Levana Bratique: Lifting Women Up in More Ways Than One
Levana Bratique in Wexford PA, is the place to go in Pittsburgh for bras, nursing bras, and lingerie – and a proper bra fitting (in person OR online)! The staff warmly welcomes clients, asking them questions about their needs. Purple hues, relaxing music, and contemporary décor provide a calm and uplifting atmosphere. Their slogan, “Changing Women’s Lives One Bra at a Time” adorns the wall, and beautifully designed lingerie, bras, and camisoles beckon one to touch and imagine.
Being avid followers of Levana Bratique’s social media posts and upon learning about their important efforts to give back to the Pittsburgh area through the charity, I Support The Girls, New Mommy Pittsburgh wanted to learn more about the people behind it all. We recently had the opportunity to interview Judy P. Masucci, PhD.: owner, Mom, entrepreneur, former scientist(!), and self proclaimed “Bra Whisperer”.
From Scientist to Bra Whisperer
When asked about her background, Judy, laughs. “I have a PhD in Genetics. So, I was a scientist in my previous life.” After years of working for a Pittsburgh biotech company as Director of Marketing, Judy became pregnant with her son in July 2005. When she returned from maternity leave, the company was bought out and Judy found herself with a new boss and different expectations. Wanting to continue breastfeeding and bonding with her baby after maternity leave, Judy brought her baby on all of her business trips. Admittedly she had some help. “I was lucky that my nanny was willing to travel and willing to come on those trips with me,” she adds.
For many women, pumping at work and struggling to adjust to the rigors of motherhood can be daunting without proper support and encouragement at home and in the workplace. Judy strongly agrees. “Pumping at work, missing meetings because I had to pump, dialing into a meeting so that I could pump in my office…it was so hard. It is a very male dominated world and they’re not always very understanding.”
“I realized that I would be able to meet my personal goals of spending more time with my son, while achieving my professional goals of helping other new mothers succeed with breastfeeding.”
In October 2006, Judy decided to leave the corporate world to spend more time with her son. After spending four months of doing “nothing except being a mom”, she sat down to write a business plan to find a way she could help new mothers with breastfeeding. Six months later, she launched A Mother’s Boutique, a company with a focus on nursing clothing. “I realized that I would be able to meet my personal goals of spending more time with my son, while achieving my professional goals of helping other new mothers succeed with breastfeeding.”
When asked why nursing clothing specifically, Judy shares her own experience. “For me, wherever I went, I didn’t care if people saw my boobs – after all, breasts are beautiful – but I didn’t want them seeing my belly when I lifted my shirt to nurse.” Gradually, she realized that nursing friendly clothing is really nice to have, but nursing bras are always a must. Due to demand, she started bringing in more and more nursing bras. “My collection grew, and we started selling more bras than anything else. We did well with the (nursing) clothing, but it is definitely a luxury item.”
A Gap in the Market Leads to Change
Becoming a bra specialist was not something Judy expected; however, in 2013, The Pussycat, the only bra store for Pittsburgh, abruptly closed. “Other than the chain bra stores, they were it. If you had a fuller bust, you went to the Pussycat,” recalls Judy. “When they closed, they left a large hole in the Pittsburgh market, especially for larger busted women.” A Mother’s Boutique was known for nursing bras, but with the closing of The Pussycat, Judy had many clients (and their extended family and friends!) turning to her for help in finding bras in their size. “People were coming to me and literally begging me to carry regular bras because all I had were nursing bras.” Judy says, giggling at the thought of once fitting a nursing bra for an 86 year old woman who couldn’t find her size elsewhere. “I was fitting people my age or my mother’s age into nursing bras because I had their size, and that’s all I carried. I only carried nursing bras!”
After listening to people who expressed their frustration in finding the right bras, Judy decided to specialize, focusing on bras and lingerie. From this, Levana Bratique was born, officially opening four years ago featuring matching panties for bras, every day basic panties, camisoles with built in bras, camisoles that can be used as a layer, bralettes, bridal corsets, and of course, bras! Levana Bratique still features a wide selection of nursing bras as part of their offerings and now carries lingerie. “We carry bras in sizes ranging from 28-56 bands and A to W cups – so when we say we have something for everyone, we aren’t kidding!”
A bra fitting is a must when you visit Levana Bratique. “99% of the people who walk through the door are not wearing the right size,” shares Judy. Once you have a fitting, then Judy and team help you look into options that are right for your shape. “With bra fitting it’s really a lot about education. People think they want the padded t-shirt bra because that’s all they know, but they don’t realize that something else might give them a better shape, better lift, better figure.”
What’s In A Name?
Judy’s son is now 14 and was only two years old when she started A Mother’s Boutique in 2007. He doesn’t mind that his mother models on the internet in her bra and has even helped her out in the store over the years. Reminiscing, Judy nods toward the back. “I actually still have a kid’s desk back there”. He especially loves the fact that the name of the new store was inspired by him. “When I was looking to re-brand the store, I needed a new name and, at the time, my son was really into Greek and Roman mythology.”
That led Judy to begin a search for mythological names that would have some meaning that weren’t already taken. “Levana” jumped out at her. Levana comes from the Latin, “levare”, meaning “to lift”. Levana was the Roman goddess of childbirth. It was her job to lift the babies from the earth and deliver them to their families. Judy ties it all together for us. “It connects my past in breastfeeding and maternity to my present — in lifting women up.”
Giving Back: I Support the Girls
In addition to dedicating her life’s work to uplifting women and truly embodying the Levana Bratique slogan, “Changing Lives One Bra at a Time”, Judy and team are busy throughout the year supporting women and girls in need. They are the Pittsburgh affiliate for I Support The Girls, a non-profit organization that has an international network of affiliates that collect and distribute essential items, including bras and menstrual hygiene products, allowing women experiencing homelessness, impoverishment, or distress to stand tall with dignity. “The work that we do with I Support the Girls helps women right here in Pittsburgh,” says Judy.
“The work that we do with I Support the Girls helps women right here in Pittsburgh.”
Dana Marlowe is the founder of I Support the Girls and lives in Washington, DC. Dana went for a bra fitting one day and asked what she could do with her gently used bras. The woman fitting her suggested that homeless people could use them, and from that experience, I Support the Girls was born. Judy argues that it is “not only important that women have bras, but also to really make sure they have a bra that fits them. If you have a bra that fits, it makes you stand taller, feel more confident.” For some, this could make a difference between being homeless or not.
Levana recently held a model search for women of all shapes and sizes in the Pittsburgh area for their first annual Embolden Your Beauty Fashion show to help raise money for I Support the Girls. “We wanted to do something fun to raise money for the charity. The model search also brings attention to our lingerie, so it is kind of dual purpose.”
“I’m all over the internet with my imperfect body.”
Models will sign a photo release, so they can use their photos online to promote the upcoming Fashion Show as well as their products. Judy adds, “One of our biggest challenges is having appropriate photos on the internet. The photos you get from the manufacturers are nice, but they’re photo-shopped and on perfect bodies.” Judy and her manager, Adrian, are often found modeling their bras and lingerie online. “I’m all over the internet with my imperfect body,” she laughs.
Levana Bratique collects gently used and new bras as well as menstrual products year-round at the store from anyone who wishes to donate. Judy credits all of her staff for helping with this special charity, especially her store manager, Adrian Foy, who travels around Pittsburgh to homeless shelters, Dress for Success pop up events, high schools that serve underserved areas, The Free Store in Braddock, Allegheny Intermediary Unit, Mercy Behavioral Health, and other organizations that work with women and girls in need. “Later this year, we hope to be able to have “Free Bra Sundays” where anyone in need can come and get a free bra,” she adds. “We definitely try to give back whenever we can.”
Article written by Jennifer A. Rogers, New Mommy Pittsburgh, a guide for new and expecting parents. Read our first edition and be sure follow us on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter for more articles, interviews and new mom & parent tips!