, she says, she was “deeply entrenched in Grateful Dead culture. So in my free time, I sewed dresses and other hippie-style clothes and then whenever I had the chance, I traveled around selling clothes to see as many Dead shows as I could.”
She moved to Olympia, WA to finish her degree in organic chemistry and botany. Afterwards, she worked in landscape design and installation until she had her first child, then moved back to Asheville to be closer to family. When she was pregnant with her second child, she and a friend, Myah Hubbell, started On The Inside Lingerie. When Hubbell left to focus on her own clothing line, “I ran with On The Inside to see where I could take it,” Elise says. With the online handmade market Etsy coming into its own, she hired a photographer and began selling online. “All of a sudden I had this big market,” she says. “Within about a year of selling on Etsy, I was able to quit my part- time job and go all in on On The Inside. And I’ve never looked back. That was 11 years ago.”
Her brick and mortar shop opened in West Asheville two years ago. There, she has a large showroom with already made pieces, dressing rooms and the studio where she works. “It is such a wonderful space in a 105-year-old building with wood floors and natural light,” she says. “I really enjoy working there.”
Elise designs, cuts and sews every piece of lingerie from start to finish in her studio. “I source the best laces and fabrics from all over the world,” she says. “I want everything I make to be soft and comfortable, so I always have this in mind when buying my materials.” Favorites are bamboo and organic cotton fabric for their softness, sustainability and high quality. “I mostly make bras and panties, but also have some bodysuits and nightgowns as well. I design to make a woman feel good. I am creating items that can be worn every day or as a special occasion.” She carries the work of three other Asheville designers as well as other ethically made and handmade brands.
There are two facets to her business, Elise says: creating new designs and making already designed pieces for customers. While working on the new, she says, she gets “enraptured, almost like tunnel vision and creative fervor until I get my visions just right. I am passionate, inspired, thrilled and get super-charged from it all.” With the daily making, she says, “I have more of a sense of satisfaction when I make each piece beautifully and well-crafted.” And, sometimes, with custom pieces she is adjusting designs and materials for a mix of both sensations. “I don’t do fully custom designs, but I specialize in custom fit,” she says. “I take a client’s measurements and make each piece to fit her body. I also am happy to adjust my designs for her specific needs—like giving more coverage, or a higher rise. I can make many of my designs in different materials and colors so a client can really have some input into her pieces.”
One aspect of her business that she particularly enjoys is hosting bachelorette parties. Groups come in the early evenings with champagne to spend time together and look at lingerie. “I would love to do more of them because they’re really fun,” Elise says. She also enjoys helping men choose gifts for the women in their lives. A popular gift option, she says, is the Panty of the Month subscription, in which the recipient receives a new pair of panties made to her measurements mailed out once a month for six months.
Knowing that women often struggle with their bodies, Elise derives joy from helping them to feel beautiful. “So many women leave here feeling good about themselves,” she says. “Some even hug me when they leave.”
On The Inside Lingerie is located at 842 Haywood Road in West Asheville with parking available. To learn more, visit OnTheInsideLingerie.com or call 828.505.2506. Find Elise Olson on Facebook at OnTheInsideAsheville and Instagram @OnTheInsideLingerie. Her creations may also be found in downtown Asheville at Blu29.