Some people look forward to retirement for years, planning winter trips to warm places and long afternoons to relax.
But Norma Kamali, who turned 77 in June, hasn’t once thought of retiring.
In fact, the celebrated fashion designer and owner of Norma Kamali Inc. has just signed a long-term lease on a new office in Manhattan’s West Village neighborhood.
“I don’t think you can retire from a creative life,” she tells CNBC Make It. “Doing this job is like breathing for me.”
When friends or colleagues announce her retirement, Kamali admits that she feels “anxious.” “I think, ‘God, why would you want to do that?'” she explains. “I’m not sure what retirement would be like for me…but it’s just a different point of view I have on life, and I’m so grateful to do the job that I do. I want to take every opportunity I can in this life.”
Kamali opened her first store in New York City in 1969 with her then-husband, designing clothes inspired by the vintage fashions of the 1930s and 1940s, as well as the vibrant outfits she saw women wearing on the streets of London.
Since then, her fashion empire has outgrown the tiny basement boutique where she began building it: celebrities like Mindy Kaling, Heidi Klum, Christina Aguilera, and Eva Longoria have worn her designs on magazine covers and red carpets around the world.
Still, Kamali’s proudest accomplishment isn’t the accolades she’s received or the fame of her designs in Hollywood—it’s being the sole owner of her company and not having any debt.
“I really fought for a creative life and the ability to say no,” she says. “I’ve had a lot of interesting challenges being a woman and a business owner, like people putting pressure on me to sell my company or hire a partner.”
“I really had to learn how to run a business without any role models or mentors to look up to, and I had to learn how to connect with my staff and get the same respect that men would get in my position.”
Humor has, and continues to be, one of the strategies Kamali uses to build strong relationships at work.
“Tasteful humor is the best way to offer someone advice, feedback, or even criticism without hurting their feelings, especially when you want them to benefit from the advice and still feel good about it,” she says.
Looking ahead, Kamali is excited to continue working in fashion for as long as she can. She says she’s fine with aging, too, unless someone hints that her age brings limitations.
“When I turned 65, I learned how to do a split,” he says. “Challenging myself, trying something new, and practicing discipline until I reached my goal gave me tremendous confidence that I take with me to my job…and a strong sense of confidence makes success more likely.”
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