Teamwork makes the dream work. Six years ago I gave each of my team Christmas presents with the promise that no one opens until Christmas morning at the same time. Everyone got roundtrip tickets
Many successful people reinvented themselves in a later period in their life. Jeff Bezos worked in Wall Street before he reinvented himself and started Amazon. Sara Blakely sold office supplies before she started Spanx. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson was a WWE wrestler before he became a successful actor and filmmaker. Arnold Schwarzenegger went from a bodybuilder, to an actor to a Governor. McDonald’s founder Ray Croc was a milkshake-device salesman before starting the McDonalds franchise in his 50’s.
How does one reinvent themselves? What hurdles have to be overcome to take life in a new direction? How do you overcome those challenges? How do you ignore the naysayers? How do you push through the paralyzing fear?
In this series called “Second Chapters; How I Reinvented Myself In The Second Chapter Of My Life “ we are interviewing successful people who reinvented themselves in a second chapter in life, to share their story and help empower others.
As a part of this interview series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Linda Schlesinger-Wagner.
She learned business with her father in the tooling industry in Detroit. After being told she was unable to have Another child she opened a high end children’s boutique in 1977 — that quickly led to designing a knit vest For infants that put her on the map. Linda then jumped into wholesaling children’s knitwear to like minded Stores and quickly was in the women’s knitwear business. At sixty two, after a divorce she once again Recreated herself.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we start, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?
I am the oldest of six children — a family with lots to say and lots of energy. My father had his own business and after two years at Ohio State University I came home and worked for him. Several of us “kids” worked with him and trust me we had to have a great work ethic….
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
It’s better to look back and say “I can’t believe I did that” than to look back and say “I wish I had done that”. There was a time I was afraid to step out of the box and take a risk — ending my marriage was a huge obstacle for me — kept putting it off — a sick father- in- law, a daughter recovering from a car accident with four years of surgery. It came to me one day — what am I teaching my Children??? Do it — you have a big life to live.
You have been blessed with much success. In your opinion, what are the top three qualities that you possess that have helped you accomplish so much? If you can, please share a story or example for each.
Three qualities that have continued to serve me well are always remembering to give back, work Hard, treat your team well. When I got divorced I ended my knitwear business after thirty years — wanted to recreate myself. I was a respite worker for a family with an autistic boy, I was the lucky woman who traveled to eight countries and ten states interviewing holocaust survivors — I was giving of myself and making people comfortable talking with me. The gifts I received from each of these project made me a very wealthy woman-if I felt myself being sad I would think of one of the Holocaust people I interviewed and get a real reality check on life. Working hard is working smart — It was difficult for me to present and sell my line skinnytees. When I had my first meeting with QVC I was nervous and out of my comfort zone. I wore the eight different layering pieces and presented myself wearing each and showing how anyone Could switch it all out. I worked hours on this presentation — was so unsure of myself… they loved it.. When we started making money the first thing I did was take our team on a trip — it builds friendships and love for what we do. Each of our team knows that I will be there for them always. We keep everyone in our nest forever.
Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion about ‘Second Chapters’. Can you tell our readers about your career experience before your Second Chapter?
I got my business lessons from my father- he was self-educated and taught me so much about business. There was a major recession in the 80’s and he lost his business and properties etc. I saw him pick himself up and recreate a tool business not dependent on the automotive industry. I worked in that business for ten years and at the same time opened my first children’s wear store. While owning my first store I was in New York on a business trip ( and of course visited many children’s stores). I saw a knit vest that I had to carry in my store. I tracked down the knitter and she was completely booked for the one tiny store she sold to. I bought a knitting machine and taught myself how to use it and made a pattern from that vest. I found a woman to crochet these vests and put little angora intarsia animals on them. Each one had different vintage buttons. This is how I continue To do business. Never take NO for an answer — think of how you will turn it into a YES I am doing this. I sold over 2000 high end boutiques in women’s and children’s knitwear — did all the Big shows in the United States, traveled to Europe to buy — and had the fire in me to Keep doing it. I met with huge store owners, movie stars, dressed famous children and just kept The ball bouncing. And how did you “reinvent yourself” in your Second Chapter? After divorcing I knew I no longer wanted to do what I had been doing — too many stores — Too much credit extended — I saw the business slowly changing. I closed that business, Annie’s Antics and did many things to make my little mortgage payment on the first house I bought on my own (unfortunately I hired a mortgage broker) — it was on an 18 month ARM. I got caught in the Countrywide Mortgage downfall and was in serious thoughts of losing my House as the interest sky rocked. I cried every single night thinking I could not do enough Of these tiny jobs to make what was now a large mortgage payment.
Can you tell us about the specific trigger that made you decide that you were going to “take the plunge” and make your huge transition?
The truth is that I always slept with a legal pad beside me for that special thing you remember in The middle of the night. I had made cami’s when I did adult sweaters — and one specific season We did a Japanese influenced line that had holes throughout the sweater -and sold with a camisole. I thought that I wanted something that appealed to all women, all ages, all sizes — -I went on go daddy At 2am and got the name skinnytees.com. I could not wait to tell my son the next morning- He lives in California and is a marketing guru. I told him my idea of having this one size cami made longer to cover up my back and front when I bent down or reached up. When I told him about the name skinnytees.com he said I didn’t listen to him — I couldn’t have gotten that name and I must have gotten .net — It was with great pride that I gave him my new account number and had him look. We are still laughing about that today.
What did you do to discover that you had a new skillset inside of you that you haven’t been maximizing? How did you find that and how did you ultimately overcome the barriers to help manifest those powers?
For me I had no choice — I had to succeed at something — I didn’t need a lot of money but I needed to support myself — I started with 1000 and my contractor did small runs for me as when I closed Annie’s Antics I had paid all of my suppliers. He remembered that I had done that and gave me credit. I put one tub of camisoles ( had ten colors) in my car and drove to a little town 45 minutes away and walked into a store and they loved them. She became my biggest single store user ever.
How are things going with this new initiative? We would love to hear some specific examples or stories.
Skinnytees has been such a fun journey. We have been blessed to make money and in doing so are big believers in helping others — We are involved in many feel good projects — some tiny and some larger but each one is making a difference in lives. That is what this journey is all about for us. I was honored five years ago by Jewish Vocational Service, trade secrets. This is all about recreating A life for women who are divorced, out of the workplace for years, need computer education. I have been co- chair since that year as this is so near and dear.
Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
Thirty two years ago a young eighteen year old girl answered an ad for a job At one of my children’s stores. Curly auburn hair and freckles and a little bit of a girl. She pulled those heartstrings. A week into the job I had received a large Bloomingdales order and needed help In the back to sew labels on thousands of garments. I asked her if she wanted to help. Her answer — “If you show me how to do it I will do anything” — a special answer from a special woman — she is now Fifty and we have gone thru divorces, births of her children, both of our son’s have had drug addictions and never ever a cross word. She has full control of everything and has our best interests at heart. I could never have done any of this without Nancy at my side — when I get down she is the positive Always. She sees the good outcome when I get negative.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started in this new direction?
I have been lucky to do things people dream about. I went on the only blind date in my life and married The most wonderful man. He always wants to help and I have to always tell him — I am doing this my Way, my rules….. He is the best. I believe the law of attraction — I was so excited about my new business venture and he appeared in my life.
Did you ever struggle with believing in yourself? If so, how did you overcome that limiting belief about yourself? Can you share a story or example?
My struggle in the beginning of skinnytees was people wanted to interview me and that was so hard for me — I don’t do anything special I just have had good things happen from putting it all out there. The first time I was live on QVC they had taken me into the studio and showed me where to stand etc ( keep in mind that you have to attend a one day film school which I passed). Then three minutes later it’s go Go go — you are on next — Oh and by the way we changed the studio — -what????? I lost my mojo — didn’t know where to look — was nervous beyond anything — thank goodness for a great host — the line Sold out in 3 minutes… In my own work I usually encourage my clients to ask for support before they embark on something new. How did you create your support system before you moved to your new chapter? I shared my idea with a great girlfriend who was in the women’s business — she told me it would never Work — I would never make enough money selling camisoles. She chokes it back now and loves to remind me that she did always say I would meet a great partner. My support system is organizations — I belong to a women’s network group. I am lucky enough to be asked to join IWF International Women’s Forum. My best takeaway has been the Goldman Sachs 10000 Small Businesses…. A great program for business owners — a big commitment and the best advice — it’s like getting a master’s on your business. You work on a growth plan and the People I met along the way will be lifelong friends and business mentors. Last year I went thru the Edward Lowe Foundation — another fabulous business education program. I feel truly lucky I was accepted to both of these. Starting a new chapter usually means getting out of your comfort zone, how did you do that? Can you share a story or example of that? Getting out of my comfort zone was I had to SELL — PEOPLE WANTED TO TALK TO THE OWNER. I had never done this — was not sure of myself — always hired people for the New York shows. I had to get comfortable quick with this — not take it personally if someone didn’t like what I did (that is always hard for me as I am a pleaser and I want everyone to like what I do). I forced myself to go to a new store every single day — it could not be a friend who owned a local store or who had bought my knits — I got more comfortable over time and the best comfort For me was when I got reorders and compliments on our customer service.
Fantastic. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I started leading my organization” and why? Please share a story or example for each.
Teamwork makes the dream work. Six years ago I gave each of my team Christmas presents with the promise that no one opens until Christmas morning at the same time. Everyone got roundtrip tickets To Paris and money to spend. It jelled our group — I am not saying it has to be such a far trip — I have done spa days and it’s equally appreciated.
You will make mistakes that are costly. Nancy and I did not stand up strongly enough on a particularQVC buy and we got a return of twenty thousand white sparkle sets (we knew they should have ordered Black). It was the biggest return ever but it worked out — we donated all of it for Hurricane victims in Texas two years later. Stand up and stand strong for what you know to be right.
Everyone will not like you. This is a hard one to swallow. I had a particular buyer that we just did not get along and she lost it on speaker phone to me about a shipment and my husband heard. She neglected to check the portal to see status for some reason as it was right where it should have been but her language was not respectful. I had to put my complaint in writing to her boss who really did not like that I did that.
Embrace your group. It’s all back to teamwork makes the dreamwork. It is the single best lesson For all of us.
Giving back makes it all work. We have done small things and bigger things for a small company And at the end of the day it makes it all pleasant. We once had a customer that went off on one of my staff. They are not paid to take that behavior and I had to intercede. The joke is that Linda makes everyone happy. Damn right I do. This particular woman had a history of lawsuits with organizations. I did not let her get to me and ended up crediting her sale and telling her to keep It and please just donate it. And I thought I would be better if she did not buy from us again. She still buys and we have no problems.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
Letting women know we can do everything.
You can be a great mother, friend and business owner and making a difference every single day.
Too many women just live in fear. There are so many grants and programs for us to learn each day.
We need to learn to always help one another in every single thing we do. We need to get along.
We are only doing this journey one time-MAKE IT GREAT.
We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them. 🙂
OPRAH HANDS DOWN — she makes it happen — I want her to know about what a new friend from africa
Is doing…it is all about paying it forward.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Please visit skinnytees.com — tell us about what
You are doing and how we can help you.
Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!