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Liz Claiborne did nothing short of rewrite the rules for American fashion companies. In 1976, she co-founded a sportswear company that catered to the growing legions of women entering the workforce. The company, Liz Claiborne Inc., became one of the most successful apparel firms in the world, providing stylish, colorful and affordable sportswear for working women and their leisure activities. “I envision my clothes for working women, although that’s not always the case. Actually, they’re for active, young-minded women who want to put themselves together for under $150. I try to eliminate gimmicks so that the clothes are affordable,” Claiborne told WWD.
The designer became the first female chairman and chief executive officer of a Fortune 500 company when the firm went public in 1981, and she believed her biggest contribution to the American scene was being among the first to offer fashion and quality at a price. “There were the designers, and then there was what was called better sportswear, which was uptight stuff. There wasn’t much in between. And that woman out there…she wasn’t a kid. She was somebody who was working, whether she was a teacher or in a business environment or a nurse, and somehow I had a rapport with her and understood what she needed,” she told WWD in 2000, reflecting on her career. When Claiborne retired in 1989, the business had mushroomed into a $1.2 billion powerhouse, generating $110.3 million in profits.
This story first appeared in the November 1, 2010 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.