On March 31 in the year 1929, one of the world’s most famous fashion designers was born in Brussels, Belgium. Her name was Anne Elisabeth Jane Claiborne, the founder of Liz Claiborne Inc., the first company founded by a woman to appear on the prestigious Fortune 500 list.
Liz Claiborne was the daughter of a banker whose ancestors included the first governor of Louisiana, USA. As a teenager, she showed her love for the arts and so, her parents hesitantly allowed her not to pursue formal schooling but to find her way through her artistic passion. Thus, she went to Europe to live with painters and other artists.
At the age of 19, Liz Claiborne won a fashion design contest that was advertised in a famous magazine. Since then, she worked in several dressmakers and clothing manufacturers. All these years, she became increasing frustrated at the lack of support of her employers to produce appropriate clothing for women.
In 1976 at the age of 47, Liz Claiborne established her own clothing firm which she named after herself. With the help of her second husband, she designed and distributed stylish but affordable clothing for career women who are tired of the usual suits. On its first year, it sold $2 million and the two years after, sales topped over $20 million. With her early success, she confidently diversified into children’s and men’s wear and later, upscale sportswear. She added accessories and footwear in the 1980s.
In 1986, the company appeared in the Fortune 500 list with $1.2 revenue, the first time for a company founded by a woman. By the 1990s, Liz Claiborne, Inc. became the largest apparel manufacturer in the United States, no small feat for a strong-willed woman who defied her parents’ wishes for her to get a college degree.
Liz Claiborne had always insisted that her brand need to have a dedicated place in the department store, thus the practice of arranging merchandise by brands was born.
Liz Claiborne died of cancer in 2007. She married twice and had a son with her first husband.