MIAMI--What began on a whim as a passionate quest for perfect-fitting panties has grown into a lingerie success story.In 1996, Ali Salaverria and Mariela Robito founded Miami-based Eberjey Intimates with five panty styles in several fabrics. Today, the company produces five collections a year, including sleepwear, camis, tank tops and 50 panty styles, as well as a line of swimwear.Overall, wholesale sales are projected to reach more than $2 million in 2002, said Salaverria.Their next step is maternity lingerie, with a new division slated to make its debut in August."All my pregnant friends were complaining that they have to wear ugly underwear," said Salaverria, who came up with the idea while making baby shower gifts.The wholesale prices for the maternity lingerie start at $9 for a thong and goes to $38 for a chemise. The line will also feature pajamas, boy-cut pants and camis.The concept of invention based on necessity isn't new to the designer, a former Wall Streeter who swore she would create panties that wouldn't sag on slender figures. The opportunity arose when she met Robito, who manages Eberjey's business, while working at an advertising firm here. Neither had any prior manufacturing or fashion experience, but they decided to go ahead after researching the market."It wasn't saturated yet. Plus, we thought Miami would be a great place to establish a business," said Salaverria.The partners also saw a niche in contemporary, unconstructed lingerie. Their "less is more" approach is a response to European construction that traditionally features multiple seams and tailoring looks.For fall, the Eberjey line will feature Asian-inspired floral prints, stripes and rose and paisley motifs. Fabrics will include nylon mesh, rayon jersey, microfibers and cotton knits, voile and gauze. Wholesale prices will range from $7.50 for a thong to $42 for pajamas.To accommodate expansion, Salaverria is looking to hire sales representatives in Europe, Asia and Canada, and plans to show in Europe for the first time at the Lyon, Mode City trade show in Lyon, France, which runs Aug. 31-Sept. 2.The firm introduced a new logo and hangtags in May, each specifying an apparel division. "We mostly needed to to keep everything organized," Salaverria added."

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