By: Elina Kazan
There’s a new brand of designer giving the fashion industry a makeover. Women in their 40s, 50s, and 60s in their second or third careers are embracing entrepreneurship and redesigning their destinies.
Drawing inspiration from their own personal and professional lives, these new designers are channeling their passion for fashion and pivoting to small business ownership with niche brands that offer style, purpose, and solutions.
Leaving careers in architecture, engineering, marketing, and law behind, these women are enjoying themselves, employing others, and feeling empowered. Here they share the lessons they learned from starting over as a startup, later in life.
It’s never too late.
It’s an age-old saying, but these women are living proof and part of a growing trend of entrepreneurs who are taking a leap of faith into starting their own businesses after a long career. Embarking on a runway toward entrepreneurship later in life, these women prove that diversity in age and experience never goes out of style.
Today, the number of women entrepreneurs has grown to over 12 million, according to recent statistics, up from an estimated 9.4 million in 2015. This exponential growth is encouraging. Even more exciting is that this cohort has more years of professional experience under her belt.
According to a 2016 Ellevate Network Impact Survey, half of executive members who owned businesses had over 21 years of experience before starting over as an entrepreneur. And, in 2019, the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation found that nearly 25% of new entrepreneurs were between 55 and 64. These women are not alone.
Your network as foundation.
In her late 40s, Namita Penugonda-Reddy left her fifteen-year career at an architectural firm in Washington, DC to start an upcycled sari business in Philadelphia. Inspired to preserve her culture and the art form of the sari, Namita followed her dream and the advice of her executive coach.
Things did not have to be perfect for me to start my business. She was right. I started with an idea, then a name, then a logo and a business card and a few pieces of product. A few dresses turned into a collection.
Namita, a current designer-in-residence at the Philadelphia Fashion Incubator, also advocates for a “good support system” as she fine-tunes her business.
Networking is so important, and especially when trying to make a career change.
What’s exciting for consumers is that the creative vision for these niche brands is seen from a new multi-generational and multi-cultural lens.
[Related: How Women Can Create Networks for Success]
Find your why and a support system.
Not ready to hang up their hats after a setback, these women are seeking ways to grow their businesses. Sherrill Mosee, founder of Philadelphia-based MinkeeBlue, put her intuition and education to work after being laid off.
Armed with an engineering degree, she found inspiration from a nonprofit she started to help moms in college pay for childcare. Watching their daily struggle managing multiple bags, Sherrill created the first patented bag with a folding shelf to separate and organize everything from laptops to books and diapers.
Without any fashion design or business background, she enrolled in a business development program at the Philadelphia Fashion Incubator, a hub for emerging entrepreneurs, that provided space, skills, and support to grow her business. In her late 50s, Sherrill’s brand is now sold on QVC and she just won a $100,000 order with Macy’s on USA’s “America’s Next Big Deal.”
In their shoes.
Empathy has become the buzzword in business, but some business owners are building their businesses from it. Nancy Connor founded Smart Adaptive Clothing in her 50s, after watching caregivers struggle to dress her father in clothing instead of sweats.
Thinking there had to be a better way to provide dignified dressing, she is now a key player in the adaptive clothing space selling on QVC and Zappos Adaptive. Pivoting from a two-decade corporate marketing career to a brand with a purpose, Nancy’s entrepreneurial journey began following in her own shoes.
There is no ‘perfect’ time to start a business. If something does not work, pivot. Find like-minded people, share ideas, collaborate, try to make a difference, take care of yourself, which is hard when you start a business, and have fun.
Nancy found her niche and her network of like-minded people whose lives and career pivots intersected at a local incubator that provided a safe space to inspire innovation and self-fulfillment. Helmed by Elissa Bloom, who helped launch the incubator in her 40s, it now helps other late-in-life designers find product success and their purpose.
Finding success by literally walking in her own shoes, Emily Soloby turned her passion for fashion and women in nontraditional roles into a new path forward with women’s construction boots. From a career in law and transportation, and training in shoemaking in Mexico and NYC, Emily had no qualms of pivoting.
I had already changed careers once before, so I knew what was possible and what I was capable of.
Inspired by a pottery teacher who started a successful career in his 70s, Emily realized:
I could do anything I wanted to do, and age didn’t matter.
The entrepreneurial landscape is evolving as more and more women make their mark and come armed with years of professional and personal experience to guide their success. Their impact on local economic development is exponential as they build their businesses in the next chapter of their lives.
Elina Kazan is a brand builder, experientialist, omni-channel communicator, and chief storyteller with 20+ years of marketing, events, and PR experience.