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The Mannequin Fascination That Spurred a Sustainable Business

This entrepreneur made a purchase out of liquidation and found her niche reselling castoffs from major fashion brands. 

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Illustration: Gwendal Le Bec for Bloomberg Businessweek

Judi Townsend was searching for Tina Turner concert tickets on Craigslist one day in 2000 when she spotted an advertisement for a mannequin for sale from a shop in Oakland, Calif. “I’d always wanted a mannequin to mosaic and put in my garden,” she says. When she ventured to the mannequin rental store, she discovered that the owner was liquidating. On a whim, she bought his inventory of 50 mannequins for $2,500, kicking off her entrepreneurial journey.

“There was nothing that made logical sense about doing that,” she says. “I was trusting my gut.” Twenty years later, her email signature is “We work with a bunch of stiffs and we love it!” Here’s how Townsend parlayed her gutsy move into Mannequin Madness, a thriving business that rents and sells figures in a diverse array of sizes and skin tones: