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sue cowie, 61, digital publications founder, los angeles

ageist EDITORS | march 29, 2018

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There are days when Sue Cowie doesn’t know what she got herself into. She started an athleisure-wear brand before lululemon was a spark in someone’s eye. She opened up a design store on Abbot Kinney in Venice Beach back when the pricey boulevard was gang territory.

But nothing could prepare her for the challenge — at 61 — of founding and running a digital publishing company.

“I don’t know that wisdom really helps [when it] comes to social media and analytics,” she told me. “It was extremely intimidating and overwhelming. I realized I didn’t have an option; if I wanted to have a business, I better get my head around it.”

And so here she is. The Fine Line magazine, now in its second year, has built up a loyal following as it aims to be the hub for women resolving to age with purpose and longevity in mind. Prominent among the articles on the site is Cowie herself, a native of England whose life has been defined both by a lust for adventure and the resolve needed to build businesses.

“I’m a true entrepreneur because I love to create things,” she says. So this week we wanted to talk to her about how she goes about doing that, and why her latest venture has been both the most meaningful and challenging thing she has ever done.

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Growing up in Devon, in the south of England, Cowie always had an irrepressible desire to take flight. Her home life wasn’t easy, and she was seized by the wanderlust that seemed to take hold of every young European in the 1970s. When a friend whose father worked at the British Embassy in Kuwait suggested they spend the summer working in the Persian Gulf country, she jumped at the chance.

She stayed ten years. When it was time to leave, she headed to Houston with the attitude that if that didn’t work out, she’d continue on to Brazil.

“Back then, everything was just waiting to be explored and I had no fears,” she says. “I was ready to keep going until I landed.”

She ended up working for a powerful politician in Houston who would eventually go on to become Texas secretary of state. Completely unexpectedly, she became immersed in the American political system until that ended and she began looking for the next thing.

She found it in running. Specifically, in the types of clothes she wanted to wear while running, but weren’t available. She wanted outfits that were both high performance and sexy looking. And so, without any sort of background in textiles or retail, she launched BIJU.

“It started out with me running around with bolts of material in my car trying to find people who could sew lycra, and going to trade shows,” she says. “I think what I am, I’m very creative and I had a very good eye for design. Found someone to help me…I just know I’m not skilled in certain areas, and I find great people to help me.”
This has proven to be the through line in Cowie’s story. She begins with a problem and quickly develops a vision for how to solve it. Whether or not she knows anything about the industry is secondary.

“It’s like a slide show in my brain,” she says. “I know what I want it to look like, I know why it should exist. I do tons and tons of research. And it’s kind of like building a house, and I build my way up.”

When she sold the clothing business and landed in LA, she fell in love with the grit and creative atmosphere of Venice. Before tech companies claimed its streets andGQ Magazine sounded Abbot Kinney’s death knell by anointing it the coolest block in America, Cowie opened a design store. It satisfied both her appreciation of beautiful things and her desire to fill her life with interesting people and characters, which the artist enclave had in spades — until it no longer did.

“The decline,” she says, “was slow and painful.”

But she had already been thinking about something else. There is a certain vulnerability around aging, and Cowie was determined not to let women go through that on their own. She saw white space for an ignored demographic: women over 45 who resolved to live life differently. Cowie, and The Fine Line, would be their guide.

“I had this great vision for this website,” she says. “It never occurred to me that after you build it, how do you get people to come?”

The 18 months since her launch haven’t always been easy. There have been slow starts and struggles of the kind affecting smaller digital publications everywhere: the dominance of social media platforms like Facebook shrinking audience size; the uphill battle for brand sponsors.

But through it Cowie has also found empowerment.

“Whenever I am in touch with this audience, with these women, I feel this warmth in my heart,” she says. “It’s so difficult in this time being a woman. It’s hard to see your looks changing and your body changing, and feel like you’re becoming invisible … but we’re all in this together. And it can be different. And that’s why I love what we’re doing.”

And her tribe is getting company.

“There’s not a lot of brands that are embracing this aging thing the way we are, but I think the needle is moving ever so slightly. Every millennial is going to turn 40,” she says. “Let’s not forget that.”