Award-winning Falmouth business proves age is only a number

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FALMOUTH — Darlene Field, 75, was at a time in her life when she needed to reinvent herself, so she went back to work.

She’s been working at Couleur Collection, a women’s clothing store in the Shops at Falmouth Village on Route 1, for nearly five months and said the working environment is just what she needed.

“It’s been very therapeutic. The customers are so joyous and interesting and I just love it. It’s lovely to have a delightful job,” Field said.

She’s one of 10 Couleur Collection employees who are over 50 and one of seven over the age of 70 – including the owner, Marcia Feller, who is 71.

For its support of mature workers, the business recently won the Silver Collar Employer Award from the State Workforce Board’s Older Worker Committee.

The award “honors employers whose policies and practices match the needs of mature employees, capturing their skills and experience, strong work ethic, flexibility, and enthusiasm,” according to the Older Worker Committee website.

In light of Maine’s aging population, the workforce board hopes to encourage businesses to employ more older workers, especially since those 55 and over already comprise 28 percent of the state’s labor force.

For Feller, employing mature workers happened naturally, since  many of her employees have been with Couleur Collection since it opened 18 years ago. Feller said her only goal at that time was to “create a work environment that I love and that (makes) the staff want to be here.”

She doesn’t have a store manager and nearly every employee has keys to the store. In addition, Feller said, all her employees have input into product selection and how to display items to the best advantage.

While Feller didn’t start out with the idea of having a mostly mature workforce, these days she said being over 55 is “almost the entry-level age for us.” She manages to retain her employees, Feller said, because she creates a work environment that’s “engaging, creative and flexible.”

What makes the store unique, she said, is that all of the clothing is sorted by color and all of the wall space is dedicated to displaying the work of local emerging artists.

Feller, who lives on Cousins Island, said she’s “so excited” that her “little family company” was chosen to win the Silver Collar award. “Our motto, really since the beginning,” she said, “has been ‘It is not an age, it’s an attitude.'”

Field said she was a loyal customer of Couleur Collection for many years, but it wasn’t until after her husband died that she considered working there. She said Feller sent an email to her customers asking if anyone was interested in part-time work.

Field responded and was hired.

She called Couleur Collection “a fabulous place,” and said Feller “really sets the tone. She’s great at recognizing people’s strengths. This is just what work should be.”

Nancy Foster-Wolf, 71, who has worked at the store for the past 13 years, said, “I can’t imagine doing anything else. Here I can be with friends in a wonderful environment where I’m valued.”

She said mature workers bring a lot to the table, including a strong work ethic and life experience.

And, most importantly, Foster-Wolf said, “they show up. They’re reliable.”

Kate Irish Collins can be reached at 710-2336 or kcollins@theforecaster.net. Follow Kate on Twitter: @KIrishCollins.

Marcia Feller, left, owner of the Couleur Collection women’s clothing store in Falmouth, with two of her 10 “silver-haired” employees: Darlene Field, 75, and Nancy Foster-Wolf, 71.

Couleur Collection is in the Shops at Falmouth Village on Route 1.

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