skinnytees regularly holds fundraising events that raise money for women with breast cancer, among other crucial needs.
At age 57, Linda Schlesinger-Wagner found herself divorced and caught up in the 2006 housing market collapse. “I was in the midst of a crisis, and my payment almost doubled,” the now 74-year-old recalls.
Instead of giving up, Schlesinger-Wagner pivoted. The Jewish entrepreneur sold a longstanding children’s knitwear business that she’d had for years to pursue an idea that came to her in the middle of the night, on an evening when she couldn’t sleep, for skinnytees — a women’s clothing company selling essentials like camisoles, that were both comfortable and stylish.
“I wasn’t a 25-year-old woman,” explains Schlesinger-Wagner, who had already worked in the apparel industry for more than three decades at the time. “I didn’t want to lean up or bend over and see skin.”
Rather than creating traditional women’s tops, she turned to longer, more flexible pieces that would work for women of all ages, especially busy women on the go. They were one-size-fits-most silhouettes, made out of smoothwear, and entirely seamless.
Building a Dream
However, Schlesinger-Wagner didn’t have the finances to bring the idea to life, so she borrowed $1,000 from a close friend and purchased one dozen tops in 10 colors from a contractor to make skinnytees a reality.
After the tops arrived, Schlesinger-Wagner took them to Impulse Clothing Boutique, a clothing shop in Brighton, Michigan, where she says she didn’t know anyone. “I didn’t want anyone I know to buy them and do a mercy order,” she recalls. Luckily, the shop made the purchase and became one of Schlesinger-Wagner’s top customers to this day.
“She really helped me build my business,” Schlesinger-Wagner says of that buyer.
As Schlesinger-Wagner continued to brainstorm late at night, taking notes when most people would be sleeping, she solidified her vision for the brand that would go on to become a top-selling women’s clothing line, now found at Macy’s, QVC and more.
In 2009, skinnytees officially launched. She bought the skinnytees website domain for a mere 99 cents, thanks to a bit of luck and encouragement from her son, David Schlesinger, who helps with marketing and brand development.
Yet Schlesinger-Wagner didn’t stop with simply selling skinnytees products. She enrolled herself in film school to learn how to present her brand on TV, found contractors worldwide to partner with, and took various business programs to become a savvier and more well-rounded entrepreneur.
A Family Business
Now, skinnytees is a family business. David Schlesinger serves as head of digital brand development, while Schlesinger-Wagner’s daughter, Annie Schlesinger, is head of marketing, creative content and project management.
“It’s a team effort,” Schlesinger-Wagner says. Together, the family continues to expand the brand and bring it to new frontiers. Their goal is to sell skinnytees products in Dubai.
Yet despite her success, Schlesinger-Wagner would never forget the challenges she overcame as a single woman navigating a divorce. skinnytees regularly holds fundraising events that raise money for women with breast cancer, among other crucial needs.
“I would always remember others and do lots of small things for big people,” Schlesinger-Wagner says. “That’s what we do, and we do it all the time.”
Schlesinger-Wagner also happily remarried and now resides with her husband, Paul Wagner. Together, they have 10 grandchildren and five great-grandchildren. While the older grandchildren haven’t expressed interest in the family business just yet, Schlesinger-Wagner is confident in its future and looks forward to continuing the brand.
“There’s a lot of business out there,” she says, “and a whole world out there.”