Starting A Fashion Business with Liz Lange

by Susan

I had the great pleasure of interviewing Liz Lange, founder of Liz Lange Maternity, a few years back and wanted to share with you her journey to starting a business and mega-successful brand.

I had a little technical mishap with the audio, so I wrote this article based on the answers she gave during the interview. Enjoy!

Liz is a lovely person who is down-to-earth, gracious, and always willing to share her start-up story with other women entrepreneurs. I am honored to share her story with you.

Liz was told over and over and over again that a high-end maternity line would never fly. Read her story below.

Question for YOU: If you were told your idea would never fly, would you continue to pursue it or would you pack it up and go home?  (This is a test, so answer truthfully.)

Liz Lange

Photo credit: Conde Nast

An Idea Was Born

Liz’s idea for a maternity line was born while she was working at an apparel design firm in 1997. She often saw pregnant women squeezing themselves into non-pregnancy clothing because the maternity options were not appealing.

At that time, according to Liz, maternity clothing consisted of big, flowy outfits that were designed to hide a women’s pregnancy and make them look smaller. But the opposite was true. The big, flowy outfits actually made women look bigger, not smaller. Fashionable maternity was just not in vogue at that time. Celebrities were practically out of sight when pregnant (as opposed to today). No designers were even touching this market.

That’s when Liz recognized a big void in the fashion world…chic, fitted maternity clothing. Why hide a beautiful, pregnant body? Liz was determined to help pregnant women show off their new curves, not hide them.

Why You Must Have Passion and Believe In Your Idea

Liz quickly became obsessed with her idea. She thought about it day and night. She even mentioned to me that she would lay in bed at night and ideas for her business would flood her mind.

She found a small factory in New York that was willing to create six sample pieces for her to show retailers. Her main choice of fabric? Spandex. In 1997, spandex wasn’t used in clothing like it is today. But that was the fabric that caught Liz’s attention. Spandex in maternity clothing allowed for stretch and comfort, while still hugging the body.

Excited and passionate about her new line, Liz started spreading the word to friends and retailers in New York.

But not everyone was as excited about Liz’s idea.

She approached several high-end retailers in New York City like Bergdorf’s and Barney’s and pitched her new line, but they all told her they weren’t interested in maternity clothing. She was told that pregnant women don’t buy new clothes and don’t care what they look like when when they’re pregnant. Not one single retailer picked up Liz’s new line. Even friends told her she was crazy to get into a high-end maternity line because no one would buy it.

But Liz was not going to let that stop her. She believed in her idea and was passionate about helping pregnant women look fashionable.

Liz quote: “You have to be overly optimistic with your idea or you’ll just pack up and go home at the first person who says “no”. If you’re not somewhat obsessed with it, it’s too easy to give up.”

A One Woman Show

Liz had no choice but to set up a little shop of her own and sell directly to customers. She didn’t have the money for a boutique, but she did have enough for a small office space in New York with a phone and a fax machine. T

he internet was not widely used in 1997, so all marketing was done by her, over the phone. She called on friends and contacts and asked them to spread the word for her new made-to-order maternity line.

Several women made appointments to come in and see the line.

She had her six sample pieces that she would show to potential customers. The customer could either pick from the samples or have a custom outfit made.

Liz would take measurements and give the orders to a small factory she found in New York that agreed to make one-off pieces with a two-week turnaround. When the order was ready, Liz would hand deliver the order to her customer or UPS it. Orders started coming in and word was spreading.

During this time, Liz  make an observation that would change the course of her business. She noticed that celebrities were not being “dressed” by designers during their pregnancies, so she jumped on this opportunity by calling the celebrity’s PR person and asking if she could create chic maternity outfits for them.

Celebrities like Cindy Crawford and Kelly Ripa jumped at this because no one else was doing it.  Her clothing line was soon seen on high-profile celebrities who appeared on television and in magazines. Talk about great PR.

Liz stressed to me that she simply picked up the phone herself and called the celebrity’s manager or PR people and ASKED if she could do this. No magic here…she just asked.

Liz Lange quickly because the maternity designer to the stars and her business exploded.

Up until this point, she was truly a one woman show. No assistants, no PR people…just Liz.

Of course, you can probably guess happened next.  Yep, Bergdorf and Barney’s and other retailers started calling her.

Her business grew from there. She hired people to help her and eventually opened Liz Lange Maternity boutiques in New York and Beverly Hills.

A Little Store Called Target

Once Liz Lange Maternity because an established brand, Liz took another big chance. She approached Target about doing a line exclusively for them. Keep in mind, this was before big name designers like Isaac Mizrahi started creating lines for Target and other stores like this. And well, if you ever go into Target, you know how this story ends, or begins, or continues. Liz Lange is the maternity line in Target.

This was a risky move for Liz. She had an established high-end line of maternity clothing for affluent women. Was it a good idea to go into a mass retailer with a line with the same name but at a lower price point? Everyone advised her not to do it. That is would tarnish her brand. But Liz had a feeling it was the right move and went with her gut.

Here’s an interesting fact that Liz shared with me. Target became 90% of her business. 90%! Okay, yes apparently women of all income levels want to look fashionable while pregnant, not just rich ones so this was an incredibly smart and strategic move for Liz’s brand. Other high-end designers have since followed suit.

Trailblazing & Courage

Liz is a trailblazer in so many ways.  But here’s the kicker. She had no way of knowing if her idea would fly because no one else was really doing a high-end maternity line at that time.  She had to blaze a trail with determination. And that’s scary.

Very scary.

No one wants to take a chance on a new idea. Just look at Barney’s and Bergdorf. They had no interest in what Liz was doing until her brand grew and celebrities were singing her praises. Until then, she was another entrepreneur with a crazy idea.

Liz also told me that if your idea is new, you can’t check out the competition to see what they are doing because there is no competition. She had to build this brand completely from her own vision.

I’ve mentioned in another article that if your idea doesn’t have any competition, it’s a red flag. While that may be true in some cases, visionaries see what others don’t, so if you have a new idea that you believe in, you can make it happen, you just have to blaze your own trail.

But if your idea is a good one, you will quickly have  people trying to emulate what you’re doing. And that’s okay, it just means you’re a visionary.

Business Plans and Finances and Doubts

I asked Liz if she ever wrote a business plan for her idea when she first started out and she said absolutely not.

For Liz, a business plan just didn’t make sense.  Her personal view, which she says is just her experience and opinion, is that you spend so much time creating a plan that will be outdated in no time. She said there’s way she could have predicted or written in a business plan, how her business unfolded. For her, passion, optimism and pure determination is what grew her business.

She also funded the business with personal money, so she didn’ t have to write a business plan to get outside investment. (Obviously if you’re seeking outside funding, you’ll need to write up a business plan.)

In many ways, her start up story is a blessing for her because she was able to make a very small investment in office space and then create her clothing once orders were made and paid for, making her financial risk was very small. Her company, and her revenue, grew organically from there. She never needed investors.

Business plans are an important tool for some entrepreneurs while others don’t bother with it. Every business is different, so look at your business idea and decide if it’s right for you and your business. We’ll talk more about this in another article!

And while Liz is optimistic and determined, she told me that there were many, many, many times when she thought “what am I doing?”. She was filled with doubt at certain times throughout her journey, as are most entrepreneurs and small business owners. It happens to all of us! But the key is to keep believing and continuing to move the idea forward.

Liz Lange Maternity Today

Liz sold Liz Lange Maternity to Target many years ago, but she is a true enterprising gal and continues to work on new projects.

Liz’s Tip’s For You

Here’s a summary of my biggest takeaways from my interview with Liz:

  • To keep from getting overwhelmed, do one thing every day to move forward in your business whether it’s taking someone to lunch to bend their ear or contacting a manufacturer, etc.
  • Be overly-optimistic and somewhat obsessed with your idea to get you through the rough patches.
  • Don’t let a “no” from someone stop you in your tracks. Keep moving forward regardless of the naysayers – and there will be some.

I hope you got a little inspiration from Liz! You can check out the brand she built here.

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