Mannequin maker builds bodies of work heads over heels, hands over fists


LAS VEGAS, Nev. — Need a body part? How does a $2 arm or $5 leg sound?

Alison Wainwright is here to help.

Her company, Las Vegas Mannequins, has taken over a cavernous 23,000-square-foot warehouse filled with mannequins, spare parts, slat walls, a carpentry shop and soon, a mannequin factory. Already, she rents and sells mannequins to most anyone who needs an extra body.

And if you just need an arm or a leg? She’s got that too.

Inside Las Vegas Mannequins, bright red backdrops give way to clear and white mannequins positioned for prime viewing. To the left, store fixtures, which Wainwright started carrying in January, are displayed for customers seeking her store build-out services.

Each year, Wainwright imports four 45-foot-long containers each filled with about 400 mannequins. Soon, she won’t have to.

“We’re going to be fabricating mannequins here,” Wainwright said. “There’s not one company in the United States that does that. It’s huge.”

With her own production, Wainwright could finish custom jobs that now take upward of 10 months in mere weeks. Her staff is working on the first few molds now.

A back area of her warehouse will become the factory.

“I’m always trying to think of something new,” Wainwright said.

Thus far the strategy’s worked. When she added sales to her mannequin rental business about two years ago, business boomed. Retail makes up 65 percent of her revenue.

Besides renting bodies to conventions, she sells mannequins to retailers such as Nordstrom, Hollister and Macy’s.

During Halloween, local artists and others came in to buy body parts leftover from store liquidations. The warehouse is open to the public.

Her 10-person staff includes a carpenter, delivery drivers and customer service representatives. During the local fashion trade shows, she hires about 30 additional staff members to help with the rush during February and August.

Business is strong now, but Wainwright remembers her origins. In high school, she worked at a corn stand, Dairy Queen, Burger King, McDonald’s and a Massachusetts grocery store.

When starting her business, she carried her mannequins through casinos herself, transporting them inside her Jeep Cherokee.

“When you walk through a casino with a mannequin, people always have the most horrible jokes,” she said.

Today she receives more and more custom orders and is able to create one-off mannequins with a minimum order of eight. Among her array are sports mannequins such as runners, bodybuilders or yoga practitioners.

Question: How long is the life of a mannequin?

Answer: It depends on the fabrication. We still have some of the mannequins from when I first opened, but they’re plastic, so they last longer. If you have Fiberglas, sometimes on the joints, it chips.

Question: What does it take to fabricate?

Answer: Before I knew anything about mannequins, I always thought there was this machine that pumped out the mannequins. But every one is made by hand. So we would make the sculpture out of wood and clay, then you make the mold, put the fittings in, shave them down and paint them. It’s really done one by one.

Question: How has your business changed from the early days?

Answer: Before I used to have to pull a truck in the taxi lane and I had my boyfriend’s mom sweet talking the security guy while I’m running mannequins upstairs because I’m not really supposed to be there. Now we’re an exclusive contractor and we have our own dock space.

Question: What are your industry’s challenges?

Answer: For me, it’s thinking of the next best thing. What’s the one thing you would change about (a mannequin?) I don’t want to keep up with the trends, I want to create the trends. That’s my challenge right now.

Question: What are some surprising aspects of your business?

Answer: They’re not always for clothing. Some people want them to put on their front porch. … Also, mannequins are a big pain in the butt. They’re horrible to work with, they’re horrible to carry around. They don’t go together well.

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Laura Carroll is a business reporter at the Las Vegas Review-Journal. Contact her at lcarroll@reviewjournal.com