Vienne Cheung Brown

Vienne Cheung Brown, founder of VienneMilano, shows off some of her companies thigh-high stockings. The Windham resident is considering moving some of her operations to New Hampshire from Quincy, Mass.

NH Business

VIENNE CHEUNG BROWN just wanted to find a pair of thigh-high stockings that didn’t fall down. That was her ticket to a new career as an entrepreneur.

The number of people leaving their jobs hit a record high in November, when 4.5 million people – 3 percent of the nation’s workforce – told their bosses they wanted to do something else, according to Labor Department statistics released last week.

Brown was way ahead of that curve. Ten years ago, the Windham resident co-founded an online retail company, deciding to quit her “comfortable but ultimately pointless corporate job.”

Brown used that phrase to describe her time in the high-tech industry in the brief bio that appears on the website for VienneMilano, which specializes in selling thigh-high hosiery imported from Italy.

When Brown dreamed up the idea, she was thinking about women like herself. She was looking for stockings that were both comfortable to wear and professional, as opposed to slinky fishnets you might wear to a costume party.

“At the time, the only thing that I could find were items that were either just for Halloween – not anything I could wear to work appropriately – or they were items that were going for like a hundred dollars per pair of stockings,” Brown said by phone last week.

“That just wasn’t feasible for someone like me to purchase to wear to work everyday. I took this as an opportunity for me to start a business and to look into the hosiery industry as a whole.”

A taste of Italy

Brown first visited Italy with a high school choir when she was 15.

“Since then I’ve been traveling to Europe pretty frequently. I would often buy fashion products and bring them back to the U.S.”

Italy was a natural choice when it was time to decide where her new company’s products would be manufactured. And not just because her business partner was from Italy.

“The quality of Italian hosiery is amazing,” she said.

Before launching VienneMilano’s first products, Brown made multiple visits to Italy to meet with suppliers. Then the products were shipped to the company’s headquarters in Boston.

For most of its history, VienneMilano has been part of Multiverse Commerce, a Boston-based company that imports specialty products and sells them online. In September, Brown secured sole ownership of the brand and is doing the marketing on her own.

The company is currently based in Quincy, Mass., but Brown, who moved to Windham in April with her husband and now 21-month-old son, wants to expand operations into New Hampshire.

Black is the new blackVienneMilano’s thigh highs sell for an average price of $25. Topping the line are $120 hand-crafted stockings.

“I would categorize it as affordable luxury. We’re not the cheap end, but we’re not on the super expensive end either,” Brown said.

She favors a variety of colors but has learned over the years to temper her tastes to what customers want the most.

“When we first started, some of our suppliers in Italy were recommending that American women mainly buy black stockings. And I thought, that can’t be true. I love colored hosiery,’ Brown said.

“In my first collection I launched a variety of colors. But as it turns out I learned the hard way that black is a bestseller. People like black.”

So she limits the colored hosiery primarily to her “signature collections” made in small batches.

“Black will always fly off the shelves,” she said.

Pandemic pipelineAs the COVID-19 pandemic began to overtake Europe in early 2020, Brown was preparing to make a huge order from her suppliers, in part because she was seven months pregnant and wanted to make sure she had plenty of stock on hand. By February, she could see things starting to slow down. After three weeks of waiting, she was arguing with one of her suppliers.

“My suppliers got everything out the door just before the first lockdown occurred in Italy. That was a really close call for us,” Brown said. “I don’t think I would have been able to have any supplies on my hands for several weeks if not months.”

Sales have begun to pick up since she relaunched the company, but for some months of the pandemic they were not consistent, Brown said. She’s worried about the recent COVID spike, which comes just as people have begun getting out more — creating more occasions for women to wear fine Italian hosiery. She also hints that women have other reasons for buying her products or receiving them as gifts. Think Valentine’s Day.

Do they stay up?

It’s the question Brown still gets from customers even after a decade in business: Do your thigh-highs stay up?

“And I say, yes, of course! That’s why I started the business,” Brown said with a laugh. “If you need me to, I can do jumping jacks with the thigh-highs on.”

Mike Cote is senior editor for news and business. Contact him at mcote@unionleader.com or (603) 206-7724.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author. They do not represent the views and opinions of the sponsor, its members and affiliates.