Creative Careers : Joan Lefkowitz Interview
Creative Careers in the Arts Interviews
'The Mother of Invention' Joan Lefkowitz
By Molly Anderson-Childers
This month, I'll be interviewing the fabulous Joan Lefkowitz, founder of Accessory Brainstorms and Accessory Resource Gallery. She started her New York showroom business as a licensing agent, consultant and sales representative for fashion accessory product lines in 1983. Known as "The Mother of Invention," she has become the premier expert at turning new inventions into highly recognized, commercially successful, products. Remember the Topsy Tail? Lefkowitz helped thrust the item to a $100 million gross. The French Twist Hairdini was another success story (reaping $20 million). Newer is a Lap-Top Manicure Tray, which lets women paint their nails anywhere from an airport lobby to a moving car.
Ms. Lefkowitz is a professional member of the United Inventors Association, and is on the board of advisors for the Hudson Valley Center for Contemporary Art. She has given guest seminars on the subject of "How to Get Your Invention to Market" for Inventors Workshop International Education Foundation, Los Angeles Patent Library, Ohio Inventors Council, The Learning Annex, as well as New York's Fashion Institute of Technology. Holding degrees from New York University and Brooklyn College, she began her professional life as a drama teacher. Together, we'll find out how she got from there to the lofty position she occupies today... Read on!
Q: As unlikely as it seems, you started your professional life as a drama teacher. How and why did you make the transition to a new career as a fashion accessory designer's sales representative?
A: I wanted to expand my life experience by taking on something that I did not know and learn how to do it. I made a list of my interests, and my strengths and weaknesses. I pruned my list and found I was most interested in taking innovative unknown products and making them available to people.
Q: Why did you decide to became involved with fashion accessory and lifestyle inventions? What originally sparked your interest in this fun, fabulous career?
A: In junior high school, I was crazy for fashion. Not being able to afford all the clothes that I loved, my mother suggested that I start 'accessorizing.' So all those years I was buying, evaluating, and analyzing accessories and unconsciously storing up knowledge.
Q: What did it take to be able to transition to a full time position as a licensing agent?
A: I opened my showroom, Accessory Resource Gallery, in 1984. I represented designers' product lines of all kinds of fashion accessories. In 1992 a woman came to me with a solitary patent-protected product, the Topsy Tail, and asked me to market it for her.
The product wasn't an accessory per se, but a tool to make fabulous hairstyles. How were we going to market a tool into the fashion market? This challenge and the success we had was the beginning of a whole new chapter in my career. Many inventors heard of our success with the Topsy Tail, and asked if we could do the same for their inventions. Thus, in 1994, we started a new division of the company, which we named Accessory Brainstorms. This company is a marketer, licensing agent and consultant for fashion, beauty, and lifestyle inventions.
Q: Are there any challenges specific to women who are working in this field?
A: Many inventors lack the business experience to get their products from 'mind to market.' We give seminars at the Learning Annex, the Fashion Institute of Technology Continuing Education Department, and the Yankee Invention Convention, laying out the steps to take to get an invention ready for the marketplace.
Q: Our local elementary schools recently hosted an "Invention Convention" for students. Some of their ideas were truly amazing! Was there anything similar offered at your school when you were a young woman?
A: No, nothing like this existed in my public school education in Brooklyn back in the day. Had there been, my interest in inventions might have been piqued at a much earlier age.
Q: Do you feel that events like this are important in generating the inventors and new products of the future?
A: Yes, it creates a wonderful opportunity for young people to challenge themselves creatively.
Q: You're obviously a creative powerhouse. How did you find an outlet for your creativity as a child? Did all those bright ideas ever get you into trouble?
A: No, I was a quiet child. My creative outlets were acting, singing, costume design, and writing. I had no idea that I had some kind of a 'gift.'
Q: Your website is a fabulous resource for inventors. Aside from the excellent information offered there, do you have any general advice for young people hoping to break into this field?
A: Read books and magazine articles anything and everything that has to do with inventions and entrepreneurialism. Use the Web to study what is going on in the marketplace.