If you’ve watched Amazon’s The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, then you know Alex Borstein. Her character, Susie Myerson, is the brash, straight-talking underdog who becomes new comedian Midge Maisel’s agent, doing her darndest to break Midge into the comedy spotlight.
But starring on an Emmy-winning TV show isn’t the only thing keeping Borstein busy. Recently, she launched Henabees, a line of detachable sleeves inspired by Borstein’s own experiences on the red carpet. She noticed that most of the dresses available for women on the red carpet were sleeveless—but what about women who didn’t want to go sleeveless?
Thus, Henabee’s was born.
It’s not everyday that an actor is also an inventor-entrepreneur. What’s more, Borstein has grounded her business in a strong purpose, honoring fearless, risk-taking women like singer and civil rights activist Josephine Baker, singer Madeline Kahn, and trick rider Tillie Baldwin.
I sat down with Borstein to discuss her entrepreneurial journey and how she’s succeeding in such a competitive space.
Q: A common piece of advice in business is often to “stay in your lane.” You are an actress and an entrepreneur and clearly not following that adage. What’s your take on that?
A: I’ve never been good at following directions. The opposite seems to be the only direction I enjoy. I’m an old broad and I only want to do things that bring me joy or impact others positively at this point in my life. I’m not interested in staying in any lane or arriving anywhere in particular.
Q: What have you learned about business from the character, Susie Myerson, you play in Mrs. Maisel?
No one will ever work for you the way you will work for yourself. Whether it’s as an actor, or as a writer, or even advocating for yourself when it comes to your health and medical needs, you have to make some noise. You have to reach a little and you have to be persistent.
Q: Apparel is a very competitive industry. How do you and Henabees stand out?
A: Henabee’s is a very special little item. It’s a niche little corner of the market that has been neglected. I made them to fill a void that I saw in the fashion world. I made them to solve my problem with most dresses out there. They have changed my life and if anyone else benefits from that, I’m thrilled.
Q: What’s the one thing you’ve learned about launching your own line that’s really surprised you?
I’m always fascinated by people who want to tell me what I should be making next.
Humans assume you must want to branch out and become a monster retailer or something. I’m so happy just playing in this particular sandbox.
I’m also surprised at how many hurdles are in place against small businesses. It is almost impossible to grow a business with all of the twists and turns and regulations and fees. Our system makes it much easier to turn a million dollars into 100 million, rather than one dollar into two.
Q: What advice do you have for those looking to launch a product or service that don’t have your brand recognition?
A: My best advice is to make something you really believe in. Something that isn’t out there. Fill a void, take up space. And do not launch until you are ready and have a plan in place. Make a business plan. It may not always work or become your model, but every script needs an outline to tell a great story.