Barbara Lesser

Co-owner and Designer

Wearable Integrity Inc.

Age: 45

If Barbara Lesser wrote a book on succeeding in business, she might suggest that you travel around the country in an RV, go on safari in Africa and basically hang out for a year.

It worked for her.

Lesser, 45, always knew she wanted to be a designer and convinced her parents that she should leave the safety of her suburban Detroit neighborhood and attend the Pratt Institute in New York.

After graduating, she worked for a variety of clothing companies. “It was a great existence. I headed for the Orient five months after I graduated and traveled around the world,” she says, taking the requisite trips to overseas facilities.

Lesser eventually grew tired of New York, moved to L.A. and continued to work for clothing companies, including Esprit. But when she met her husband, who worked in sales for the fashion industry, they decided to start their own company.

The couple kept the business alive for 10 years but, Lesser says, “things got too tough and we closed the doors.”

“I had to bail out. It was too much pressure, and I had two young kids who I wanted to spend time with,” says Lesser.

Spend time with them she did. The couple didn’t work for a year replacing their stressed-out life with a trip to Africa, two months driving around the United States in an RV and searching for “something interesting to do,” says Lesser.

They found it when someone suggested organic clothing.

The Lessers ended their year-long break and opened a second business Wearable Integrity Inc. But, Lesser says, the organic cotton clothing didn’t sell. “Being environmentally responsible, there’s often a perception that you’re spending more for organic clothing. Sometimes you are, but often you’re not,” says Lesser.

The couple dropped the organic line and began manufacturing women’s casualwear under the label “Barbara Lesser.”

This time it worked sales grew from $5 million in 1993 to $20 million in 1996. Lesser’s casual dresses, the company’s most popular line, retail in upscale stores like Nordstrom for $140 to $180.

Lesser still feels the pressure, but says it’s different now. “We’re a lot more successful this time around we’re more focused and more experienced,” she says.

Lisa Steen Proctor

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