Sigrid Olsen Reinvents Herself She's starting over as an artist and entrepreneur after Liz Claiborne shuttered her clothing line.

By Janet Holloway

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Sigrid Olsen wishes that she had taken a bigger share of her company when it was first sold to Liz Claiborne Inc. in 1999.

"I was so happy that someone like Liz Claiborne Inc. recognized what I was doing, saw the value in it and wanted it, that 10 percent ownership plus salary sounded good to me," she says.

So she sold the Sigrid Olsen trademark to Liz Claiborne and was retained as creative director by the conglomerate.

"I enjoyed working with a strong design team; meeting talented, experienced, creative people; and playing with the big boys," says Olsen, 54.

Nearly 10 years later, Liz Claiborne's decision to dismantle the Sigrid Olsen line and close more than 50 stores was a shock to the designer, the staff and Olsen's devoted clientele. In e-mails and responses to the Olsen blog, clients bemoan the loss of the Olsen line like the loss of a good friend.

"Mostly it's behind me," Olsen says. "I miss the people I worked with, but I'm not as stressed out as I used to be."

Olsen spends more time on the beach--her inspiration--reflecting on her future and learning to deal with the loss of her signature designs. Liz Claiborne still owns the rights to the Olsen clothing line.

Prior to selling the Sigrid Olsen trademark to Liz Claiborne, Olsen--under the trade name of Segrets--was achieving $30 million in sales with the company, which she started in the mid-1980s with husband Curtis Sanders, a former store owner and textile merchant.

Rather than behave like a victim of corporate downsizing, however, Olsen is starting over. "Look," she says, "I started out at 31 printing my designs with a potato cut; my first product was a pot holder, and I went from there to jackets, vests, T-shirts and fashion for mature women. I have more to do."

Today, she says, "It's a matter of going back to my roots and focusing on products that reflect a strong connection with nature." Her trademark watercolors, posters, collages and home accessories, reflecting the colors of the sea and sky, are available in her studio in Gloucester and online at Sales are break-even as she grows the business, she says. Much of her work is custom designed for those who love the Olsen signature colors and seaside themes. Olsen describes her brand as feel-good artistry and creativity, bringing beautiful products into people's lives.

"I do believe my art enhances one's lifestyle," she suggests. "It's peaceful, contemplative, quiet."

Her newest venture, however, is a step away from product design. Inspiration Retreats will "bring together women looking to relax, refresh and become attuned to their inner artist," Olsen says.

She acknowledges that these retreats are part of her own transformation, her need to refocus and be inspired. The retreats--led by Olsen, yoga instructor Martha Abbot and Olsen's daughter, Brita, who's responsible for hospitality--are scheduled for Telum, Mexico, and the Caribbean island of St. Barth.

"Experiential work is important for the artist," she says. "We're all in the process of reinventing ourselves, and I love the personal contact with women who are questioning themselves and their lives. I need to touch, see, be in the details of this process for myself."

One way Olsen describes herself these days is an "artist entrepreneur." Both create something out of nothing and many back into a business model that is unique and unexpected. They figure things out along the way, seeing themselves as outside the mainstream. Both display confidence and a commitment to hard work and perseverance to make their dream a reality. Olsen is finding these skills useful since her dislocation from the women's wear company.

She anticipates growing her new business venture to include wellness and hospitality and looks to team up with a hotel to create a Sigrid Olsen resort experience.

Her August 14 blog demonstrates the hopeful optimism that characterizes all her work: "In case anyone isn't clear. I. Am. Happy. . . . I feel propelled by creative energy and uninhibited in terms of being fully myself. What more can one ask for?"

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