How One Local Lingerie Company Is Shaking Up the Intimates Industry

After years at Victoria’s Secret, Sharleen Ernster founded a more inclusive, eco-friendly line

For thirteen years Sharleen Ernster worked in the corporate offices of Victoria’s Secret. She loved it but struggled with aspects of the business: For starters, most lingerie brands seem to cater to just one kind of body shape. And the industry isn’t very eco-friendly.

So in 2015 the forty-something Ernster set out to create a more conscientious lingerie and swimwear company. The name? Hot-As-Hell. “I like the shock value,” she says of the moniker. “In my generation there was a certain type of person who was allowed to be eco-conscious and play in that ethical room. I care about the environment and I’m thoughtful—but I also want to be sexy. You can be all of those things.”

Her mission is to make products that allow a woman to celebrate her body in its natural form, which means you won’t find any padded or push-up bras in the collection. Instead, the bras, bralettes, underwear (string bikinis, thongs, briefs), and bodysuits are made of lace or mesh and come in a range of colors, from dusty rose to jungle green.

And with items like the lace-up “Spinster” bodysuit, you can simply wear it backward to create a more modest look. Ernster has built the same flexibility into the swimwear: The “DIY” halter top can be worn 13 ways, and there are more than 40 one-piece and two-piece bathing suits in the collection. And both lines are built for women of all shapes and sizes—a fact she demonstrates by using an array of models during her runway shows.

To up the eco-friendly quotient, Ernster often uses innovative fabrics, including corn-based EFL fiber for her swimwear. She also says she cuts down on waste by embellishing precut fabric with digital printing. The more water-intensive traditional manufacturing method involves using dyes on bulk rolls that are cut after the fact. Though most of Hot-As-Hell is produced overseas, “I would never do business with a factory I haven’t stepped foot in,” she says.

Ernster also has a clothing collection that started with dresses, cover-ups, and kimonos, and now includes jumpsuits. Nearly everything is machine washable, which most women would agree is a beautiful thing in itself.

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