She Figured Out How to Launch an Active-Wear Line That Will Sail You Away.

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Carolann DEKKER

Carolann Dekker 250Founder, Top Dekk

Describe your business in 3 sentences. What is it?
Top Dekk is a unique social hub and apparel line for women who are interested in sailing and the sailing style. Whether or not you sail, own a boat or have even been on a boat the style of sailing and all things nautical will draw you into the Top Dekk Community.

What advice would you give someone just starting out?
Being an entrepreneur is a gift, being a little naïve is not a bad thing, it gives you the ability to see the dream without the barriers that a more experienced entrepreneur might let sway them. Persistence, patience and being resourceful are key attributes to being successful; I learned this from the women at the Ladies Who Launch Incubator events I attended in San Diego.

Are there any words of advice, books or role models that really inspired and changed you?
Every women entrepreneur I have ever met has inspired me, I learn a little from each one and that has contributed to what Top Dekk turned out to be.

How do you juggle it all?
I’ve learned that being impactful or effective is much more important than being efficient. This lesson has helped me learn to chose my priorities carefully and spend my time only on things that are the most important. I also chose not to spend time with people who don’t energize me and support my dreams. I’ve learned over the past few years that it’s the people in my life that can help make me successful or can also drain the energy and focus I need for my business if I let them. I no longer let those people take up time in my day. We all have or have had people like this in our life. This one choice has opened up a tremendous amount of time that allows me to focus on Top Dekk.

What did it cost to start your business? How did you find the funds? How long did it take to get started?
I was fortunate to have had a very successful career in marketing. I started in sports marketing with the America’s Cup, which included licensing apparel, then moved on to an online college community, packaged goods and ended my 20+ year employment history with 5 years working for the famous personal development expert, Tony Robbins. I decided to start my own business consistent with what Tony Robbins teaches to his very entrepreneurial audience. Once I left full time employment, I still needed to pay the bills. I leveraged my contacts and my marketing skills and started a marketing agency. I knew that the marketing agency was a means to an end. I wanted to create a business that was scalable, could run virtually with few employees and had something to do with women. I was able to fund Top Dekk with the money generated through my Marketing Agency. I worked on both businesses at the same time. Without having to spend time traveling back and forth to an office, time in long business meetings along with the other requirements associated with being an employee, I became extremely productive and worked 7 days a week to build Top Dekk. I was completely self-funded to build and launch Top Dekk including building the site, marketing costs and most importantly the manufacturing costs. Moving forward, I’ve just been approved for a line of credit and may look for Angel Investors or other types of funding as the business evolves and grows.

What is the single biggest thing you would say an entrepreneur has to be armed with in order to succeed?
Entrepreneurs must be able to sell; it’s the most important thing we all have to do to be successful. We must be able to sell ourselves, our ideas, our business plan and ultimately our products or services. If you’re passionate and love what you do it’s much easier, but it’s a “must” nonetheless. If you’re uncomfortable with sales, being an entrepreneur will be very difficult!

What adjectives would you use to describe how you feel most days when you wake up?
Most days I wake up feeling energized and happy to face my day knowing that I’m building something that will create security for my family, meet my strong desire to build a business and hopefully create a positive impact on women. I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that there have been a few days of anxiety and total exhaustion. I have been working six or seven days a week for 13-14 hours a day for over two years with very little vacation time. It’s a different kind of anxiety and exhaustion. I hope this doesn’t sound cliché, but working for yourself is truly a privilege and a little anxiety and being tired is just part of the journey.

What do you do to take care of yourself?
Exercise is the one consistent gift I give myself. I exercise most days first thing in the morning. It’s one of my biggest priorities. I also invite girlfriends to join me and try to make it as social as possible so that it’s fun and also gives me another way to see friends. I vary my routine and try all kinds of classes and work with a personal trainer two times a week. It helps me take care of my body and my mind at the same time. Exercise helps me concentrate and provide greater focus for my work.

What is your ultimate future dream for yourself and / or your business?
Top Dekk is designed to bring sailing style to all parts of the world through a unique product line, content, contributors and a growing online community. The apparel line dedicated to the unique nautical style will eventually extend to sailing gifts and inspirations for the home. The Top Dekk brand will be available in Yacht Club boutiques and other high-end resort boutiques around the world where sailors and those looking for the sailing lifestyle spend their leisure time. Eventually I plan to run Top Dekk from exotic sailing locations around the world.

Who has supported you most / least in your journey?
My husband has always been supportive of my career choices, but starting my own business has required him to take on new roles in my life. In additional to his continuous and unwavering emotional support, he has taken on the operations role for Top Dekk. His official title is COO, but he likes to tell our friends that he is my Chief “Go-fer.” I’m also extremely lucky to have a very supportive sister and friends, but my strongest supporter is also my mentor, Ruby Randall. She and I have worked together in several companies and she has been both an advisor and friend. Thanks to her strategic thinking, her ongoing support and advice helped me make the move from the comforts of traditional employment to go out on my own and create Top Dekk.

Is your business your passion?
Top Dekk is definitely one of my passions, after caring for my family and friends; Top Dekk is everything to me. I can’t imagine putting this kind of effort and time into something that I wasn’t passionate about. The sailing style has been an inspiration to me for years. I began sailing for fun in the early 90s, but really couldn’t find anything to wear. I loved the lifestyle and met many new friends, eventually meeting my husband who is a lifelong sailor. The women’s clothing for sailing has been typically based on men’s styles, much like golfing used to me. The clothing manufactures based the women’s clothing options on the men’s design and just offered it in smaller sizes for women without any effort to understand our needs.

After years of “making do” with what was on the market, I decided to launch the Top Dekk line with a pair of sailing pants for the active women sailor. I asked many friends, acquaintances and women sailors from around the world what they wanted in a pair of sailing pants. The answer was consistent: style, great fit, special features to protect her body and a design like a great pair of jeans. That was all I needed, I hired a professional sportswear designer to turn my ideas into reality. It took over a year, but the Top Dekk “Gigi” sailing pants were created and named after my girlfriend who first took me sailing.

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Meet The Ladies Who Are All About Curves.

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Robin and KC CULVER

Founders, About Curves

Robin and KC Culver, About CurvesWhen Featured Ladies Robin and KC Culver couldn’t find sexy, well-fitting plus-size lingerie in the marketplace, they launched About Curves to fill the void. Founded in 2001, the company strives to offer a variety of products in sizes 1X through 7X. From bustiers to babydolls, chemises to gowns, About Curves offers the most online styles of plus size lingerie. As full-figured femmes themselves, Robin and KC want to feel confident, show off their sexiness and encourage other women to also embrace their physical selves, no matter what they look like. The mother-daughter team, who live in different states, use their different perspectives to ensure the company remains fresh, true to its mission and moving forward.

In 2000, when eBay had just been created, KC approached Robin and suggested that they start an eBay business together. They decided to sell something they were experts about – as curvy women, they were both frustrated with the lack of sexy and comfortable plus size lingerie available to them, so they founded their company.

“We started as an eBay business and created a website shortly thereafter. We knew absolutely nothing about websites, so we chose a poor name: Your Sexy Threads,” Robin says. “We discovered the name was terrible for two reasons. It’s at the wrong end of the alphabet and because it contains the word ‘sex’ in the title, it was excluded from search engines.” So in 2003, they changed the business name to About Curves. When they changed the company’s name to About Curves, Robin and KC had to completely re-invent their branding along with the website.

Robin and KC knew they had a winning idea because their products were something they both wanted but couldn’t find anywhere. “When we first started working with manufacturers, there were very few options available in plus sizes,” KC says. “The few styles that were offered in plus sizes were often sized very poorly and were unflattering because they were just ‘bigger’ versions of regular size lingerie.” The duo has dedicated years working with manufacturers to get sizing correct and create styles that are designed for the plus size body, as well as convince several manufacturers to begin offering larger sizes. “We honestly feel we were pioneers in the plus size lingerie industry,” Robin adds.

Working together and having different viewpoints from two generations has helped Robin and KC offer a range of lingerie styles. Robin will always choose styles that are more conservative and classic, and KC will choose styles that are more edgy and risqué. By offering this diversity, the About Curves’ catalog is very well balanced.

About Curves differs from its competitors in many ways. Robin and KC gift-wrap each item in purple tissue paper so when their customers receive their order, the items are packaged as a present. The women also work with a wide variety of manufacturers, so their customers have a greater selection in both style and price. In addition, Robin and KC design many of their own styles which are available exclusively through About Curves. Quite recently, they’ve created a special category for juniors, providing fun and comfortable plus size sleepwear that’s not too sexy.

With other brands flaunting thin models to show off their goods, Robin and KC are firm about the women who model their lingerie. “We have our own photo shoots where we use real plus size women who are different sizes and shapes, so that our customers can see what the lingerie will really look like on them,” KC says. “We find it insulting that some of our competitors show their plus size lingerie on size 0 models.”

Robin and KC are dedicated to growing their business and continuing to provide full-figured women with a diverse selection of lingerie choices. “About Curves will always be the best that we can make it. We don’t need to be the biggest, just the best at what we do,” Robin says. “Our success will come from that philosophy.”

What we learned from Robin and KC: “Be passionate about what you do. Find a product or a service that you would love to have, and it’s a certainty that there are others looking for that product or service. Then go for it.”

Risky Business
“We financed About Curves personally. We’ve learned that you have to take big risks, and you will inevitably fail sometimes, but that a great idea will pay off if you’re willing to put in the sweat equity.”

This Featured Lady was profiled by Megan L. Reese, WORDrobe® Stylist for Her Write Image in West Grove, PA.

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Meet the Lady Whose Passion For Shopping Fashioned Her Business

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Corinne PHIPPS

Founder and Commander-in-Chic Urban Darling

Corinne Phipps, Urban Darling

Founded by Featured Lady Corinne Phipps, wardrobe styling firm Urban Darling has gained significant momentum and recognition in fashion consulting circles and established itself as the go-to expert styling source. Since Urban Darling’s launch in 2006 with its signature Closet Audit, Martha Stewart’s Real Simple,,, The View from the Bay, E! Online,, NBC Bay Area, iVillage, The Fashion List, HotMomsClub and MSNBC have all taken notice. Corinne, a pioneer in offering wardrobe stylists an innovative licensing opportunity, is one of San Jose’s “Top 40 Under 40” up-and-coming businesswomen.

A corporate refugee who never felt comfortable in a structured work environment, Corinne always found herself in administrative positions rather than the creative roles for which she yearned. “I must have held 15 to 20 jobs before Urban Darling and finally realized I wasn’t a cubical kind of gal,” she says. “So, I began to investigate whether being my own boss was for me.”

As Corinne considered entrepreneurship, she consulted a business intuitive who simply asked her what she liked to do. “A bit embarrassed, I sunk my head and replied, ‘I really like to shop,’” recalls Corinne. The intuitive’s immediate response was, “I hate to shop!” At first, the future Urban Darling founder thought her predilection for retail purchasing was being dismissed. To the contrary, she received encouragement.

“I was 34 years-old and had no idea that there were people out there who worked as wardrobe stylists, image consultants and personal shoppers because I never needed help like that,” she says. “At that moment, the concept for Urban Darling was born.”

Before starting her company, Corinne was a top-selling advertising representative for a local San Jose magazine. She stayed on for eight months before committing full-time to Urban Darling. “Fortunately, I have a very supportive husband who told me to just go for it,” says Corinne. Today, Urban Darling is privately owned and invested, but Corinne plans to pursue venture capitalists and angel investors for future growth.

The name Urban Darling materialized while Corinne was listing adjectives that described the company she was creating. “I wrote urban and darling in that order, and when I read the word pairing out loud I just knew.” Corinne immediately checked to see if was taken. “When I saw that the domain was available, I lost my mind!”

Urban Darling’s focus is to help clients maximize their existing wardrobe by creating new outfits from the clothes they already own and to help them smart-shop for items that fit their wardrobe, personal look and the image they want to project. Corinne says, “We call it Purge, Merge, Splurge.” Philanthropically, Corinne is actively involved with local Career Closet chapters and will debut her non-profit Darling Project next year.

In 2009, Urban Darling became the first fashion consulting company to license its brand to stylists across the country. “I saw an opportunity to assist women and men with breaking into the wardrobe styling industry,” she explains. To date, she has thirteen licensees from San Francisco to Philadelphia and envisions reaching 150.

However, this LWL Incubator Intensive graduate’s decision to license the Urban Darling brand didn’t always go smoothly. “Last year I brought on someone who wasn’t the right fit for the company and didn’t realize it until after the agreements were signed,” Corinne freely admits. “I learned the hard way not to do anything with contracts before consulting my lawyer.” As a result, she implemented a more discriminating screening process for Urban Darling’s licensees and remains pragmatic. “Don’t beat yourself up if you make a mistake,” Corinne suggests. “Just learn from it and move on.”

To maximize the momentum Urban Darling gained with its new licensees, this summer Corinne relaunched the Urban Darling website with a complete overhaul. “I was tired of conforming to what everyone else’s idea of a wardrobe stylist, personal shopper and image consulting was,” she says. “I told my business manager and web designer that I wanted to invigorate my company and blaze my own trail.”

And blaze she did, with a home page photo of a fashion-distressed woman holding a blowtorch to her closet. Urban Darling’s new interactive website leverages the company’s 60,000 unique page views with a blog and new online magazine. With a focus on the person, the fun and the individual side of style, Urban Darling has gained a loyal following and enjoyed rapid growth.

What we learned from Corinne: “Never put your business in a box. Always let it grow.”

Join In

“Even if there are already companies out there doing what you love, do it anyway.”

The Thrill of it All

“It’s not easy, but launching a business is exhilarating.”

Hearing Voices

“Many new female entrepreneurs talk themselves out of things because they listen to outside influences. Be tenacious and don’t let anything get you down.”

This Featured Lady was profiled by Megan L. Reese, WORDrobe® Stylist for Her Write Image in West Grove, PA.

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Susan Gregg Koger

Meet the Lady Whose Company Was Born From Her Pregnancy


Founder, BornFit

Lisa Welch, founder BornFitFor Featured Lady Lisa Welch, finding hip, comfortable maternity fitness wear wasn’t a challenge she anticipated with her first pregnancy. As a mother who remained active while pregnant, Lisa knew this was a niche that needed attention. She founded BornFit in 2007 with the mission to create a fitness line that would make women feel inspired, empowered and confident. Since its launch three years ago, BornFit has been featured by media outlets including The Today Show, ABC 7 Chicago, Good Morning Arizona, Fox Houston, NBC Houston, South Jersey Mom, Oxygen, Pregnancy, Mothering, Women’s Running, Shape, Women’s Health, Walk! Magazine and Today’s Parent.

“What I quickly discovered was the need for quality and stylish clothing for active moms – not just those who are expecting,” Lisa says. “I wanted to create products that not only made women look good, but also made them feel strong, confident and inspired.”

Armed with her idea, a marketing degree and no experience in retail or manufacturing, Lisa spoke with people in the industry for advice. “I surrounded myself with those who had more knowledge than me,” she explains. ”I’m a determined person. I always think, ‘How can I make this happen?’”

Knowing what she’d want in maternity active wear, Lisa developed a line that was stretchy, moisture-wicking, didn’t look like pregnancy clothing and could easily be worn long after the baby was born. She introduced BornFit Maternity with an informational website and a maternity collection only available in stores. “Surprisingly, once the line launched we quickly discovered that women wanted more than maternity active wear, and we could provide it. We were getting such great feedback on our technical performance and quality garments,” Lisa says. “Women wanted clothes that had the same, comfortable fit in an all-new fitness collection.”

“They wanted it for running, biking, tennis, yoga and everything else. So although we initially designed the line to suit pregnant women, we evolved and launched the fitness line.”

As a result of BornFit’s successful debut, Lisa expanded to a full active wear collection eighteen months later and added the ability to buy direct from the website. Today, the company offers fitness and maternity fitness apparel for running, golf, tennis, yoga and cycling. BornFit’s tops, jackets, pants, shorts, capris and signature skorts (a combination 14” long skirt with no-chafe undershorts) come in a variety of styles and colors.

sunlight_tee_boxedThe company name, BornFit, came to Lisa while she was running. “That’s my alone time when no one is pulling at me,” she says. “It’s when God allows me to listen. Ninety-five percent of the time, ideas come to me when I’m running.”

“BornFit reflects the idea that all of us are truly born fit, it’s in all of us,” Lisa says. “It’s about getting back to that core and implementing a fitness lifestyle.” BornFit was founded on the solid belief that a strong body produces a confident spirit. Lisa explains, “When we feel confident, anything is possible!”

BornFit experienced a period of transition when the person with whom Lisa shared business responsibilities decided to leave. “We had things split fifty-fifty, so when she left it created a lot of change,” Lisa says. “I absorber her half of the responsibilities, in addition to my own. It’s not easy growing and running a company, but now I’m managing many more areas at once. But I like to think there’s always a silver lining.”

Lisa’s vision for BornFit is to reach as many women as she can domestically and internationally to make them feel good about themselves. “Fitness is a foundation, it affects every aspect of our lives. Your first 10K race leads to the confidence to go back to school and earn that degree,” she says. “Life is like fitness, you take it one day at a time.”

What sets BornFit apart from other fitness apparel brands is that their active wear is completely designed by women for women. Lisa says, “Also, our focus is completely on the clothing. We’re not a shoe company that happens to manufacture a line of apparel.”

In the end, Lisa believes it’s all about attitude. “When you love what you do, it’s really not work at all. It’s about passion,” she says. “My passion is not to sell as much clothing as possible. It’s about getting women to exercise, to stay fit. So it’s the movement behind the message that’s most important.”

What we learned from Lisa: “As moms we need to give ourselves a break.”

Say Thanks
“Show gratitude and acknowledge that you don’t get to where you are all by yourself.”

Get Going
“If you have an idea, just start! Jump right in. Don’t get caught up in analysis paralysis.”

Family First
“Balance is a really tricky word. BornFit hasn’t grown as fast as it could because my family is my priority.”

This Featured Lady was profiled by Megan L. Reese, WORDrobe® Stylist for Her Write Image in West Grove, PA.

* Learn more about PR Opportunities and PR Leads from Ladies Who Launch

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Susan Gregg Koger

Meet the Lady Who Puts Luxury Labels at Your Fingertips


Founder, Gilt Groupe

Alexandra WILKIS WILSON If you’re an in-the-know, budget-conscious fashionista and it’s almost noon, chances are you’re awaiting the daily email from Gilt Groupe announcing the day’s private online offerings – up to 70% off retail prices. Knowing there was a better way to shop designer sample sales than braving snow and rain, standing in long lines and fighting over limited items, Featured Lady Alexandra Wilkis Wilson and co-founder Alexis Maybank took the experience online in 2007. With women’s and men’s luxury brands like Christian Louboutin, Dolce & Gabbana and Valentino on board, Gilt Group’s 2010 revenue is projected to be $400 – $500 million.

Alexandra was speaking at the Ladies Who Launch Global Conference’s New York City location on November 8 – 9, 2010.

Harvard classmates and best friends, Alexandra and Alexis always knew they’d create something innovative together. Alexandra earned her bachelors degree from Harvard College and her MBA from Harvard Business School. “I have twelve years of international experience in the luxury goods, retail and finance sectors. Most recently I oversaw retail operations at BVLGARI overseeing 15 North American stores,” Alexandra says. “Prior to that I managed Leather Goods Sales Planning for Louis Vuitton North America, though I started my retail career as a consultant for retail guru Marvin Traub at Financo, Inc. Earlier in my career, I worked for three years in investment banking at Merrill Lynch in New York and in London.” Alexis, on the west coast, gained her business savvy as a founding member of eBay.

But way before college and Fifth Avenue, Alexandra was a young entrepreneur with a lemonade stand. “I discovered the beauty of pure profit since my parents would usually buy the lemonade and cups for me and not expect me to pay them back,” she says. Alexandra also learned about expanding category offerings while selling lemonade.

“I used to wear rope bracelets that I wove from embroidery threads and my lemonade clients used to compliment me on them,” says Alexandra. “I saw a market opportunity, started making as many rope bracelets as my tiny fingers could weave and sold them alongside my lemonade.”

Those fun times taught Alexandra how to sell herself and her product line, communicate with customers and team up with classmates who lived on the busiest intersections of NYC. “We had to sell in front of buildings with a doorman watching because we were too young to set up shop just anywhere in the Big Apple,” she remembers.

Years later, the concept for Gilt Groupe evolved from Alexandra and Alexis’ experiences seeking great deals on luxury labels. “After years of avidly shopping sample sales for designer goods at a discount, we realized there could be a new way to execute a sample sale while keeping the excitement high – and this new way was bringing it all online,” Alexandra explains. “We wanted to offer highly coveted premium brands at great prices to a nationwide audience.”

Using their personal contact networks to launch Gilt Groupe, Alexandra focused on bringing in the most desirable brands as partners while Alexis helped build an exciting website that streamlined the purchasing of products online. “It allowed our clients to make purchases rapidly, in mere minutes,” Alexandra says.

Alexandra knew she had a winning idea when Gilt Groupe’s first ever sale sold out in 45 minutes. “It was Zac Posen, and offered just to our family and friends,” she recalls. “It was pretty obvious to us all that we had tapped into something special.”

At that moment, ecommerce successfully met high fashion on the information superhighway. Today, the Manhattan company has close to three million members and continues to incite sample sale exhilaration.

“Every day we announce a curated collection of sales by top designers at a specified time. We’ve turned shopping into an event. By only having sales last 36 hours and shopping carts that expire after ten minutes, we put together a competitive, thrilling shopping experience for our members,” says Alexandra. “And if you think about the way men shop, this model has turned shopping for them into a sport – it’s efficient and competitive.”

In addition to taking great care to select the most sought-after premium brands to offer, Gilt Groupe makes an investment in the presentation of each piece of merchandise on the site. “We photograph and style every piece of merchandise that we sell,” says Alexandra.

But why the name Gilt? “Gilt means ‘covered in gold leaf—timeless and beautiful,’ like a lot of the items we sell on our site. But it’s also a fun word play with ‘guilty pleasure,’” Alexandra reveals. “We wanted it to be short, easy to spell and appealing to men while also attracting women. We added the French spelling for a little ‘je ne sais quoi.’”

Alexandra, who describes her company as innovative, creative and diverse, loves being a business owner. “I always knew that being an entrepreneur would be exciting and I was right!” she says. “I love that no two days at Gilt are alike and it seems impossible to become bored.”

The venture-funded, 450-employee company recently expanded its offerings to include deals on travel destinations and services such as spa treatments, restaurant reservations and exercise classes.

What we learned from Alexandra: “Always be flexible and resilient, and always listen to your gut instinct. And smile!”

Enjoy the Ride

“Being part of a start-up is exhilarating! Those beginning stages are unforgettable, and scary at times, but rewarding nonetheless.”

Test Taker

“I am also a huge advocate for testing out ideas. Not every idea works and that’s ok!”

Get Out There

“Pursue an idea about which you are passionate, iterate quickly on ideas you have, and be fast to enter the market, you can always tweak your ideas along the way.”

Apply to Be a Featured Lady

This Featured Lady was profiled by Megan L. Reese, WORDrobe® Stylist for Her Write Image in West Grove, PA.
* Learn more about PR Opportunities and PR Leads from Ladies Who Launch
* Reach your Launch Potential by taking advantage of these SPECIAL OPPORTUNITIES and online resources from Ladies Who Launch

Susan Gregg Koger

Meet the lady who Oprah called “the next big thing in fashion.”

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Tory Burch

Founder and Creative Director, Tory Burch

Tory BurchFeatured Lady Tory Burch launched her namesake company in February 2004 to fill a void in the fashion industry. By offering an affordable, accessible, luxury lifestyle brand, Tory innovated the marketplace. Today, her collections are available at Tory Burch boutiques,  and in 450 select department and specialty stores worldwide. Celebrity fans include Oprah Winfrey, Jennifer Lopez, Cameron Diaz, Uma Thurman and Hilary Swank. As a nod to her innovative brand, in 2008 Tory was honored by the Council of Fashion Designers of America with what is considered the Academy Award of fashion – Accessory Designer of the Year.

Tory’s retail days began when she was a sophomore in high school and worked at Benetton folding sweaters. Later, her first job in fashion was as an assistant for the designer Zoran doing everything from sales to press relations. “It was an incredible experience,” she says. “And I learned so much.”

After years working in the fashion industry and as a customer, Tory noticed there was a gap in the market for clothes that were not only beautifully made, but also accessibly priced. She wanted to create classic American sportswear that was luxurious and sophisticated at a more attainable price point. So, in 2004 Tory started Tory Burch out of her apartment and opened her flagship boutique in New York City’s Nolita neighborhood.

Tory also wanted customers to feel like they walked into her living room rather than a store, so she bucked the popular minimalist retail decorating trend by adorning her boutique with bright orange walls, green carpet, vintage chandeliers and white couches to give the location a unique and luxurious feel.

The next year was big for Tory Burch. Brand recognition for her company changed overnight after Tory appeared on Oprah as “the next big thing in fashion.” That day, received eight million hits. Oprah also wore Tory’s tunics on the cover of O, The Oprah Magazine, in June 2005 and July 2006. Tory was also acknowledged for her store’s design aesthetic when Fashion Group International awarded Tory Burch the 2005 Best New Retail Concept for going against the minimalist retail design concept.

Over the next several years, Tory added stores in major United States cities, began international distribution with prominent retailer Harvey Nichols in London and Dubai, and established her retail presence in Milan, Tokyo and Manila.

The Tory Burch collection is influenced by many forces including Tory’s childhood on a farm near Philadelphia and her mother and father’s unique sense of personal style. “My parents Buddy and Reva are my greatest inspirations,” she says. “They were such an effortlessly chic couple and so gracious and welcoming to everyone they met.”

Photography, art, films, travel and the work of interior designer David Hicks drive Tory’s designs, as well.

storeInspiration at Tory Burch also comes from team members. “Many people on our team have been with the company since we started it out of my apartment six years ago,” she says. “We keep each other motivated by coming up with new ideas and finding inspiration everywhere. It’s very collaborative, and people feel like they are an integral part of something special.”

“We have an extraordinary group of people who all have different opinions and experiences. This diversity makes us stronger, more collaborative and pushes us to come up with great ideas, business-wise and design-wise.”

The goal at Tory Burch has always been to build a lifestyle brand that customers return to season after season, year after year. “Every season we think about the collection as a lifestyle – what do women need and what do they want?” she says. “We think about that across all our categories.” Within her collections, Tory strives to offer special, versatile pieces that women can make their own.

After six years in business, Tory Burch is poised for more expansion. “We have managed our growth, making sure that everything was done at the right time and for the right reasons,” says Tory. “We want to grow worldwide slowly and strategically, while always maintaining our quality, prices and relationship with the customer.”

When Tory started her company in 2004, she wanted to create a foundation to help other women achieve their dreams. “Last year, we started the Tory Burch Foundation with our partner Accion USA to financially empower women,” Tory says. “Through microfinance, we enable women to start, sustain and grow their own businesses. They in turn can help their communities, revitalize local economies and support others.”

What we learned from Tory: “Have confidence in your unique idea and be tenacious.”

Will to Win
“My parents and family instilled in me a strong work-ethic, the confidence to do anything and a desire to follow-through.”

Customer Commitment
“We work hard to maintain a high level of design at a price that is attainable.”

Good Times
“One of the most exciting moments was the first time I saw a woman wearing something from our Tory Burch collection, I was so excited and flattered.”

This Featured Lady was profiled by Megan L. Reese, WORDrobe® Stylist for Her Write Image in West Grove, PA.

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Meet Lori Bacon, Lady Who Makes you Feel Good Half Naked

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Lori Bacon

President, Swimco

Lori Bacon, Owner SwimcoFor Featured Lady Lori Bacon, necessity literally was the mother of invention. When Lori was nine, she joined a competitive swim team. However, it was mid-year and she didn’t have a swimsuit that matched the other kids. It was the early 1970s and with no sporting goods stores in existence yet, her mom, Corinne Forseth, started a swimsuit mail-order business out of their basement. Lori got her matching suit and Corinne launched Swimco, a retail legacy that yielded fourteen stores in western Canada and a booming online business.

Today, with 150 employees, Swimco is western Canada’s premier swimwear retail chain. In addition to Swimco’s numerous television spots and print media features, Lori was one of the 2010 winners of the Enterprising Women of the Year Awards, presented by Enterprising Women Magazine. On May 13, 2010, Swimco celebrated “35 years of making women feel good half naked.”

Lori remembers the early days of her mom’s business. “She kept her stock in the basement,
and put every penny back into her company. Dad helped out with money here and
there, but mom never took a salary because she didn’t want the business to be cash-
strapped. Soon she was supplying local swim clubs, life guards and pool staff. Mom wisely
incorporated Swimco in 1975.”

Swimco in 1970A graduate of the University of Calgary with a Bachelor of Commerce degree in marketing, Lori admits it wasn’t her plan to join her mom in the swimsuit business. “I never thought I’d be doing this,” says Lori. But during her last year of university Lori joined her mom part-
time, and that evolved into a full-time position. Lori has been President of the company since her mother’s retirement 16 years ago.

In 1980, Swimco surfaced from the family’s basement and moved to an office. The business was primarily mail-order for swim teams and pool staff, but Corinne dove right into selling retail to individuals, as well. Gradually, the retail side took off and Swimco evolved from team suits to the fashion swimwear segment. “We opened our first Calgary store in 1984.

It was 700 square feet. Slowly, we added more stores,” explains Lori. During the remainder of the 1980s, Swimco increased its retail presence with three more Calgary stores and debuted one in Vancouver. Throughout the 1990s Swimco continued to open new locations across British Columbia and Alberta, adding Kelowna and Victoria into the mix.

Lori says, “The demand was just there and people just kept coming.” Swimco differs itself
from the competition because the company was a pioneer that sold swimwear year round,
unlike the department stores. Also, the staff takes the customer by the hand to create a
positive experience around buying a swimsuit.

“What separates us from other retailers is that people feel like Swimco is ‘their store,’” Lori
explains. “We want customers, especially women, to feel freedom and confidence when they buy a swimsuit. We strive for them to feel great, see their reflection and say, “I look good!’”

Lori realizes that Calgary is considered an unlikely place to headquarter a swimwear retail
chain. “The work ethic and entrepreneurial spirit of Calgarians overcomes any shortfalls in
weather!” she explains.

Swimco also offers shorts, sandals and swimwear for men and children so the whole family
can shop there. Lori adds, “What’s great about us is that we’re nice. Swimco is very much
a family culture.” Lori hires people who share the same values as the company and get a
kick out of helping people. “Some associates have been with us for 24 years,” she says.
Corinne retired sixteen years ago, but Swimco has become a true family business. In
addition to Lori, her brother and husband are also at the company helm. Lori’s sons, ages
21 and 18, also expressed interest in joining Swimco someday. “I encouraged them to
get jobs elsewhere and build their résumés first,” Lori says. “They need to gain external
business and life experience.”

Swimco, vacation starters womenWorking in the retail swimwear industry hasn’t always been a day at the beach. Lori’s business challenges included the effects of 9/11 on people’s attitude toward travel, Canada3000 Airline declaring bankruptcy and, most recently, the Swine Flu. All these events caused cancellations of flights and vacations, which directly impacted Swimco’s bottom line.

Regarding the Swine Flu, Lori says, “I never realized just how many people went to Mexico in May.”

How did Lori strategically handle these obstacles? She remained calm, reacted quickly, made hard decisions, put certain projects on hold and really focused on the quality of sale. Lori explains, “It’s the incredible team of Swimco employees who have taken such
extraordinary care of our customers over the years which has allowed Swimco to grow into
the company it is today.”

What we learned from Lori: “Good manners and respect go a long way. Whether it’s your supplier, customers or each other, when you work together and respect everyone’s perspective, everyone wins.’”

Customer Experience
“Our staff is trained to put themselves in the customer’s shoes. We make buying a swimsuit fun. We want women to feel confident when they leave our stores.”

Use What You’ve Got

“Each woman entrepreneur has a special gift of some sort. Use your passion, share it, believe in it and stick with it. Be brave!”

All By Myself
“Doing your own thing can be a solitary experience. Sometimes it feels like there’s no one to talk to. Connect, interact and help other women entrepreneurs.”

This Featured Lady was profiled by Megan L. Reese, WORDrobe™ Stylist for Her Write Image in West Grove, PA.

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Susan Gregg Koger

Meet this Lady: Her Passion for Vintage became her Business Advantage

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Susan Gregg Koger

Susan Gregg KogerFounder and Chief Creative Officer , ModCloth

Many college students sell items online to make ends meet during the semester. Little did Featured Lady Susan Gregg Koger know that when she started selling vintage clothing on her website, ModCloth, it would turn into a $50 million dollar company. Founded in 2002 while she was a seventeen year-old undergraduate, the Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania based-company now boasts 108 employees, plans to add offices in Los Angeles and San Francisco this year and quadruple 2009’s sales by the end of 2010. Impressively, over ten million women have viewed the ModCloth website in the last two years.

Amidst the textbooks, class papers, computer, desk (and boyfriend Eric) in her Carnegie-Mellon University dorm room, Susan ran ModCloth part-time from a basic website and shipped her vintage clothing to buyers. “Back then, I was the photographer, shipping department and customer care representative,” she says. A native Floridian, Susan’s business idea was inspired by her many trips to thrift stores preparing for her first Pittsburgh winter. “I was buying these amazing jackets for five dollars, knowing they were worth so much more,” explains Susan. When Eric suggested she put up a website and sell the vintage clothes to make money, Susan was all for it.

It was a promising start – Susan had a sale on ModCloth’s first day, January 4, 2003.

In 2006, Susan and Eric graduated from college, tied the knot and began working on ModCloth full-time from their home. The couple realized the company needed to grow, but knew it couldn’t by only selling single, random pieces of vintage clothing. They looked at the website traffic and discovered it was much higher than the actual sales numbers. Taking a leap of faith, they raised enough capital to offer a full inventory of vintage-inspired and indie designs.

After securing the first round of venture capital in 2008, Susan moved ModCloth to an office in a hip, progressive neighborhood of Pittsburgh known as the Strip District. Today Eric runs the business as the Chief Executive Officer while Susan, the Chief Creative Officer and head buyer, makes all the final decisions about brand, designs and products.

clothingModCloth is an online clothing, accessory and decor retailer that aims to provide a fun and engaging shopping atmosphere for its customer. Susan does this by interacting with customers via Twitter and Facebook and requesting customers’ feedback through the ModLife Blog and product reviews. Website visitors can also vote on potential inventory with the innovative “Be the Buyer” program.

“I noticed there were samples that never went into production,” Susan explains. “I realized some of those pieces would do really well. So I spoke with the designers to get photos of the clothes, posted the pictures on the website and let the customers vote on which ones we should sell.” As a result, visitors have a say in the fashion they wear. “They tell us what they want,” she says.

This is all with the intention of running a fashion business in a democratic style. “Supplying customers with the opportunities to have their voices heard is what keeps our company fresh, relevant and growing by leaps and bounds,” Susan explains. “My vision for ModCloth is to create a social commerce experience and evolve into a lifestyle company.”

Susan also believes that knowing your customer is critical to growth and success. “Figure out what problem you’re solving for your customer and see your business from their point of view,” she advises. As ModCloth’s target demographic and psychographic, Susan definitely understands her client base. Plus, it doesn’t hurt that 70% of the company’s employees are females in their twenties. As a result, ModCloth’s staff is able to have very genuine conversations with customers which resonate with them and keep them coming back.

As the face of ModCloth, it stands to reason that fans know who Susan is. The first time she was recognized by a customer was six months ago in San Francisco. “I was walking in the Ferry Terminal Building and this woman said, ‘Wow! You’re Susan from ModCloth!’” she says. It was her best ModCloth moment so far.

In addition to landing at #3 on Inc. Magazine’s Top 30 Under 30 last year, Susan and Eric were recently named as finalists in Bloomberg BusinessWeek’s Best Young Tech Entrepreneurs 2010. ModCloth’s apparel has appeared in Cosmopolitan, InStyle, NY Daily News, LifeStyle Weekly, Retro, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Seventeen, People en Español, Pregnancy & Newborn, Lucky, Us Weekly, Get Married, People Style Watch, and Women’s Wear Daily as well as European magazines Bilba and Envy.

What we learned from Susan: “Twenty-something entrepreneurs should not apologize for being young.”

You Gotta Believe…
“One of the biggest things we aren’t prepared for and the really high points and the very low points. As an entrepreneur, you may wake up one day thinking, “‘Oh, crap. I have no job and no income.’ You need a fierce belief you’re going to do it.”

Make it Work
“Entrepreneurship is about adapting and figuring it out. My job changes every day, as the business grows so do my functions. There just aren’t enough hours in the day.”

This Featured Lady was profiled by Megan L. Reese, WORDrobe™ Stylist for Her Write Image in West Grove, PA.

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Susan Gregg Koger

Meet Kyle Smitley, Barley & Birch

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Kyle Smitley

President , Barley & Birch

Kyle Smitley, Barley & BirchIf you were a recent college graduate with a liberal arts degree in environmental science, philosophy, chemistry and Spanish, what would you do? Start an organic children’s clothing line, of course! Twenty-five year old Featured Lady Kyle Smitle did just that, launching Barley & Birch in 2009 during her first year of law school. Boasting favorable mentions on Daily Candy and Cool Mom Picks, and popular with celebrity moms like Jessica Alba and Sheryl Crow, Barley and Birch has appeared in OK! and Us Weekly. In 2009, Barley and Birch earned $500,000 in annual revenue. This year, the Oceanside, California company is on track to reach $1.5 million. Kyle was also featured on Inc. Magazines’s Top 30 Under 30.

Growing up, Kyle wanted to be a trainer at Sea World; however, after hanging up her cap and gown she headed to Washington, DC for an unpaid internship with a federal agency focusing on historic preservation. As a side job she started doing scientific research consulting for a high-end clothing boutique. Kyle explains, “I just knew I wanted to stay out of a cubicle in a corporate environment.”

What the DePauw University grad uncovered through her research was alarming. “There were a lot of businesses in the organic children’s clothing market that were outright lying,” Kyle says. “They claimed to be eco-friendly, great for the world and safe for baby, but that wasn’t ever the full truth.”

Determined to make a difference, and at age twenty-two, Kyle decided to start her own organic children’s clothing line, Barley & Birch. “I wanted to give parents and children the safest and most environmentally friendly clothing possible,” she says. “I also wanted to use any profits that that business created to help improve the global community.” So in 2008 she postponed law school for a year and, with no apparel industry experience, built her business structure. “I saw there was a gap in the market and wanted to bring attention to this issue, so I decided to launch. It seemed like a good idea at the time,” Kyle says.

Barley and Birch

Despite having flawless credit, Kyle was turned down at every bank she approached. No one would lend the budding young entrepreneur the $10,000 she needed, until she found Accion, a microfinancing organization. “What I liked was that the interest I paid went to funding other loans and not to a large corporate bank,” Kyle says.

With her start-up capital in-hand, she hired a web designer and worked with a children’s clothing designer to produce the t-shirts, onesies and pants. Next Kyle embarked on a major marketing campaign, sending 500 hand-signed letters with sales sheets to environmentally conscious stores. “I felt like, ‘We’re so cool, we’ll sell out in 48 hours!’” Kyle says. When that didn’t happen, she tried a “desperate attempt to sell inventory” by reaching out to mom bloggers. Soon, moms were asking for the brand in boutiques. Kyle recalls it was a crazy first four months, because of how fast Barley & Birch took off and that she was starting her first year of law school. By the end of 2009, Barley & Birch was in over 30 stores.

As a result of her internship experience, Kyle knew exactly the kind of fabrics she wanted to use. Barley & Birch’s clothing is 100% certified organic cotton and dyed with water-based inks so it doesn’t pollute the air and water with chemicals. Because the clothes are produced domestically, the company does not contribute to the massive amount of carbon associated with trans-ocean shipping. Socially, Kyle gives at least 15% of the profits to a variety of organizations working all over the world to improve the lives of others. Barley & Birch’s contributions have funded everything from educating rural farmers on sustainable agriculture to providing shelter to victims of abuse.

With six people now on staff and poised for rapid growth, Kyle’s vision for Barley & Birch is clear. E-commerce on the website will be available this summer. In the fall, the company will expand into bedding. She eventually wants to open store fronts and evolve into a major lifestyle company. Even with a million dollar business, Kyle remains committed to completing law school. “I always had the goal to become a lawyer,” she explains. “I want to find a way to use my brain to help others.”

What we learned from Kyle: “My dad told me, ‘You really need to look and plan out exactly how much money you need.’ I didn’t listen, started too low and ended up working crazy hours. Whatever you think you’ll need, double it.”

Proceed with Caution
“As a young entrepreneur with no experience, I was a sitting duck. There were people that either didn’t take me seriously or wanted to take my money.”

Be Aware
“Do your research and know what you’re getting yourself into.”

This Featured Lady was profiled by Megan L. Reese, WORDrobe™ Stylist for Her Write Image in West Grove, PA.

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Meet Alicia Vargo, Pampered Passions

How to Add Revenue Streams to Your Business (or Hobby)

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Alicia Vargo

President and CEO,

Alicia Vargo, Pampered PassionsAfter a tiring day, Featured Lady Alicia Vargo just wanted to feel pretty, so she walked into a leading lingerie retailer for a boost. When the sales girl offered to fit Alicia for a bra, she agreed. Unfortunately, Alicia was met with a surprising response from the clerk, “I have nothing that will fit you today.” Alicia left the store deflated and feeling less than pampered. Not wanting any woman to have that same experience, in 2001 Alicia launched and, two years later, Pampered Passions Fine Lingerie in Lone Tree, Colorado. As a result of her commitment to nurturing the female spirit, especially breast cancer survivors, Alicia was named Ladies Who Launch’s first Colorado Leading Lady in 2009. With the company’s sales topping $2 million, Pampered Passions Fine Lingerie is a four-time nominee as the Best Lingerie Store in the USA and a 2010 Bride’s Choice Award recipient from WeddingWire.

Prior to becoming an entrepreneur, Alicia enjoyed a 25-year career in the wine and beverage industry, even serving as the wine advisor to the Governor of Colorado. Alicia, who has worked since she was 14, graduated from high school at age 16 and forfeited her college education in order to work and support herself and her family. Alicia professes that she has “a master’s degree in people skills.”

Using funds from the sale of a ranch they owned, Alicia and her husband, John, self-financed the launch of the Pampered Passions Fine Lingerie retail and online stores. John took a sabbatical from his job to become the business’s self-taught webmaster and ended up staying on with the company.

Alicia knew she wanted Pampered Passions Fine Lingerie to have better service than a department store and a more distinctive selection than a bra boutique. With its unique product mix, Pampered Passions’ lingerie ranges from bridal to post-mastectomy. At her store Alicia employs professional bra fitters, as well as five certified post-mastectomy specialists, to ensure that every woman successfully finds a proper fitting bra and fine lingerie that makes her feel confident and beautiful. Alicia’s values of respect, care and kindness drive the phenomenal success of Pampered Passions Fine Lingerie.

The Lingerie business is in a highly competitive industry. When Alicia launched Pampered Passions in 2001, there were four million pages on Google for lingerie. Today, there are 66 million lingerie pages on Google. Pampered Passions Fine Lingerie impressively ranks between number one and three among the major search engines for the keywords bridal, wedding, lingerie, sexy lingerie and fine lingerie.

Pampered Passions fine lingerieThe success of Pampered Passions Fine Lingerie came with its share of business challenges. Those include being inadvertently bumped off Google due to imitation mirror websites (resulting in the loss of 60 orders per day) and Alicia not putting enough revenue away to cover her six-figure tax bill (it was paid).

A self-proclaimed “feel good junkie,” Alicia is especially proud that Pampered Passions Fine Lingerie gives back to the community. The company’s “About Us” webpage details the charitable efforts she leads, including donating thousands of dollars worth of intimate apparel to Dress for Success, hosting an annual fashion show to raise money for various breast cancer-related charities and giving time and money to several local and national organizations. “The greatest pleasure and satisfaction come from helping a woman who is on an emotional and physical journey,” says Alicia.

Despite being considered in a luxury market during a down economy, Pampered Passions is in growth mode. Alicia is adding four online stores to diversify the product lines. In addition, she is looking to expand with Pampered Passions Express in six to ten domestic airports where she can attract the captive air travel audience.

What we learned from Alicia: “Always stay informed with what’s going on in your industry. Know, forecast and strive to be the best.”

Special Passion

“When you spend most of your waking hours at a job, you better be passionate about what you do. Always leave any person you come in contact with feeling special whether they know it or not.”

Flowing Streams

“It’s vital to have multiple streams of income in case something happens, like the downturn of the economy and when Google bumped us off their search engine. For example, we offer a successful Lingerie of the Month Club which provides recurring revenue.”

Business Can Be Taxing

“When the money starts coming in, put 30% away for taxes. We did not do that. Our inventory levels were outrageous. Luckily, we were able to withstand a six-digit hit when we received the tax bill.”

The Future of Lemonade

“Never, ever pass up a lemonade stand. Those kids are entrepreneurs. None of us wakes up planning to pay fifty cents for a small cup of warm lemonade, but it’s good karma. I was that lemonade stand, and the people that stop at a lemonade stand are the ones that get it, and cultivate and motivate the next generation!”

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This Featured Lady was profiled by Megan L. Reese, WORDrobe™ Stylist for Her Write Image in West Grove, PA.