Liz Lange, Woman Entrepreneur

Screen-shot-2011-11-02-at-3.41.11-PM+(1)It is always great to talk to people who spent time in the schmata world at the same time that I did.  It is similar to playing the game of memory.  A bit similar to that game known as jewish geography.

My friend met Liz and somehow they ended up talking about me and she asked for an introduction.  Her desire to now take all that she has done and pay it forward to women entrepreneurs was the main reason that she wanted to talk to me.  Personally I was excited about talking to Liz because I followed her career.  Liz Lange Maternity was the first line of maternity clothing for women that was fashion forward and made pregnant women feel good and look good.  The clothing available before her was horrendous to say the least.

Liz grew up in Manhattan going to Dalton, Nightingale and eventually Trinity for high school when it became a co-ed school.  Her Mom stayed home and took care of the kids and house.  Her father had a family business in insurance through a publicly traded company. She grew up in an entrepreneurial household.

She went to Brown University after high school where she majored in comparative literature.  Liz figured that perhaps she would write.  She went to Paris her junior year and studied abroad living with a French family.  She worked summer jobs based on family friends but the reality is she really wasn’t that ambitious.  Her thought was I will probably work for a few years, get married, have kids and that was about it.  Ends up she was just a late bloomer.

Liz took a job at Vogue after graduating college in 1988.  She had a pretty sweet job.  She oversaw four photographers who would go capture images at parties and she would write about what people wore.  Totally fun thing for a 21 year old out of college living in NYC.  While she was at Vogue she felt like she was just biding her time and enjoying life

One day Liz went to meet a young designer in the garment center.  Although she grew up in NYC it was an area that she really had not been that exposed to.  She saw what he was doing and fell in love with the business immediately.  She said to the designer, I know you can barely pay me but I want to come work for you and he said yes.  Everyone said she was crazy but she quit her job of four years at Vogue and changed direction.

Out of necessity she learned the business.  She was his only employee.  She figured out how to put on a show, how to source fabric and even became a fit model for the clothing.  She didn’t sketch, she didn’t sew but it didn’t matter.

The designer she worked for came out of Michael Kors and Calvin Klein.  He was selling dresses for $2k.  The contemporary market was just starting to change.  Contemporary was moderately priced clothing that was chic.  Liz said to him nobody knows your name and that is why you are having such a hard time selling dresses for $2K.  Shift your vision and start doing a contemporary line.  He did and the business grew.

Around this time she got married and her friends were starting to get pregnant.  In the business stretch fabric was just coming into the market in a big way.  Theory had just launched and so did Chaiken and Capone.  Chaiken and Capone had a stretch pant that hit the hips with straight legs and women looked amazing in them.  It was the end of the high waisted pant.

Her pregnant friends would come by and Liz noticed how they would squeeze themselves into clothes because the maternity clothes were so awful.  It was an aha moment.  She told the designer that they should do something that paired stretch with maternity clothes.  He had zero interest and thought that she was out of her mind.  Nobody talked about maternity clothes back then.

Liz couldn’t stop thinking about it.  She just knew that the opportunity was big.  She would go home at night and draw these rudimentary sketches of what she wanted to do.  She figured she could make these clothes to order because she did not have the capital to invest in bolts of fabric. Her connections in the industry were pretty deep at this point and even buyers told her she was crazy to try and get into the maternity industry.  She ignored them all.

Her Dad gave her $20K and said if you can make it into a business with this great otherwise it is a hobby.  Liz took a showroom and pregnant women started coming through like crazy.  Her concept was the clothes would be fitted because the fabric was stretch not oversized like all the maternity clothes on the market.  Stretch can stretch with you.

It was 1997 and nobody was dressing pregnant celebrities.  She made it her business to find the celebrities who were pregnant.  They were all happy to have her dress them because there wasn’t any competition.  She dressed Cindy Crawford, Paulina and Bobbie Brown to name a few.  The press was rolling and her phone was ringing off the hook.

Fast forward, Liz opened three retail stores in the next ten years.  Her biggest one was on Madison Avenue.  She had licenses with Nike and Target.  Target loved her.  This was prior to when designers did deals with brands.  Liz Lange got so big at Target they asked her to take over the entire department.

In 2007 Liz began to get offers to sell the business and she did.  The new owners closed down the stores which she knew would happen although she really did love going to them.  There might not be any stores but Liz Lange maternity is in over 1000 Target Stores today.  Then in 2009 HSN asked her to do a non-maternity line wth them.  She still works on that today.

Liz truly made her mark in history when it comes to maternity wear.  I saw it and lived it.  It was so great to talk with her and am hoping that we can work together on some deals in the area that speaks to her, building a brand and the understanding of manufacturing.  We will see a lot of change in that area over the next decade and her timing to get involved in a different way couldn’t be more perfect.

Comments (Archived):

  1. Ella Dyer

    Bravo Liz for wanting to pay it forward; check out @startupchicks New York where women meet to share their entrepreneurial efforts. And thank you Joanne for always sharing such inspiration; I particularly like the “late bloomer” point, which gives everyone the encouragement to continue.

  2. Laura Yecies

    Brilliant business plan going after the celebrities and I wish Liz started earlier! I had to wear some hideous maternity clothes in the 80’s 🙂

    1. Gotham Gal

      totally.i remember i had one more week before my first was born and i couldn’t even squeeze into anything. i bought some hideous stuff for market week. i was so pregnant i could only fit into size 14 when i am a normal size 6. the shoulder pads were sliding down my arms. i should have just wrapped myself up in a bedspread instead!

      1. Laura Yecies

        When I was 2nd year of business school (and very pregnant with my second) I managed to find one decent navy wool suit for interviews. I remember nearly having a heart attack when my luggage was delayed while traveling to SF for job interviews. Thank goodness the maternity clothes have finally gotten better – plus I think the whole business casual movement helps

  3. kbb

    Inspiring story, more so because of how it expands the entrepreneur narrative. Not all entrepreneurs had the proverbial lemonade stand at 5! Thank you for bringing us these women role models . . . so diverse, so powerful.

  4. Emily Steed

    Thanks for sharing this. Inspiring! And yes thank goodness for Liz Lange maternity wear. I was at an accounting firm when I was pregnant and it was the only real option for work.