By: Erin Yudt
Judy Masucci never imagined herself owning a specialized bra business. She thought she would be a genetics scientist forever, but something changed the course of her life forever, having her son.
Masucci earned her undergraduate degree at Smith College and her PhD at Columbia University, which led her to live all over the country, from Washington state, to Boston and then to Pittsburgh after she met her husband. At the time, Masucci was working about 14 hours a day in the marketing department at a local BioTech company.
“I was working my way up the corporate ranks like every other person in society,” said Masucci. “I had very little time for anything other than work.”
However, this all changed when Masucci became pregnant and gave birth to her son in 2006.
“When I went back to work, I was doing 11 hour shifts all while having to pump every hour,” said Masucci. “I would only see my son for about an hour and a half a day, and even then it was when he was sleeping”
Masucci simply could not keep up, so she made a big decision and left her job 15 months after becoming a mom. For four months, she devoted all her time to son.
“I did the mom thing for four months,” said Masucci. “I did all the mommy play dates and just tried to catch up on the time that I missed.”
Through these play dates, Masucci observed not only her struggles but the struggles of all mothers with young children like problems with breastfeeding in public due to difficult clothing and having difficulties finding correctly fitting bras after having a child and breastfeeding. This gave her a “lightbulb moment.”
“I knew that I could not not work forever,” said Masucci. “And these events gave me the idea first to have a mom cafe where moms could meet and have advice talks, but I knew that would not compete with large brands, so I wanted to open a store.”
Masucci first started with bringing the store to the mothers as she understood how hard it was for mothers to coordinate how they were going to get to the store with a young child.
“I first did at home appointments and brought the store to the mothers,” said Masucci. “This was difficult as I was still a mother to my young son, but it was a great start. We all were in the same boat so no one minded if I brought my son or had to work around my son’s schedule.”
As Masucci got more inventory, it became harder to bring all her supplies to women’s homes. Her business was growing, and she needed a place to accommodate it. In 2007, Masucci officially launched her first business and retail location called “A Mom’s Boutique,” a store that carried essentials for mothers that included nursing bras and clothing.
Masucci supplied these women with a variety of items ranging from nursing bras, which she helped fit and specialized for each woman, nursing clothing, diaper bags and even breast pumps. She also completed an online course through one of her nursing bra retailers on how to properly fit women for bras, but for the most part, Masucci learned as she went on and worked with a variety of customers.
“I think my science background helped a lot in terms of becoming a Jack of all trades,” said Masucci. “It helped me pick up things quickly, be more creative, think outside the box and overall become more balanced. I did everything in my business, from HR to contracting and so forth.”
As time went on and Masucci transitioned from being a mom of a newborn to a young child, she saw less of a need for nursing bras and clothing, for moms around the area were becoming moms to young children as well. It was time for another change.
“I got my kind of saving grace when PussyCat, a local bra boutique that carried hard to find sizes, went out of business with no warning,” said Masucci. “I knew that this was something I could take over for the area.”
After two years of reconfiguring the focus of her company, Masucci relaunched in 2016 as “Levana Bratique.” The name Levana comes from the Latin word “levare,” which means to lift.
“I knew the name of my business had to change because we were no longer simply a mother’s store,” said Masucci. “So I wanted to also make it special and tie it to something with my son. At the time, he was very into Greek Mythology.”
Masucci researched Greek Goddess names on Wikipedia and their origins and stumbled across Levana, the Roman Goddess of children who lifts up children and delivers them to their parents.
“Levana was the perfect name,” said Masucci. “It encompassed everything that the relaunch was, lifting women up through correctly fitting bras, and it brought the past and future together through her ties to children.”
In the over $250,000 inventory, Levana Bratique carries 250 different sizes of bras in about 50 to 70 different styles from an A to X cup, with their most popular sizes being an H or I cup, unlike most companies who usually stop at a DD cup. They additionally carry lingerie and swimwear and have an online website for those who are unable to make appointments in person for a one on one fitting.
“I am very proud that we are able to have that one on one experience fitting for those who need bras,” said Masucci. “It is so very important because that is the only way you are going to get a properly fit bra. Everybody has a different size and shape and needs to be accommodated for.”
Masucci and her fitters try their best to properly educate women on bras and how to find ones that best fit their body.
“Most people don’t know that the cup sizes change with the band size, so truly a DD is actually a H,” said Masucci. “Some women go their whole lives without having the right size or properly fitting bra. I get women in their 70s like this.”
Chanel Phillips, resident of Hermitage, is one of these women who received great education while visiting the store.
“Yes I got great, well fitting bras, but the best thing was the education,” said Phillips. “They showed me how to properly measure myself and what size I would be in other popular brands, how I could apply this knowledge outside of their store and the rest of my life. I am glad I learned this in my mid twenties.”
In addition to having a diverse range of bras, the company also has branded their business on having diverse models and inclusive language.
Employee Tara Lindsay, who has been working for Masucci for over a year and a half, reiterates that the education has been the best element for her as well.
“There was so much I did not know about bra sizes and measuring body types,” said Lindsay. “Judy is so full of knowledge that it is just overflowing out of her. She is a natural teacher and just amazing.”
“When you go on our website, you don’t see the typical model body, which rarely even exists in the real world,” said Masucci. “Our models of all ages have all different kinds of sizes and skin tones. We also have models who are transgender, and we try to use gender neutral language in our branding as much as possible to create a store welcoming environment.”
Another large part of Levana Bratique is helping address customers’ body image issues and helping them rebuild confidence.
“When you have a one on one fitting, you get to hear their stories and their struggles,” said Masucci. “There is nothing better when you see someone walk out their store standing taller, not only because they now have a fitting bra, but because they truly see themselves in a different light and one that is of value.”
To further expand her knowledge and her business, Masucci attends a bra conference in New York twice a year, meeting up with her vendors and attending training classes on how to properly fit bras, which she was recognized at this exact conference in August of 2021 for her philanthropic excellence at the conference’s Curve Awards, being chosen from more than 18,000 bra and lingerie shops.
Along with running her business, Masucci manages Pittsburgh’s chapter of I Support the Girls, a nonprofit that restores dignity to women experiencing homelessness and low income. The chapter is volunteer run and operates on a “shoestring” budget. The organization collects donations of bras and inspects to find gently used ones to give women dignity as “poor people do not deserve crap.” They also collect menstrual products that are individually packaged. Masucci’s chapter has donated over 100,000 menstrual products with 60,000 being to women all throughout the Greater Pittsburgh area during the pandemic. The group also made gift bags for nurses, recognizing women on the frontlines. Donations can be made through their website and social media pages and needed items can be viewed on their Amazon wishlist.
“I truly believe that all people are kind at heart,” said Masucci. “People want to help. They just need to know how, so we clearly lay it out for them through things like the wishlist.”
While former scientist Masucci may have never seen herself running a bra business and women’s nonprofit, she is “grateful” for where life has taken her.
“I am truly proud of the things that I have accomplished through my work,” said Masucci. “I do not do the things I do for recognition, but it feels great when I am recognized and to see that I am truly helping others, which is all I want to do.”