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Businesswoman reinvents herself; Famed designer in Marlboro.

Byline: Elaine Thompson

MARLBORO - Sigrid Olsen, the well-known artist and textile designer who sold her multimillion-dollar clothing line to Liz Claiborne Co. 10 years ago, believes we are all reinventing ourselves, particularly in today's economy.

"Especially women my age, over 50. In many cases, their life circumstances have changed: the kids have grown up, they're undergoing job change or just re-examining their lives. But too many of us spend too much time going after material things rather than what makes us happy," Ms. Olsen said in a telephone interview this week from her home in the artist colony of Rocky Neck in Gloucester.

At 55, Ms. Olsen is reinventing herself and focusing on filling her life with peace and happiness after a hectic 25-year run in the apparel business. The Woodbury, Conn., native told her compelling life story yesterday at the Women's Business Council luncheon meeting hosted by the Marlboro Regional Chamber of Commerce at Embassy Suites Hotel.

After graduating from the Montserrat College of Art with degrees in painting and print making, she started a cottage industry in her barn. She had a group of people who made things out of the textiles she printed. From there, she started making clothes, which she describes as "colorful, whimsical, simple and stylish." A man she met put up $30,000 to develop a line of samples of shorts, T-shirts and blouses to take to a trade show. Then they met a venture capitalist who invested $150,000 in the company.

In 1999, Sigrid Olsen's brand was one of 25 smaller companies Liz Claiborne acquired. Although the sale price was reportedly about $50 million, Ms. Olsen said she only received about $2 million because she was the minority owner of her company. Within three years, Liz Claiborne opened 54 Sigrid Olsen stores, including four in Massachusetts, in Chestnut Hill, Burlington, Hingham and on Newbury Street in Boston. Her line was also being sold in thousands of other stores across the country. Annual peak sales were over $100 million.

Sigrid Olsen was one of the top-performing companies in 2005 when the founder was diagnosed with breast cancer, requiring a double mastectomy. She considered herself fortunate to not have had to undergo chemotherapy or radiation. In 2006, company sales started to level off and finally there was negative growth. Last year, Liz Claiborne closed the Sigrid Olsen stores, but retained the trademark. Under a non-compete agreement, Ms. Olsen is prohibited from designing any clothes until 2010. But she can never put her name on a clothing label unless she gets permission from Liz Claiborne Co.

Ms. Olsen said she has come to terms with that. Since then she "started stretching her wings in a different direction," including hand-painted ceramics, cards and stationery sold at ISLA Beach House, her studio and retail store near her home. She has also begun holding inspirational retreats focusing on yoga and art for women. The first one was in Mexico in January. The next one will be in Italy in October. She has also written a cookbook and is working on a book and possible future television production, called "Sigrid Style," about interior design, entertainment, fashion food, travel and wellness. Her goal is to put island-inspired women's clothing boutiques in hotels and help create an environment that would support retreats.

Ms. Olsen now calls the loss of her clothing label a "blessing in disguise."

"I don't think I would have (begun the retreats and other ventures) if I had continued working the hours as a fashion designer," she said.



CUTLINE: Artist Sigrid Olsen, left, in Marlboro yesterday with Susanne Morreale Leeber, president of the Marlboro Area Chamber of Commerce.
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Title Annotation:MONEY
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Jun 13, 2009
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