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TheStreet Open House

Janska's Erickson Breaks Mold for Older Entrepreneurs

Janska's Jan Erickson is the third successful women entrepreneur to be profiled in our October series celebrating National Women in Small Business Month.

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (TheStreet) -- Jan Erickson was 52 when she launched the hugely successful Janska clothing line.

Coming from restaurant management, she says she never dreamed she would be a successful entrepreneur, but it was a dream that led her on this path.

Erickson had volunteered at nursing homes and, after watching a friend who had a stroke and arthritis struggle with her clothing -- there are times she would come to visit and the woman would have a shawl haphazardly thrown over her, not providing any real warmth, or a jacket put on backward -- an idea started to form. Erickson literally dreamed of creating a jacket her dear friend could wear that would be easy to get on and off and provide ultimate comfort. That idea led to her launch of Janska in 2003.

The Colorado Springs, Colo.-based company that Erickson and her husband, Jon Thomas, own and manage focused originally on providing comfortable yet stylish clothing for aging consumers or those with mobility issues. Erickson says she had intended for her "Wellness Wear" clothing to be sold at home care stores. But a funny thing happened along the way: Baby boomers became interested in her designs.

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"We started the company thinking that is the area that we were going to focus on, but almost immediately -- within the first couple of years when we started taking the pieces to the market -- it was the boutiques that were predominantly interested in it," Jan Erickson says.

Even though Erickson and her husband had little retail experience, they weren't afraid to change gears and form a company that could meet the demand.

Today Janska is sold at 750 boutiques across the country and can be ordered online. With 36 employees, the company is on target to bring in annual sales of $2.2 million this year.

It was recognized as a 2012 Colorado Companies to Watch by the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade. The competition honors second-stage, privately held companies such as Janska that are described as developing valuable products and services, creating quality jobs, enriching communities and creating industries throughout the state.

"Comfortable, stylish clothes that are American made is really becoming our brand," she says. "And even though I'm passionate about creating clothing for people who have a more difficult time, it has not been specifically as successful as the boutique market."

"We have a belief that when women are buying the products for themselves, they may also connect the dots, thinking what a great fit this might be for a parent or a friend that is going through treatment," she says.

A conversation with Jan Erickson follows.

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