50-plus, female, entrepreneur!

16.12.2019 | Text Sophia Steube

Jackie Villevoye, designer, founder and CEO of Jupe by Jackie
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Seven women over 50 discuss their infectious passion for reinvention, and share advice for the younger and their fellow generation of female business leaders.

Women over 50 are enjoying more freedom than ever. They are in what diversity activist Tracy Gray calls the “I don’t care what people think” age. These middle-aged entrepreneurs are designing their first collections, creating companies, revolutionising the beauty industry, and becoming professional athletes and publishers. We sat down with seven ladies who amaze us with their blazing enthusiasm and strength. We are proud to introduce: Generation Gold.

Jackie Villevoye, 62: Bringing a little humour to fashion

Jackie Villevoye, designer, founder and CEO of Jupe by Jackie

© Remco Von De Sanden

When I turned 24, I had the first of my five children and dropped out of law school to devote the next 30 years or so to my family. When my three boys and two girls left home, I decided to set up something of my own. So I took a trip to India and decided afterwards to establish a company specialising in handmade embroidery, working with Indian master embroiderers. We design clothing and a textile interior line for people who appreciate elegance with a wink. I’m proud to say that I work with the same Indian embroiderers as I did when I started out. We follow the slow fashion principle by only producing items to order. I believe companies can benefit from a feminine sensibility, and mothers are experts at multi-tasking. Since I am a workaholic, I’m always busy. Where do I see myself in five years? Not retired, that’s for sure.

Laura Silverman, 56: Teaching us about nature

Laura Silverman, naturalist and founder of The Outside Institute

© Martyn Thompson

You don’t reinvent yourself at a certain age; you just continue to evolve. The older you get, the more aware you become of what you need from life. Two years ago, I turned my love of nature into my job when I launched The Outside Institute. We offer a year-round programme that includes nature walks, forest bathing and sustainable foraging, and we collaborate with experts such as botanists and herbalists. It has been scientifically proven that spending time in nature reduces stress, blood pressure and cholesterol while boosting overall mood. I love seeing the delight in the participants in our excursions. My advice to women is this: Don’t compare yourself to others. Embrace failure as part of success. Don’t feel pressured to have children. Do what truly, deeply moves you, and do it at your own pace.

Tracy Gray, 56: Fighting for more diversity

Tracy Gray, engineer and founder of We Are Enough and The 22 Fund

© Weareageist

When you reach your 50s and 60s, you know what you want. It’s the “I don’t care what people think” age. Life is a path with many wrong turns, but these missteps help us recognise a theme; look for this theme and connect it to your passion. For example, I used to work as an engineer on the NASA Space Shuttle programme before moving to the music industry and then into the world of venture capital. I now apply all the skills and experience I’ve accrued to my own investment firm, The 22 Fund. At my non-profit, We Are Enough, I aim to educate and activate women, and I firmly believe that everything I do fosters diversity, inclusion and equity in the business world. We women are open to new ideas, welcome everybody and value teamwork. Instead of pleading with men to invest in women, we need to invest in women ourselves.

Jaswant Kular, 69: Sharing her Indian heritage with the world

Jaswant Kular, food entrepreneur behind Jaswant’s Kitchen

© Akbar Ahmad

I’ve always been passionate about healthy Indian food, but my twin daughters had the idea of turning this passion into a company. They encouraged me to share my Punjabi heritage with my new home country of Canada by developing a product line based on my own homemade spice mixes. Women of my age have grown wiser, more experienced and more flexible than they were, so after raising four children and helping my husband in his medical practice, I decided it was time to listen to my own needs and pursue my dreams. Anyone starting a new path needs to realise how difficult it can be to stay balanced in our modern world with all its opportunities. You have to identify what’s important to you and focus without worrying too much about the outcome. Success takes time, and it’s important to enjoy all facets of life – family, good food, singing and dancing.

Susan Feldman, 64: Making women visible

Susan Feldman, creator of the In The Groove online platform

© Manuel Rodriquez

Old and grey. That is how society pictures women my age. But it doesn’t reflect reality: we have sharp intellect, impeccable taste, hard-earned wisdom and a dark sense of humour. Though women my age have entered a joyful stage of life, many of them still feel invisible. That’s why two years ago, I launched In The Groove, a digital lifestyle platform for women over 50. Until then, there were scarcely any smart and stylish websites reflecting the needs of mature women. I wanted to create a community that addresses the challenges of fully harnessing your potential and of ageing with grace. Let’s keep being the best we can be, and let’s keep learning, especially when it comes to technology. Those of us who have enjoyed success should share what we have learned with younger females; we all need to support each other.

Tricia Cusden, 71: Emphasising the beauty of ageing

Tricia Cusden, face of the beauty brand Look Fabulous Forever

© Simon Songhurst

On turning 65, I realised I would likely live for another 30 years, so I searched for an interesting new project for my life’s next chapter. Look Fabulous Forever is a response to the beauty industry’s anti-ageing rhetoric, something I completely oppose. We want to uncover the beauty of getting older. I’ve worked as a teacher and set up a consulting company, and still draw on those experiences now. I’ve never permitted myself to think I’m too old to do something, and as a digital entrepreneur, I had to quickly learn how to engage with social media. I am occasionally a bit fearful, but when I’m confronted with a challenge, I ask myself, “What’s the worst that could happen?” My answer is always: “I can cope with the worst-case scenario.” This determination helps me keep going.

Ernestine Shepherd, 83: Strengthening herself and others

Ernestine Shepherd, personal trainer and, until recently, bodybuilder

© Getty Images

My sister, Velvet, encouraged me to work out regularly, and we started training together when I turned 56. But then she got ill. Before she died, she asked me to fulfil her dream of becoming a bodybuilder, so at 71 I began training to do just that. Her dream has kept me motivated all these years. My mantra is printed on all my shirts: “Determined, dedicated, disciplined to be fit.” Following this mantra, I’ve participated in nine contests and come first several times. Today, I work as a personal trainer – another of my sister’s dreams. I’m proud to have kept my promise to her, and I feel fitter now than I did when I was 40. To keep moving is good for the body and soul. Decide what you want to do and then get on with it – anything is better than lying on the sofa. I love to motivate people. And I’m proof that age is just a number.

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