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The grandmother of invention

Last updated on: December 11, 2007 15:55 IST

When you call the home of Lisa Gable, the 84-year-old entrepreneur answers the phone with the same greeting every time: "L.G. Accessories, home of the Strap-Mate." Gable's voice is full of energy when she speaks about the intimate apparel company she founded at age 70, and has been running for the past 14 years.

L.G. Accessories, which is based out of Gable's home in East Windsor, N.J., markets the Strap-Mate, Gable's solution to a common female problem -- the falling bra strap. The device hooks horizontally to the back straps of a woman's bra, preventing them from slipping off the shoulders and creating an uncomfortable situation.

The idea for the Strap-Mate was born of Gable's own discomfort and years of frustration trying to conceal fallen bra straps during sales presentations. "Necessity is the mother of invention," Gable says. "When you have a problem and you need to fix it, you find a way to do something about it."

The first thing Gable did was to assess the market for her concept. She surveyed 200 women and found that a third of them identified with her problem. That constituency was all the confirmation Gable needed to launch a business -- never mind that she was pushing 70 and had little chance of getting the business financed. But Gable refused to let her age, or her gender, deter her.

She proceeded to get a patent for the Strap-Mate and financed the business with her own credit cards. The rest, according to Gable, was easy. "I have been in the business world all my life," Gable says, noting that she worked alongside her husband at Chemco Distributors, the industrial chemical business Gable's parents founded. She used some of that second-hand knowledge to secure a local manufacturer and a national distributor for the Strap-Mate.

Early on, Gable pitched the Strap-Mate to Fashion Forms, a major distributor of women's accessories to department stores in the United States and abroad. Fashion Forms has worked with Gable for more than 10 years and has helped get her products on the shelves of major retailers like Nordstrom and JCPenney, as well as other specialty stores nationwide.

L.G. Accessories also recently launched a website, which generates individual orders -- mainly from customers in remote parts of the country -- and is largely operated by Gable's son, Steve.

Over the years, L.G. Accessories has expanded its product line. One of Gable's other bestsellers is a divided laundry bag used for washing bras and other delicates.

In 1999, Gable was honored by the New Jersey Institute of Technology as an independent inventor, and was inducted into the school's Inventor's Hall of Fame. This year, Gable received the Prime Time award from Experience Works, a non-profit senior employment organization.

As she enters her 15th year in business, Gable is still very much the face of L.G. Accessories -- acting as the president and CEO -- despite a recent hip surgery that has kept her from tending to the day-to-day operations. During a business trip to New York this summer, Gable was knocked over getting out of a cab and broke her hip for the second time. Her son, Steve, has been keeping the business running while she recovers.

Gable says she is eager to get back to her regular routine at home, where she spends her days checking on order fulfillment, speaking with customers and her distributor, and working with her son on ideas for new product development.

At her age, Gable doesn't think of her business so much as work, but more as a way to serve others. "As long as we are in stores where the products are accessible to the general public, I'm happy," she says.

Owning a business, Gable adds, has also given her a great sense of pride and purpose in her latter years. "If you have a reason to get up in the morning, that's the greatest reason to live."

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Tamara Schweitzer, Inc.com