Believing In Yourself: How a 70-Year-Old Woman Came to Conquer The Retail World

I draw huge inspiration from Jennifer Hudson’s weight loss. But my guy friend didn’t recognize her story. Instead, he said Charles Barkley was an inspiration for losing weight. So I ask: Who is Charles Barkley? If you follow NBA players, you would know this Hall of Famer.

Regardless of whom you admire–a tough guy or a sexy chanteuse–the best way to start the new year is to BELIEVE that if THEY can do weight loss, YOU can too.

Switch the challenge now and focus on your career mojo. Begin by believing in yourself.

Despite consumers’ closed pocketbooks and the sputtering of businesses on Main Street, Mimi Filipovica offers true inspiration. In two weeks, she will open her third retail store at the tender age of 70. And if she can start something successful at 70, so can you!

modeling the latest fashion from Europe

A world-class example of how to be alluring in the party-perfect dress.

I first met Mimi two years ago when I entered Fiamor in Dobbs Ferry with a vague intention of finding a gift for my sister. In fact, I became one of the 80% of shoppers who leave with a purchase. Amid display cases filled with jewelry and baubles, aisles where manikins show the latest European gowns, racks of ultra-feminine suits, and every conceivable surface overflowing with scarves, gloves, and stylish handbags, there was Mimi, an expert conversationalist.

“When customers come in, I let them walk around and I study their manner. Then I ask: ‘Would you like me to help you?’ I interview them about the occasion, the place, et cetera. Then, I solve their problem.

“What’s offered here is the most upscale of European fashion, coming one year ahead of the market. I sold an ensemble like this–a lace-embedded jacquard suit–and the next year it was on the cover of Bloomingdale’s mail catalog.”

Her immigrant story began during the Thatcher era, when she started work as a nanny

This first store was launched 10 years after Mimi came to America from Bulgaria to pursue her dreams during the Thatcher and Reagan revolutions. She was 50 and nearly retired. In her home country, she had been the whiz of textile technology, going from factory to factory, telling them what to produce.

“I started in my 60’s with a $1,000 investment, after I had been a nanny in America for 10 years. I didn’t even speak English when I came here, so I really began at the bottom.”

She is quite modest in explaining how she decided on retail.

“I followed the rules. I opened an import/export company first to know the business side, and only later, with ten years of preparation and great success in importing, I developed the retail side.”

Why import? “I was very disappointed that Americans were shopping in the Gap. I wanted to show them a European boutique; that’s my contribution to America! Everybody in gray and dressing up in Target, I don’t like that. I aimed to conquer the high fashion clothing and accessories market.”

Fiamor did extremely well so three years ago, Mimi opened a second store in Tarrytown, and in two or three weeks’ time, will launch her third location.

view to the interior of Fiamor in Dobbs Ferry

Her stores are the place to find style without piggybacking on someone else's look.

It will carry certain brands from France, Italy and Canada, amid a gorgeous pastiche of Tuscan colors, murano glass and chandeliers. Each store has a slightly different focus, but all are upscale boutiques where she personally selects every item from the newest print tunics to Picasso-inspired silk jackets.

Her secret to success:

  • She is a schmoozer with incomparable warmth: “I love people, I love both negative and positive people.”
  • “I don’t sell, I dress people.”
  • “I am changing my shop non-stop. I’m always giving it a new look.”

In other words, she does not start with the product, she starts with the people.

Recently, two young boys came with their aunt to buy their mother a present. They were very passionate about what they picked. One child grabbed a cross and declared, “I must give this to my Mom.” The aunt replied, “That’s not a present,” but the boy insisted.

The next day, their mother entered the same shop. Her bare head was covered, but it was evident the woman had been through chemo.

“My heart sank when I saw her [the mother] as I had not known about her illness. I didn’t tell her that her son had bought a cross as a gift. She explained that she needed to shop in my store that very day because the doctors had just pronounced her free of cancer.

“We cried together. Imagine, for six months she didn’t do anything except battle cancer, and just before Christmas she heard she had won.”

New customers come to celebrate their sexy smaller size

Mimi offered yet another prime source of new customers: “Ladies who lose weight come here right away to reward themselves in their battle with the pounds. They ask me, ‘Why don’t you bring big sizes?’ because I only carry small or average sizes, and I answer, ‘You come to my size, you are going to feel better.’”

Mimi exudes ideas and creativity. “Creativity comes naturally. I have a lot of knowledge and huge experience traveling all around Europe. I love music and art, and that brings your ability up.”

Beyond the strategy to hold fashion shows in schools and churches, Mimi has conceived and implemented live street fashion shows where models literally walk up and down and across the street.

As part of Third Friday, and in collaboration with a hair salon across Main Street, Mimi created a fashion show with true urban mystique, where models sat on the windowsill of her store, strolled up and down the sidewalks, and posed for gawkers who snapped impromptu photos. “It was summertime and it went over beautifully. We really enjoyed ourselves, and I learned that two companies can work together to connect to customers.”

“Here I am running two stores and planning a third. I don’t have much time to manage construction, painters, and all the other details pre-launch, but working more than 60 hours a week I find the time anyway. I know that the store will be glorious.

“My advice: You need to be brave and BELIEVE. But you need to work hard, and not JUST believe.”

Do you doubt that this most passionate, inspiring woman will continue to convert customers as she expands her empire?

In a season when standard styling ideas will make you look as modern as an antique piano shawl, what lady wouldn’t crave some unique fancy … and a look personally selected just for her?

Photo courtesy of Creative Commons 2.0, camshot and Fiamor, Dobbs Ferry NY.

Are you starting your New Year with an invincible belief in yourself? Tell us about it in the comments.

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  • conflux

    Reminds me of the late Steve Jobs of Apple … passion and the love for what you do. It is not about the technology, it is about changing lives. This is inspiring.

    • Diane Dolinsky-Pickar

      Glad to be serving up something worthwhile!

  • Wendy Hanlan

    Oh ya – I’m inspired!! I do believe I’m going to take your advice and “focus on my career mojo”!

    • Diane Dolinsky-Pickar

      Wendy, you have what it takes, so I look forward to being regaled with stories of the giants you’ll be slaying and the customers you’ll be serving!

  • Sharon O’Day

    Interesting combination, Diane, of (1) letting her customers drive what products she offers, but first (2) defining her clientele tightly by allowing only certain people to become customers … by using a filter (dress size, in her case). Pull-push. Applied to information marketing, it’s the case of generating content that uniquely fills the needs of a client base … that you’ve defined very tightly, to the exclusion of others. Hmmm ….

    • Emily Anker

      Hi Sharon, my name is Emily and I work in Fiamor. I wanted to inform you that we actually don’t limit our clientele to just people in certain sizes. We actually do carry some items that are meant for people that are not average size.

      • Sharon O’Day

        Thanks for clarifying, Emily! I may have misunderstood. I was just pointing out that having a tightly defined target audience can be a very effective marketing strategy … in many industries!

        • Emily Anker

          I completely understand, the thing at Fiamor which i have learned from Mimi herself, that in retail you don’t want to discriminate, and when ever someone comes in the store you want them to feel so much better when they leave and know that we will not sell them something that we thought did not look good on the person or the person wasn’t comfortable in.

          • Sharon O’Day

            Wish Dobbs Ferry weren’t so far from South Florida. But I DO have friends in your area I’m sending this to … Look what you’ve started, Diane!

  • Pat Moon

    Such a beautiful story! I will be 69 in May so I am inspired! Thanks for sharing.

    • Diane Dolinsky-Pickar

      Pat, you’re most welcome. I appreciate you and your purposeful work, as well.

  • donna

    As the owner of Hair on the Hudson, I know Mimi very well as we work together with each other’s business. She is so very inspirational, with a great aura, and when she enters the salon everyone feels it. When I think about getting older I say I want to be just like Mimi–ambitious, driven and still wanting to share my talents. She is exceptional! Great article! Donna

  • Charlotte Lundberg

    Just loved the energy coming from Mrs Filipovica! I get inspired and realise that often many of the barriers we see are self constructed.

  • Debi

    Definitely putting this store on my places to go list.

  • Terry Shelton

    Very inspirational story. Thanks for sharing. Also, filled with some great business lessons that are timeless. Also, you don’t need a ton of money. Make your business about people!

  • Scott Hay

    Some great business lessons there, Diane. Thank you!

  • Hughie Bagnell

    Great article! awesome entrepreneurial spirit and flair! A beauty…Thank you for sharing! “Go-Givers Do Sell More!”.. Cheers, Hughie :)

  • Amy Kim

    I am very inspired by this great story! Thanks for sharing.

  • Anastasiya Day

    Thank you for sharing this story with us! I am very inspired too! Great post.

  • Claudia Looi

    Mimi proves success does not depend on age, background, language etc.You are an inspiration Mimi. I’m going to encourage my 70 year old mom and tell her your story. Thanks for sharing, Diane.

  • denny hagel

    Wonderful story of inspiration…As a grandmother raising teen grandchildren I often wonder if I am crazy for trying to run an online business but after reading this I feel like anything is possible! Thanks so much for sharing this!

  • Robyne Camp

    I love these kind of stories, they make my heart sing. We all need a lift, and I, especially, need one on a regular basis. But more than that, perseverance is quality you can never hear too much about because it pays dividends! So thanks, Diane, and give us more.

  • charlotte shapiro

    Dear Mimi,  I am sad that my figure is not welcome to find beautiful fashion in your stores.  This is a major problem for me everywhere around the world.  I am moving on up to 71 next month and will be seen publicly around the world.  I am not FAT, but have frontage girth…I have gorgeous legs, face and graying hair.  I want clothes that are attractive…that do not occupy more attention than my quality being.  Can you help me?

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