At 8-years-old, our founder Eddie Smith along with his three siblings find themselves parentless. Because their extended family can’t provide for them, they are sent to the Lexington Junior Order Orphanage. Here, along with 260 other children, they are raised as a family. These humble beginnings create a sense of responsibility and community in Eddie that will last him his lifetime. At the orphanage, he’s placed in charge of Sam the mule. When asked about Sam, Eddie would say,”It’s the best job I ever had.” From hauling in the milk, to taking out the trash, everyone depended on Eddie.
On a bright summer’s day at the height of the Great Depression, with only $5 in his pocket, 18-year old Eddie is dropped off in the middle of Lexington to make his mark on the world. “The sky’s the limit!” he thought. He travels no further than a few blocks where he gets a job at the Carolina Theater (now the Eddie Smith Civic Center). Here, he meets and falls in love with Sarah Lanier, a devotee of the silver screen and all the beauty and fashion that goes with it. They elope in 1939. He serves his country for a short period, and returns to Lexington to become a taxi driver, and then the Manager of Red Bird Cab Company and Bus Line.
To provide for Sarah and their two children, Eddie Jr. and Lynda, Eddie takes a job at the Lexington Mail Order Company, and at night enrolls in a correspondence course in advertising. His passion for customer service starts here, where he uses a stopwatch to perfect the quickest way to open a letter, pick an order, and wrap a package. “Your business success, “ he would later say, “is solely dependent upon the happiness of your customer. Treat each customer as if she is your only customer.”
After WWII more women enter the workforce and Eddie, with his entrepreneurial spirit, seizes an opportunity. Surrounded by North Carolina mills, he starts his foray into fashion, and sells stockings by the dozen. Using just a modest little black-and-white mailer National Wholesale is born. Lynda, then just 5-years-old, recalls sitting on the kitchen floor as her dad, with unbridled excitement, waves the first order from his first National customer.
Moving from a small building off Center Street, Eddie purchases an empty warehouse, formerly Manhattan Shirt Factory, for the expansion of the company. At the time, he brought with him 22 employees and a big vision for its future and its people. Keeping his customers first, he can now offer his customers more and get their orders out more effectively. The 70’s were a busy time for the civically-minded entrepreneur, as the move occurred shortly after he concluded a 5-year term as the Mayor of Lexington.
Having great success in the hosiery business, Eddie, with Sarah’s help adds clothing to National’s product assortment. Mailing over a million customers seven catalogs a year, the clothing offered then was the sign of the times—stylish loungewear every woman would wear around the house after her busy day in the workforce. Products like our Swirl Models Coat®, lingerie and robes were big hits of the day. Sarah said of this time, “Every woman needs something comfortable to slip into at the end of a long day.”
After graduating from the University of North Carolina with a Masters in Psychology, Lynda joins the company while juggling being a wife, first-time mother and guidance counselor. By the time her second child, Parker is born, she joins National full time and helps her father launch the first of three National Wholesale stores. At a time when outlet stores dotted the countryside, people came in droves on tour buses to National stores where they often ran into local celebrities like Ms North Carolina and Wrangler Jean’s Ralph the dog.
While Lynda works with Marketing and Merchandising to expand product assortment and meet the needs of National’s ever-growing customer base, she helps coin names like “Tummy Tamer” and “Thigh Thinners.” Our customers’ response is overwhelming. Keeping it in the family, her daughters, Lanier and Parker, become National’s darlings as they adorn the covers of our catalogs in the ‘80s and ‘90s. Looking back, they practically grew up here in National’s hallways.
Surrounded by friends and family, Eddie joins the ranks of other great cataloguers like Leon L Bean and Eddie Bauer as he is inducted into the Direct Mail Association’s Hall of Fame. DMA president and CEO Robert Wientzen says, "Eddie has been one of the strongest and most vocal lieutenants' of the catalog industry and has been extremely active in speaking out for mail-order customers and businesses on such government issues as tax collection and postal rates." Mr Smith graciously accepts this award and, true to form, gives all the credit to his employees and his loyal customers.
At the requests of Eddie and Lynda, National launches shopnational.com with much excitement. We can now offer our loyal catalog customers a convenient new way to shop, and reach out to potential new customers who may not be aware of our classic offerings. So what was the first order off the web? One “Lighten Your Load” Handbag for $29.95.
Mr Smith passes away at the age of 88, with friends and family by his side. But true to form, the beloved Eddie “Georgie” leaves an incredible legacy, including his prized biscuit recipe that he shares with his granddaughters on their last Thanksgiving together. This recipe was one he made and served, along with bacon and eggs, to his employees every Monday morning. In his passing, Lynda graciously steps in as President of the company and shares her father’s passion for innovation, comfort and customer service.
Under Lynda’s leadership, “Just Comfort” is developed to educate our consumers about the benefits of compression hosiery. Research shows that, worn every day, this product offers great health benefits, in addition to making your legs look and feel so much better. Unlike what was available at that time, “Just Comfort” is designed to make compression stockings look more like stylish hosiery. National improves upon traditional yarns and treatments making “Just Comfort” easier to put on than traditional compression stockings.
National’s quest to create the world’s softest knit begins. It takes our Product Development Team a year to create this fabric, having our venders twirl and re-twirl our fiber until UltraSofts® is born. Today we offer over 70+ exclusive styles in this much-loved fabric. Often imitated, never recreated, our tagless UltraSofts clothing line is the softest you’ll ever wear. Lynda gives her husband’s Aunt Freddie kudos for her “free opinions” in regards to the fabrication of this product, claiming, “She is UltraSofts biggest fan.”
In honor of their father, Lynda and her big brother Eddie Jr., start a charitable foundation that serves to carry on their fathers’ desire to help those in need in Lexington, and the surrounding areas. It’s helped build wings on hospitals, fund cancer centers, renovate a women’s shelter, as well as renovate the orphanage where Eddie grew up.
Lynda’s daughter Parker joins National getting us more socially connected by launching,IfTheMuumuuFits. Her blog is all about growing up in the apparel industry and what makes National the treasure it is today. From articles about clothing to where to get the best pimento cheese sandwich, and from best beaches to explore in the Carolinas to exercises that all ages can benefit from, Parker talks about how to enjoy a simple way of life that is often lost in today’s hustle and bustle world.
With respect and love, Lynda carries on her father’s tradition of responding to our customers personally. She also carries on her mother’s vision of bringing comfortable fashion into every woman’s home. From casual apparel to lingerie, hosiery to loungewear, and everything in between, National is dedicated to treating you like family. Our focus is the woman who wants comfortable classic clothing at an affordable price. She’s the professional, the homemaker, and the retiree that dot every town across the country—pointelle cardigan and all. What can we do for you?
Styles that are easy to wear, easy to care for, and oh so comfortable.
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