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The news was six months in coming, but when Sigrid Olsen received the official word that her line of clothing was being dismantled by Liz Claiborne after nine years, she knew it meant starting all over again. Since that January day in 2008, Sigrid has successfully redefined her brand with Sigrid Olsen Art, a studio art and design business located in Rocky Neck, Massachusetts. Her story is one of inspiration, growth and resilience, having also survived breast cancer in 2005. Today, at age 55 she is an artist, entrepreneur, author and speaker, as well as offers yoga and art infused inspiration retreats. She has been featured in The Wall Street Journal, The Boston Globe, Delaware Today, The New York Times, Daily Candy Boston, Forbes, WWD, Boston Magazine and The Worcester Telegram.
Sigrid Olsen’s clothing line existed for fifteen years before being acquired by Liz Claiborne in 1989. Her signature was designing for “real women” using bright colors and simple, classic designs. Sigrid stayed on as the creative director for her line and it flourished. In 2005, when her business was at the top if its game, Sigrid was diagnosed with breast cancer.
After learning that she had DCIS (ductal carcinoma in suti), a pre-cancerous condition in her mammary glands, Sigrid underwent two lumpectomies that didn’t get rid of all the cancer, a bilateral mastectomy and reconstructive surgery. To regain her upper body strength and range of motion, Sigrid turned to yoga and Pilates. Her trainer created a post-mastectomy Pilates routine that she is now sharing with the world through an instructional DVD for breast cancer survivors. Sigrid and her instructor were featured in the August 2008 issue of Pilates Style Magazine.
While Sigrid’s clothing line was still owned by Liz Claiborne, her experience with breast cancer inspired her to reflect and return to her artistic roots. In 2005, she formed Sigrid Olsen Art, LLC, bought a domain name and a Mac, and took iWeb lessons to learn how to design and launch her own website. Sigrid sold her original artwork and her designs on cards, ceramics and journals. She eventually opened Sigrid Olsen Art Gallery in Rocky Neck, home of the Gloucester artists’ colony.
In 2006, after launching over 50 stores in three years, Sigrid’s division began to lose money just as Liz Claiborne shifted its attention to younger brands like Kate Spade, Lucky Jeans and Juicy Couture.
So, as Sigrid’s health improved, her apparel line’s profits continued to decline and, despite sales of almost $100 million, it was selected by Liz Claiborne as one of nine different brands to be put under “strategic review.” These brands were sold, licensed, dropped or kept at the end of the review period. Sigrid’s was dropped. Although she knew six months prior that this was a possibility, finally hearing the news in January 2008 was both a disappointment and relief. Sigrid knew that she had to regroup, but was stymied by the fact that Liz Claiborne retained the legal rights to her name and asserted a non-compete stipulation that prohibited her from designing clothes until 2010.
During the summer of 2009, Sigrid opened the seasonal Isla Beach House, also located in Rocky Neck. Isla Beach House is a shop that reflects Sigrid’s trademark island-casual vibe and offers colorful knits and maxi dresses, statement necklaces made by her daughter and woven nylon totes from Mexico, all priced under $200.
In addition to her art and design success, Sigrid and her sister, a yoga instructor, host week-long, inspirational yoga retreats in other countries. Sigrid’s husband actually noticed that hotels were offering yoga retreats and commented, “You could do something like that.” Sigrid limits the participants to fewer than ten people in order to create a unique experience for each one.
She has also published a cookbook, Cooking with Color which includes 27 easy, healthy, delicious and beautiful recipes for meals that can be prepared in 15 – 20 minutes. Sigrid displayed all the food on her own hand-painted ceramics and took the photographs for the book herself. She has a proposal for a project called Sigrid’s Style – Living an Inspired Life and books speaking engagements. In 2009, she was featured with Jane Pauley’s on the “Smart Talk for Women” lecture series. Sigrid may even design clothes again once the non-compete expires in 2010.
What we learned from Sigrid: “Creativity stems from finding your inner silence, recapturing your true self and letting go of the voices in your head. Also, having fun with other women is important when you’re experiencing a transformation.”
Hire to Your Weaknesses
“Start small and do whatever you can manage, but don’t lose your focus. Trust your instincts. When you can, hire experts to handle those aspects of your business that get in your way. Do what you do best.”
“Always deliver more than you promise. Make it a course of business to under promise and over deliver. We say it and do it by going the extra mile. When you’re an independent business person, it’s easier to do than when working for a major corporation.”