By Theodore N. Beitchman

Look closely and look quickly.

Otherwise you’ll miss Nancy Connor.

There she is at a Philly Fashion Incubator event at an art gallery in Olde Kensington or a Fashion Week kick-off at Macy’s.

Or chatting up Eagles legendary linebacker and fashion plate Seth Joyner at the Franklin Institute Awards.

And joining master marketer Mary Dougherty for an event at the Nicole Miller boutique on Main Street in Manayunk.

Now she’s hustling up to Manhattan for the Tory Burch Foundation Embrace Ambition Summit at Lincoln Center.

No, Connor isn’t a jet-setter like the Philly burbs-born Burch.

Just a supremely confident entrepreneur doing what she does best:

Selling herself and ultimately her product, Smart Adaptive Clothing.

Home – v2

 

There was a time when fashion was pretty basic.

In business, men wore suits, dress shirts, ties and shined up clunky shoes. Women wore dresses or spiffy skirts and blouses or slacks and heels, the higher the better.

Times change and so do dress codes, so that today most business people — even attorneys — only wear suits and ties or designer dresses and pearls if they have to: I. e., when they go to court or are pitching new clients.

Retail has followed suit, pardon the expression.

Amazon has so popularized online shopping that it seems the only reason people schlep to a mall is to return things they have bought online.

Storefronts on Philly’s Walnut Street or Madison Avenue in Manhattan go empty for months or years.

 

Enter Nancy Connor, with a nudge from Oprah Winfrey.

Connor was a Temple undergrad in the late 1980s watching an Oprah show on young entrepreneurs.

“I wanted to make some money to afford a share in a summer shore house,” she says in an early March breakfast interview.

“And that show gave me the idea to start a cleaning business. It worked well enough that I kept the business going for six years and that paid my way through college.”

She broomed the cleaning business after graduation and took a sales job with MCI, spent two years in Hawaii selling for AT&T, then came back home when her mom got sick in 1996.

Home was Erdenheim, just over the line from Chestnut Hill, where she had gone to Mt. Saint Joseph’s Academy in Flourtown — a good Catholic girl in her uni and reverse navy blue and white saddle shoes.

Her mom died in 2003, and Connor, who was climbing the corporate ladder at Dentsply Sirona, a dental equipment company, was transferred to Hoboken, NJ, to manage North and South America business units, including sales in north Jersey, Manhattan, Long Island and  D. C.

She was transferred back to Philly, where her dad, Bo, who had been a successful businessman, was starting to slow down. He was in an assisted care facility, where he had broken his hand and the same hip twice, and the staff was dressing him in tees and sweats, where he had always worn sharp button-downs and khakis.

“There has to be a better way,” Connor said then and again a week or so ago.

Bo passed away in July 2016, and Connor cut the corporate cord and quit her job on Nov. 30, 2017, to start Smart Adaptive Clothing.

With no experience in retail or running a business since her cleaning company more 30 years ago.

 

“I was starting from scratch,” Connor says as she sips her tea. “I did some prototypes at home, called some manufacturers.”

She didn’t seek investors and has bootstrapped from the get-go.

But, most importantly, she had an idea.

“Velcro — the biggest issue my dad faced was buttoning his shirts,” she says. “So to me Velcro made the most sense.”

There are buttons on the front of Smart shirts, but they’re for show. Velcro is attached to the collar, placket and cuffs for easy dressing and undressing.

It sounds so simple it’s surprising no one had thought of it before Connor did.

Sort of like twist-off caps for soda bottles or low-fat cottage cheese.

Well, twist-off caps anyway.

Connor is the SAC manager and also the starting pitcher.

“I went to the LA Abilities Expo,” she says, “and I couldn’t believe how many vendors were there selling clothing for persons with disabilities.”

Locally, Connor made a quick connection with Susan G. Komen, the gold standard of non-profits dealing with breast cancer survivors.

Even during our interview, she was introduced to a 70-ish Philly Common Pleas Court judge in need of sartorial help, and she pitched him before he could sit down.

And, like Velcro, many prospective customers attached to Connor’s’ Smart products, which for now only include shirts for men and women for $79 and women’s dresses for $99, but will soon expand.

“The plan is to add jeans this year but there’s no hard date at this point,” Connor says.  “Pants to follow for men and women.

“We will have additional items in the future such as jackets, sweaters, more dresses, perhaps swimwear and beyond.”

Mary Pat Bloom (left) is a 60-year-old Delaware-based model and actor  who “saw Nancy on Instagram and messaged her.

“My dad had neuropathy because of diabetes and Nancy’s dad’s story resonated with me.”

Bloom, who is a cancer survivor and occasionally has left side weakness, headed to an event at Nicole Miller in Manayunk and “I saw how cute Nancy’s products are.

“I asked if she needed any help and am delighted to model for her. The red shirt looked like I didn’t even need to iron it. I could wear it again with no wrinkles or cleaning … it’s as soft as can be … I believe in what Nancy does.”

So does Vito Cosmo (below left), a 56-year-old retired managing director at the Grant Thornton accounting firm who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease in 2012.

“I met Nancy at a Nicole Miller event for the Parkinson  Council. Our executive director Wendy Lewis couldn’t make it so she asked me to attend,” says Cosmo, who lives in Fort Washington.

“After I did a little speech I met Nancy and bought the blue shirt. I struggle with buttons on my cuffs and these shirts are perfect because of the Velcro. It makes it pretty easy. I have one and am planning to buy more. Now I don’t have to ask my wife to help.”

Nancy has filled her niche in the disability community, but…

“We hope to be mainstream in about five years,” she says. “But the biggest challenge is awareness. “We’re a 50-50 men/women business so there is plenty of room to grow.”

Tom Hilfiger started a similar line, but it is doubtful he has the zealousness of Nancy Connor, who works 24/7/365 and has little time for leisure.

Though she does keep fit with running, cross-fit and yoga and sees an occasional movie.

“We have sold on the Philly Fashion Week and London Fashion Week sites. And Smart Adaptive Clothing is available on PattiandRicky.com, an adaptive marketplace; Alzstore.com, aimed at people with Alzheimer’s, dementia and their caregivers; and Samantabullock.com, clothing and jewelry for folks with disabilities and able-bodied based in London.”

Connor is in final talks with a major online retailer, but that’s hush-hush for now.

Look closely and look quickly.

You’ll be seeing Nancy Connor on Oprah or Ellen in the next year or two.

Or maybe you’ll be seeing them on her show.