Case | HBS Case Collection | November 2006 (Revised March 2007)

Liz Claiborne and the New Working Woman

by Anthony Mayo and Mark Benson


At age 47, with two decades of experience as a lead designer for a Fortune 500 fashion company, Liz Claiborne put her life savings on the line to form Liz Claiborne, Inc., a partnership that included her husband. A decade later, in 1986, Claiborne was CEO of her own Fortune 500 company, reaching that milestone faster than any other business up to that point in history. Because the company did not own any of the factories that made its clothing, Claiborne relied upon her detailed understanding of design and manufacturing processes to instruct successfully her American and offshore contractors on how to mass-produce designer clothing at affordable prices. Claiborne was an industry pioneer in many ways. She developed detailed customer feedback collection systems. She and her staff were in frequent contact with department stores to help them present her clothing in display and to customers. In the 1980s, after building up her designer brand name, Claiborne expanded her business through licensing arrangements with quality manufacturers of apparel, shoes, and accessories.

Keywords: Customer Relationship Management; Entrepreneurship; Business History; Leadership; Gender; Brands and Branding; Personal Development and Career; Apparel and Accessories Industry;