Jeanne Bice, maker of sequined Christmas tree sweaters and promoter of year-round good cheer, creates clothes for women who are always celebrating one thing or another, the sort who decorate for Thanksgiving with little Pilgrim salt 'n' peppers.
Bice's zest for life is reflected in her use of rhinestones, which appear on a line of knit tops and stretch leggings that have proved popular on the QVC shopping network. Last year she sold $50 million worth of clothes, and her company is considered one of the network's top apparel lines. On the set of her show recently, Bice is wearing a black top smothered with sequins and a pair of rhinestone candy corn earrings she happens to be selling for Halloween.
"Not a calorie in either ear!" she says brightly, and before the two-hour show is over, the earrings have sold out.
The set around Bice is decorated in an autumnal theme, with squash and tablecloths the color of changing leaves. There are also wooden letters spelling out "dream," because Bice believes in inspiring people, whether through her Quacker Factory clothing or her new self-help book, which is decorated with glitter and titled "Pull Yourself Up by Your Bra Straps." It hit bookstores last month and is filled with life lessons and messages like "Nice Matters!" and "Triumph is just a little umph added to try." The first time Bice pitched her book on QVC was back in July before it had even been printed; she got 15,000 advance orders in a single day.
QVC, also home to Marie Osmond's line of porcelain dolls and Diamonique, "the world's finest simulated diamonds," appears to be the perfect forum for Bice's sartorial optimism. On-air, she sips Diet Coke from a mug and encourages viewers not to sit in a "pity puddle." Her fans call themselves Quackers, and sometimes they take cruises together and quack when they see each other in the street. They tape her show, which airs on a variable schedule, so as not to miss it. They phone in.
"Are you quackin' today?" Bice asks a caller.
The Quackers love life. They love smiling. They love the holidays. They love chatting with strangers who come up to compliment them on their sparkly clothes.
These chance meetings are "the whipped cream on life," says Quacker Eve LaTulipe, a retiree in Austin.
On this particular day, Bice will sell more than 133,000 pieces of apparel. She believes that women of every age and size can sparkle. The snowflake tops are beaded and the jeans are rhinestoned because "you want people to notice you," she says.
And: "Well, you know what, God didn't intend everyone to be a size 2," Bice tells her viewers. "If you can't lose it, decorate it!"
Some clothes are emblazoned with inspirational sayings. ("This says, 'Friends are the best presents,' " Bice says, showing off a top, "and I truly believe that!") Everything is seasonally appropriate -- fuzzy bunnies for April, a sparkly Lady Liberty tunic for July.
"We all have a little sparkle in our heart," says a Quacker named Ellen Rico, whose house in Mercer County, N.J., is currently decorated with pumpkins, autumnal candles, a witch on the mantel and a cat on the hearth.
"I just like to celebrate all the time!" Rico says.
For Quackers, there is always something to look forward to. The passage of time is marked by trips to decorating stores. Every autumn, the beaded pumpkins come out, and every summer it's the seashells. Holidays stretch to encompass whole months. In mid-September, a Quacker posts a question on the QVC.com message boards: "How soon do you think we can begin wearing Halloween themed clothes?"
Already, Bice is selling sweatshirts for Halloween, Christmas, the post-Christmas winter season and -- through an advance order promotion -- next March, next June and next Halloween.
Bice is a heavy-set woman of 66 who regularly pronounces herself "fat" and "old," but says that's proof anyone can be an entrepreneurial success. She fervently decorates her house in Boca Raton, Fla., for each holiday and keeps motivational Post-it notes on her mirror. She became single after her husband died almost 25 years ago at 42, forcing her to transition from a small-town Wisconsin housewife with an interest in crafts into a working mother. For years Bice sold clothing at flea markets, boutiques and department stores before making it onto QVC 11 years ago.
The success of Quacker Factory has as much to do with Bice's chipper chatter as with her sparkly sweaters, which is why viewers are so eager to read about her life. Through QVC, Bice has thus far sold 41,000 books, and her publisher, Hyperion, has nearly tripled its original print run.
In the greenroom between stints on air, Bice discusses one of the central mysteries of her persona: the headband she always wears. She discovered this look in the early '80s, when Olivia Newton-John was hot. Eventually it became Bice's outmoded and peculiar trademark, like Richard Simmons's little shorts, and now she wears a headband whenever she's in public. ("When I take this off," Bice says, "my whole face drops down to my boobs.")
She says her customers tend to be from the Midwest, like her -- positive, patriotic people, intent on changing "the world one smile at a time." Nearly half of Quacker Factory's business is in the plus-size market. Quacker Factory clothes range from extra small to 3X, which is between a size 26 and 28, and the Web site even has a few items that go up to 5X.
If people are going to be staring at your backside, Bice likes to say, better to have them distracted by sequins.