In 2008, during the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, stores and companies across the country were just trying to stay afloat. Instead of continuing her well-known knitwear line which she had run for the last 30 years, Linda Schlesinger decided to do something not many people would have done then: start a brand new business.
“I just thought, ‘Ugh, I’m not doing this anymore,’” she said about her former knitwear line. “The thought was, ‘What can I do that’s going to apply to every woman, every size, every age.’”
Her idea was simple – create a camisole that was a little bit longer than others. As an older woman – Schlesinger was 60 at the time – she wanted something where if she leaned over she wouldn’t have to worry about it pulling up and showing her stomach.
Sometimes, the most simple ideas lead to greatness, like it has for Schlesinger and her company, Skinnytees.
Schlesinger said when she started she had a little bin with only 10 colored camis and about $1,000. Now, they do their tanks in over 100 colors, have products that range from activewear to leggings and their best-selling item, the bra-friendly basic tank, and have much, much more than $1,000 in their bank account.
The company also quickly outgrew their original space, Schlesinger’s home, before ending up in their current warehouse location in Birmingham, which is 7,000-square-feet.
“Its like being a kid in a candy store,” Schlesinger laughed. Their warehouse is filled floor-to-ceiling with all of their items.
They need that kind of space, considering they not only sell all over the U.S. and Europe, but can be found on morning shows like The View and Good Morning America’s Deals and Steals, which they’ve been on six times within the last year alone. Skinnytees have also been on QVC in the U.S. and Europe.
Oh, and Oprah wore one of their scoop neck long sleeves on her March issue.
“That became very popular (on the website) that month,” Schlesinger said.
As wonderful as all this success has been, it isn’t just about making money for Schlesinger and Skinnytees. It’s also about helping others.
Every year they raise money in October for a mother in need going through breast cancer treatment. That is only the tip of the iceberg of giving back, which has been important to Schlesinger since Skinnytees’ inception.
“When I was divorced and going through a difficult time – and I was 60-years-old and had to recreate myself – I would say if I make it it’s going to be all about paying it forward,” Schlesinger said. “I was always successful, but this is a different kind of successful.”
For Schlesinger, part of her success comes back to yet another simple idea, having excellent customer service. It shows in their return rate, which is below 10 percent.
Schlesinger said if she’s in town, every single return request or exchange gets a personal note from her, and if there’s a customer on the phone that is having an issue she speaks with them directly.
“I kill them with kindness,” she said. “Being good and kind works. And they love hearing from me.”
Customers will be hearing from her for a long time. Schlesinger has no plans on turning the business over any time soon. She’s having too much fun.
“Well, I just turned 70, and I’m not retiring,” Schlesinger said. “I love this.”
Photo: Laurie Tennent