From selling bras door-to-door to creating Fashion Foundations, Kelowna’s downtown hot spot for bras, bustiers and bodices, Margaret Follmer Wort, aka the bra lady, has seen it all in the world of lingerie.
A true Kelowna woman, Margaret was born in 1930 in a bunkhouse run by her Hungarian-Rumanian immigrant parents on St. Paul Street. She attended Dehart Primary School, Central Elementary, Kelowna Junior High. After high school Margaret attended Hebert’s Business College and landed a job as an office assistant. A few years later, fate intervened, and Margaret followed her older sister and sister’s engineer boss to Victoria. There at an afternoon tea dance, she fell in love with Don Wort, a young sailor stationed at Esquimalt. “There were lots of sailors to choose from,” she says with a laugh. “I brought him home to work with my dad at the family orchard in Rutland where we had our daughter, Susan.” Sadly, her husband Don died in 1970. Now a single mom, Margaret temporarily made ends meet as a bookkeeper.
Then one evening, providence intervened again, this time in the form of a CBC TV talk show featuring a woman describing what sounded like a miracle bra. “It did everything but do the dishes for you,” she says with a giggle. “I had been looking for a new bra and couldn’t find what I wanted, so I wrote to her. She said the bra was only available in Toronto. I decided to go to Toronto to see it for myself. When I tried the bra on, my daughter, Susan, told me I looked ten years younger.”
That comment encouraged Margaret to bring home a suitcase full of bras to Kelowna. She was soon selling them door-to-door out of the back of her 1970 Volkswagen station wagon. “I couldn’t carry enough sizes, so I went to city hall in 1976 to get a business license. Fashion Foundations was born and I had people come to my home for fittings.”
As the popularity of the business grew, Margaret dedicated an entire floor of her house on Richter Street to a display and fitting room. “I must have fitted everyone in Kelowna at least once,” she quips.
Finally, in 1992 Margaret opened her first storefront on Pandosy Street, two years later moved to a location on Lawrence Avenue. “I stayed there for 19 years” Then we moved to 1385 Ellis Street. Her daughter, Susan, ran the store but parking became a real issue there. “We are happy to say that on July 1st, we move to the Spall Plaza, #118 – 1850 Harvey to a larger location with great parking!”
Margaret worked full time until she had a knee replacement in 2011. “Are you still involved with the store?” I asked. “Absolutely. I’m designing the layout for the new store. There will be more space for displays and larger fitting rooms. And, easy parking. We want customers to enjoy a relaxed experience.”
During her leisure time, Margaret watches talk shows. “You can always learn something from Dr. Phil,” she says. She’s also a big fan of Downton Abbey and has the swag to prove it. “I have their tea, tea cup and even a Downton Abbey handbag Susan bought for me at a church silent auction.”
A student of history and biography, Margaret owns a complete set of Okanagan Historical Reports, from 1925-present. She also reads the Vernon, Kelowna, Rutland and Coldstream newspapers with scissors in her hands, searching for articles that may need her personal comment or rebuttal. Look for her succinct, carefully crafted, often witty letters to the editor in local newspapers.
“Looking back, the business was a success because we expanded gradually, paying as we went. We built a solid reputation along the way as good fitters. Our staff show understanding and respect to all women, petite to plus size and provide considerable empathic expertise for post-mastectomy patients.”
“From our door-to-door beginning, we’ve gone from one bra style in many sizes to at least ten brands. I’ve gone from custom fitting bland Spirella corsets in the 80s to a rainbow of colours and sizes of luxurious lingerie, including bathing suits and loungewear. We even sell SAXX, the men’s underwear line created by local Kelowna entrepreneur, Trent Kitsch. I know Susan will carry on our legacy of style, service and care for our customers at our new location.”
And, while Margaret plans to live to at least 100, she’s already written her own obituary. In the meantime, what does she hope people say about her at her 90th birthday? “They’ll probably say I am the crabby lady who writes all the letters to the newspapers, but I hope they also remember that I have a warm heart, love my cat, my city and my business.”