Editor's note: People over 50 are among the country's most active entrepreneurs, starting businesses at rates higher than their young counterparts. In this series, Inc. profiles the new wave of Boomer founders.
Marla Ginsburg had a glamorous, creative, lucrative career. Until she didn't.
In the '90s, Ginsburg was a successful television producer, working on series like Highlander and La Femme Nikita. Later, she moved to Paris, where she was an executive at a French film company and taught classes at the Sorbonne. In 2003, Ginsburg returned to Los Angeles under contract to ABC Touchstone. "I was very secure. I had huge savings," says Ginsburg, 61.
The writers' strike hit in 2007, followed by the economic meltdown. "Unfortunately, because of where my investments were, I was wiped out," Ginsburg says. "I knew after the strike I was not going to get the same kind of six- and seven-figure salary I had been blessed to earn.
"There is ageism in Hollywood," she adds. "When I got in, I knew I would someday be at a place where it would affect me. I was at that place."
During her years in Paris, Ginsburg had befriended several executives at the luxury brand LVMH, including some from Dior. They explained to her the fashion business, which, as the owner of a closetful of designer clothes, she found fascinating. So when financial ruin loomed, "I went out and bought a sewing machine. Just that simple," says Ginsburg. "By the time the writer's strike was over, I had a company."
That company, MarlaWynne Collection, designs clothes for women of Ginsburg's age, a market she believes has been woefully neglected. "There were these sort of icky missy clothing companies," says Ginsburg. "There was Eileen Fisher, which was very pricey. Nobody was really making clothes to address the changing body and lifestyle of a Boomer. We may be dinosaurs, but we still need clothes. And, by the way, we have more money than anybody else on the planet."
Ginsburg, who is self-taught as a designer, began creating classy, forgiving garments in tasteful colors. At first, she had trouble raising money. Her family turned her down, as did most professional contacts. "I was asking people who knew me as an expert in one industry to finance me in another," says Ginsburg.
Eventually, she landed an investor, but he soon succumbed to the Los Angeles real estate crash. He left Ginsburg with a quarter-million dollars in purchase orders from Nordstrom and HSN and no cash to fill them. Reluctantly, she turned to her credit line, "which was, in a way, completely stupid," she says. "It took me four years to dig out of that hole. But I knew if I didn't make those first orders I would never get back in."
Her appetite for risk dulled by experience, Ginsburg chose to license her designs to a manufacturer rather than produce them herself. The manufacturer pays for her office, employees, and showrooms. Had she started the company when she was younger, Ginsburg says, she would have handled manufacturing and potentially made a lot more money. "But I am at a point where I have an obligation to my children to make sure that I fully fund my retirement or old age," says Ginsburg, whose son is in remission from non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. "I really need to protect that." (Ginsburg owns 100 percent of the MarlaWynne trademark, "which is ultimately where the value is," she says.)
As the line expanded, Ginsburg brought on more designers, most the same age as herself and her customers. "A young designer does not understand that--I don't care how much time you spend in the gym--your waist is going to thicken; your butt is going to drop; you're going to get a little extra something on your back; your metabolism is shot to shit," she says. To design her jewelry and manage her social media, however, she hires young. "Young people speak their minds. They are fearless," says Ginsburg. "I love being surrounded by that fearlessness."
Today MarlaWynne, a mainstay on HSN, has more than $10 million in revenue, Ginsburg says. She still works 15-hour days, seven days a week. But her 24-year-old daughter now works alongside her. ("She has come in at the very bottom," says Ginsburg. "She gets my coffee.") And Ginsburg hopes her son may someday join as well. She calls the prospect of working with both children and providing them a legacy "the secret bonus of my life right now."
Ginsburg plans to stick with the company until a decline in "my judgment, my sharpness, my creativity, or my energy in any way threatens what I've worked so hard to build," she says. "I hope I'm like my father and at 83 I'm still barking out orders. I think I've got good DNA going my way."