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Entrepreneurial Lessons from Caroline Davis, Cofounder of Worth

Quick, how many women entrepreneurs do you know who’ve led companies to $100 million or more? Or even male CEOs for that matter? For private companies, especially, the list would be short (although I am proud to note that our own chairman, Harry Lay, accomplished that feat as President/CFO of the architectural firm that oversaw Walmart’s U.S. buildouts from 1990-96).

According to reports, the list would include Caroline Davis, of Nashville, Tenn., creator and cofounder of luxury fashion company Worth New York. Now in her mid 70’s, Davis cofounded The Worth Collection, Ltd. in 1991 and continues to serve as the company’s co-chair from her current location in Nashville. Prior to Worth she also founded apparel company Carlisle (The Connaught Group) in 1981 and sold that business in 1990, after an initial 17 years in the sales and management of fashion.

With sales exceeding $95 million, the company that marks the pinnacle of Davis’ career, the 25-year-old luxury brand Worth New York (and its “W, by Worth” counterpart) is typically pegged as the high-end contender in the sales by associates sector that also includes Carlisle (her former company) and Doncaster.

Worth clothing is not available in retail. The company employs 750 associates who show the company’s collections four times a year. Customers purchase the designs by appointment in private homes, in showings that mirror the tradition of high-end couture in which select clientele purchase luxury clothing by appointment in the stylist’s own homes.

The company’s New York design team has gained a reputation for classic lines and impeccable detailing using luxury fabrics from the world’s highest-end mills. The pieces are not inexpensive: prices range from $200 to approximately $1,500 for apparel items from the Worth collection, with W by Worth representing a slightly more fashion-forward vision at a lower price point.

From its outcome, Worth would appear to be a dream come true, and Davis’ professional life a charmed existence. However, Davis acknowledges that her greatest skills were born from humble beginnings, and her greatest lessons learned occurred during conditions of strife. Great things emerge from simple beginnings. Davis began her career in fashion from her home, during her 20s, as a selling agent for Doncaster. At age 39, she began her own first company of women, for women. She was determined to chart her course in her new company without pulling away any of the sales associates she’d worked with in her prior position. Her professional network, then, was simply her wedding list. That set of connections, paired with contacts she’d made through Junior League and other community roles became her mailing list. “I’m starting a business in women’s fashion. Would you like to do this with me?”

To read the entire article go to http://www.forbes.com/sites/cherylsnappconner/2015/02/23/entrepreneurial-lessons-from-caroline-davis-co-founder-of-worth/