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Blue Origin’s New Shepard Rocket Launches a New Line of Business

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West Texas is not quite like the moon. But it can serve as a handy stand-in.

On Tuesday, Blue Origin, the rocket company started by Jeffrey P. Bezos, the chief executive of Amazon, launched — and landed — its small New Shepard rocket and capsule for the 13th time as part of tests to verify safety before any passengers climb aboard.

One day, this will be New Shepard’s main business: flying well-to-do people above the 62-mile altitude generally considered the beginning of outer space where they will experience a few minutes of weightlessness as the capsule arcs.

Blue Origin is not a new company — Mr. Bezos founded it in 2000 — but for most of its existence, it operated in secret without generating much revenue. Three years ago, Mr. Bezos said he was selling a billion dollars a year in Amazon stock to finance Blue Origin’s research and development. And he has declared broad ambitions for its business, such as competing with Elon Musk’s SpaceX and others in the orbital launch business, building a moon lander for NASA astronauts and eventually making it possible for millions of people to live and work in space.

But the cargo of Tuesday’s launch from a test site near Van Horn, Texas, shows that the company is finding a more modest business in the short term: turning the reusable New Shepard rocket and capsule into an effective, and profitable, platform for testing new technologies and performing scientific experiments.

“It was fantastic,” said Erika Wagner, Blue Origin’s payload sales director, who was in West Texas. “We were watching across the valley and watching the rocket climb up.”

Tucked under the collar at the top of the booster on Tuesday’s launch were prototypes of sensors that could help NASA astronauts safely reach the lunar surface in a few years. It is part of NASA’s Tipping Point program, which seeks to push innovative technologies.

“Although not identical to a lunar lander, it is representative in that full-flight profile of approaching at a high rate of speed, and then throttling up an engine and doing a propulsive landing,” said Stefan Bieniawski, who leads the Blue Origin side of the partnership with NASA. “In fact, I think we’re actually at slightly higher speeds than you would be approaching the moon. So it gives a little bit of a stress test for some of these sensors.”

Unlike NASA’s Apollo missions from 1969 to 1972, which visited different parts of the moon, the space agency’s current Artemis program aims to make repeated visits near the lunar South Pole, where eternally shadowed craters contain large amounts of water ice. That will require the ability to land close to the same spot again and again.

To that end, NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va., has spent years developing a system that bounces light off the surface to measure altitude and velocity of a descending spacecraft. This technology, lidar, short for light detection and ranging, is similar to radar, but it should be able to provide more precise readings.

ImageAlthough no astronauts were on board this flight, astronauts will one day enjoy this view from what Blue Origin calls the “biggest windows to have ever flown in space.”
Credit…Blue Origin

A second NASA system aboard Tuesday’s launch was a test of what is known as terrain relative navigation. Because there are no global positioning system satellites orbiting the moon, a spacecraft has to rely on its own smarts to determine its exact location. With this navigation system, a computer compares images taken by a camera with those stored onboard to determine its location.

The navigation system was turned on close to where the New Shepard booster reached its highest point.

“The terrain navigation does not sit there and say, ‘Hey, I see a crater,’” Mr. Bieniawski said. “It’s really looking for contrasts in the scene. And in that way, it really doesn’t care whether it’s on the moon or whether it’s here on Earth.”

NASA paid Blue Origin $1.5 million to mount its systems on two flights of New Shepard. The second flight will add another lidar instrument that will create a three-dimensional map of the landscape below in order to identify and avoid obstacles.

“Our goal is to ready a plug-and-play precision landing system that NASA and industry can use based on a mission’s specific need,” Jim Bridenstine, the NASA administrator, said in a statement. “This integrated New Shepard test will put us on that path, giving us unmatched intel about how the sensors, algorithms, and computer work together.”

While there were no people in the New Shepard capsule on Tuesday, it was not empty. It carried NASA-financed science experiments as well as experimental cargo from private companies. New Shepard flights have already carried more than 100 payloads to the edge of space.

“We make money on every flight,” said Bob Smith, the chief executive of Blue Origin.

Dr. Wagner of Blue Origin said the scientists came to West Texas and were excited to watch the launch and start digging into the results the same day. “They’re just bouncing up and down on their toes,” she said.

The experiments on Tuesday’s flight included the second iteration of a project from Daniel Durda, a scientist at the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colo. He called it BORE II, where BORE is a simple acronym for Box of Rocks Experiment.

“It’s literally a box of rocks,” Dr. Durda said.

He is trying to develop a system that can scoop up samples of dirt from an asteroid. BORE II contains crushed-up material that is similar in composition to certain carbon-rich asteroids.

During the weightless portion of the flight, a tetrahedron-shaped collection device, which Dr. Durda called a starfish, will unfold. Magnets mounted on the outer triangles — the arms of the starfish — should attract and hold onto some of the crushed rocks. The device will then fold up again, trapping the material.

“It’s kind of a biomimicry thing if you think about it,” Dr. Durda said. “The way starfish feed is they kind of extrude their stomach out and they pull them back in and collect what they’re doing. That’s kind of what we’re doing here.”

By testing the design on a suborbital flight, Dr. Durda can find out how much material can be collected and whether the apparatus operates without jamming.

“It’s the very first step in understanding how you might incorporate a sampler mechanism like this into a spacecraft rendezvous mission where you dump maybe dozens, many dozens of these little things across the surface of an asteroid,” he said.

Credit…Blue Origin

In the past, scientists wanting to study something in a weightless environment had other methods, but they all had drawbacks. They could drop an object off a tower, offering a few seconds of zero gravity or put an experiment on an airplane flying a path of an object in free fall, which provided about 20 seconds of floating.

The luckiest experimenters could endeavor to be selected among the few projects sent to orbit, first on the space shuttle and now to the International Space Station.

Vehicles known as sounding rockets also headed to about the same altitude as New Shepard goes, but because they flew only once, they were much more expensive. Tuesday’s New Shepard vehicle has launched and landed seven times.

With the new suborbital vehicles that fly repeatedly, the price of getting to space is much lower for NASA as well as for academic and private scientists.

The most popular option, Mr. Smith said, is what Blue Origin calls a single storage locker. “That starts around $100,000 for about 25 pounds and something the size of, let’s say, a microwave,” he said. “But we also have many payloads that we use with students that go as low as $8,000.”

The suborbital research is a also sign that Blue Origin is making a turn to becoming a profitable business as it prepares to sell tickets to space tourists. It has yet to announce a date or price for those flights.

“It’s been a lot of growth in facilities personnel actually trying to understand how do we run this much more like a business as opposed to a research organization,” Mr. Smith said. “We’ve also gone from virtually zero revenue to now making hundreds of millions of dollars of revenue annually.”

The company has competition for the market of sending experiments to space. Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic, which also plans to send space tourists on suborbital jaunts, has been flying experiments during its test flights. One from University of Florida scientists, for example, tested imaging technologies that capture the reaction of plants — what genes are turned on and off — to the stresses of spaceflight. (The same scientists had another iteration of the experiment aboard Tuesday’s Blue Origin flight.)

Virgin Galactic’s space plane is flown by two pilots, so it has carried people to space, but it will not fly paying passengers until next year.

“The whole view of using these vehicles for research purposes has moved into the mainstream, and NASA has now been funding a lot of that kind of work.” said S. Alan Stern, associate vice president of the space science and engineering division at Southwest Research Institute.

Credit…Blue Origin

When Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic start flying people, that will open an opportunity for scientists to accompany their experiments. That could greatly simplify some research, because scientists are much more flexible than machines.

“There are many things you can do with humans in the loop just because automation is expensive,” Dr. Stern said. “And automation is failure prone.”

Southwest Research Institute has purchased seats for its scientists on future Virgin Galactic flights.

“We have to resort to automation in spaceflight, because it’s been expensive and difficult to send the experimenter,” Dr. Stern said, “but in every other field, from volcanology to oceanography to polar studies, we send the experimenters into the field to do the experiment.”

One of those seats is to be filled by Dr. Durda, who will accompany a future Box of Rocks experiment.

By operating the experiment himself, he says he would gain direct experience with how these materials behave on an asteroid.

“I think it’s very important for us to understand the conditions on their surfaces at a ‘gut instinct’ level the same way a field geologist walking a Western desert landscape here on Earth does,” Dr. Durda said.

“We’ve attained that level of familiarity in just about every other aspect of field and laboratory science,” he said. “It’s long past time for space scientists to be able to work with that same enabling benefit.”

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Plan for Large Purchases with This Budgeting App Designed for Couples

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This app was made to help couples save.

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October 24, 2020 2 min read

Disclosure: Our goal is to feature products and services that we think you’ll find interesting and useful. If you purchase them, Entrepreneur may get a small share of the revenue from the sale from our commerce partners.

Budgeting for your future can be difficult. Budgeting for a joint future with your significant other can be even harder. Whether you’re planning a big vacation, a wedding, a property purchase, or you just want to get your money in order, managing two sets of finances is a challenge. That’s why Honeyfi Couples Budgeting App was created.

Honeyfi is an app that helps couples see where their money is going and plan their financial futures together. The intuitive app allows you to view all of your accounts and transactions in a single central hub. (Of course, only the accounts you choose are visible—you still have a right to privacy.) Once your accounts are linked, you can track your budget and set savings goals to help both of you stay on the right path.

With Honeyfi, you’ll get notifications for new transactions and balance updates so if one of you is spending a little too much on lunch every day, there’s some accountability. As you save, you can customize your categories and budgets to your heart’s content, classifying exactly how you spend money so you know where to cut and where you can allocate a little more money. With such easy-to-use tools, it’s no surprise that Honeyfi has earned rave reviews from The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and has 4.4 stars on the App Store.

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Start saving for that big purchase with Honeyfi. Normally $59, you can get a one-year subscription now for 50 percent off at just $29.99.

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6 Ways to Make Money from Audio Content

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October 24, 2020 8 min read

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

If you’re in a content-centric business — you write books, sell courses, run coaching programs, etc. — it’s worth paying attention to this emerging trend in content monetization. Audio.

Audiobooks and podcasts have taken the content publishing world by storm in recent years and the market’s impressive growth is projected to continue. If you haven’t started monetizing content in audio yet, this article will suggest several great ways to get started, with real-life successful examples for your inspiration. Some of them don’t even require you to create any new content.

But first, why should you create content in audio?

It is popular (and getting more so by the day)

For eight years straight, audiobook sales have experienced revenue growth in the double-digits, with sales totaling $1.2 billion in the U.S. last year. Similarly, the podcast market continues to grow – there are now 100 million monthly listeners in the U.S. alone. 

Audio content’s rising popularity can largely be attributed to the fact that we’re all living hectic, on-the-go lifestyles. Multitasking is the new norm, and given that the average American adult spends over four hours per day on their smartphone, mobile-friendly audio content is perfectly suited to capture your audience’s attention. 

Related: Why Audio Content Works for Engaging Audiences

The production cost is low

Unlike video, you don’t need makeup, lighting or an expensive cameraperson to make quality audio. All you need to get started is a decent microphone.

Done professionally, the cost of video production can range from anywhere from $1,500 to $10,000 per minute, as you need to factor in things like equipment, editing, a production crew and more. 

On the other hand, audio production is fairly inexpensive, and even more so if you choose to narrate your audiobook yourself. To start a quality podcast, you can expect to pay around $200 to $500 total for the equipment, editing and software — a far cry from what it would take to produce video content.

The content engagement is high

Because audio content enables people to listen everywhere, consumers don’t need to sit down and carve out time like they do when reading a book or watching a video. Therefore, there are many more opportunities throughout the day for your audience to engage with your content.

One study found that over half of audiobook listeners choose audio content for its convenience, and 41 percent enjoy audiobooks because they can listen when reading is not possible. 

Now if you’re considering selling your content in audio format, what are some of the ways to go about it?

1. Sell an audiobook version of your ebook

If you’ve already written and published books, fiction or nonfiction, you can immediately act on this option.

While fiction audiobooks still make up the majority of sales, nonfiction sales remain solid and are expected to grow by over 25 percent annually in the coming years. So if you’ve already published a nonfiction ebook, there’s never been a better time to convert it to audio. 

When nutrition coach Joyce Laszloffy first published her I Kicked Sugar program as an ebook, she made only 80 sales in an entire year. But after converting the same content to an audiobook, she sold 4,000 copies in three months. When promoting her program via Facebook advertising, she found that her audiobook offer stood out and garnered more attention amid a sea of health and fitness ads.

Fiction authors can also boost their success with audio. Children’s story author Fahad Tasleem picked audio as his main content format after getting feedback from parents. He made over $100,000 from his Quantum Chronicles audio series alone last year.

2. Sell your webinar or live event recordings as audio courses

Do you host live workshops, seminars or webinars regularly? If so, repurposing your live recordings into audio courses may allow you to create an additional income stream without additional work.

Heather Robertson, a weight loss coach, did just that when she created her membership program, “Half Size Me,” which now has close to 1,000 subscribing members. Webinar recordings and various audio recordings are the mainstays of the program because they are convenient to create and easy to consume. Similarly, personal growth teacher Matt Kahn records the talks from his live events and sells them as audio courses.

3. Sell a streaming library as a subscription

For creators who have a large number of existing recordings or record content regularly, take a page from the business model of Audible and , and consider offering your entire recording library as a streaming subscription. Selling a subscription provides recurring income and predictable revenue. It also allows you to build a loyal audience who tune in to your content regularly. 

Selling audio streaming subscriptions is not just the specialty of blockbuster platforms. Many independent creators have done it successfully. Renowned meditation teacher Andrew Johnson packaged his life’s work of over 30 meditation albums as a subscription program, and he made over $10,000 on the program’s launch day alone. The ease of access that the audio streaming format provides is a big draw to his program.

Or take author and activist Marianne Williamson, for example. Since she gives talks every week, she has enough content to offer them as both video and audio subscriptions to fit different customer needs.

4. Sell premium (a.k.a. paid) podcasts

If you have a free podcast that’s attracting a growing number of loyal listeners, consider creating a paid version of it. This option is likely more profitable for independent content creators than selling advertisements. 

It takes serious listener volume to make a meaningful profit from ads. If you have 1,000 regular listeners and are publishing a weekly podcast with two 30-second ads per episode, you can expect to make around $144 a month. Additionally, many podcast ad sponsors have minimum download number requirements.

In contrast, if you create a paid podcast that charges $10 per month, and 10 percent of your regular listeners sign up, your monthly revenue would be $1,000. 

One thing to note is that the run-of-the-mill interview-style podcast may be easy to create, but it’s usually not good enough to be the flagship content of a paid podcast. Creators who run successful premium podcasts tend to share some common traits:

  • Have a distinctive point of view 

  • Offer information or teaching not available elsewhere

  • Exist in a well-defined niche that an audience feels passionate about

Controversial radio personality Jeff Fillion, the host of the popular RadioPirate premium podcast, is an example of someone who embodies these traits. Love him or hate him, he has a clearly defined voice and set of opinions, and his niche content is in contrast to what you can normally find in most mainstream media. Together, these qualities have enabled him to attract a loyal audience willing to pay for his podcast.

Related: 5 Vital Aspects That Make a Podcast Show Succeed

5. Convert your YouTube channel or blog into a paid audio series

You may be surprised to know that you can actually sell your content that’s already available for free. For example, Canadian vlogger Shi Tao sells an audio program with hundreds of subscribers. Many of the episodes in the program are audio versions of videos on his YouTube channel.

Why does this work? Again, audio content’s convenience and ease-of-access is a value add for customers on its own. When watching a YouTube video, you must either be on your computer or keep your phone active to view the content. But if you’re streaming audio, you can listen anywhere with ease.

6. Publish free podcasts as lead magnets for your paid content

Given how popular podcasts have become among consumers with high purchasing power, if you’re not using free podcasts as a lead generation tool for your paid content, you’re missing out!

USA Today bestselling novelist Sarina Bowen publishes the First Chapter with Sarina Bowen podcast, which offers free sample chapters from her paid audiobooks. Sales coach Victor Antonio runs the popular Sales Influence podcast, and many of his episodes are snippets from his paid training materials. They help drive listeners to his paid content. 

Related: Is Audio the Future of Social Media? Twitter’s Jack Dorsey Thinks So

Whether you’re converting your ebook into an audiobook or creating a new premium podcast, there’s no shortage of options when it comes to monetizing your content in audio. By offering your audience an audio option, you not only create another income stream but also boost the content engagement from your customers, many of whom are craving the intimate and personal listening experience provided by the audio medium. Now that’s a win-win situation.

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Former Milly Designer Michelle Smith Has a New Line, and a New Life

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The wind was whipping around a makeshift outdoor SoulCycle studio at Manhattan’s Hudson Yards the other day, but the fashion designer Michelle Smith pulled off her “Legalize Equality” sweatshirt, baring toned limbs. She was hot. For the second time that day, she was front row and center in a spin class taught by her girlfriend, the platinum-haired star instructor Stacey Griffith.

“You are the pebble, you are the water, you are the ripple,” Ms. Griffith said into a headset, as tourists gawked and snapped pictures and Ms. Smith pedaled diligently.

The power couple had more glamorous outings before the pandemic — holding hands leaping into the water on the Côte d’Azur in France last fall, posing for bikini-clad selfies on the beach of Saint Barths in February. But an exercise session in a troubled mall was paradise compared to what Ms. Smith was going through 18 months ago at a corporate office in Midtown.

It was April 2019, and some 20 or so men were bidding for Milly, the contemporary fashion line known for brightly colored, boldly patterned dresses that she had built with Andrew Oshrin, whom she married in 2003 and separated from in 2017.

Carried in Barneys, Saks Fifth Avenue and Bloomingdale’s, Milly had a flagship boutique on Madison Avenue. The brand was a favorite of Jennifer Lopez, Mika Brzezinski and Michelle Obama, who wore a white stretch cotton poplin maxi sundress with a print that conjured the quilts of Gee’s Bend for her official portrait, by the artist Amy Sherald.

But even as the portrait was unveiled in February 2018, showering favor on the designer and the brand, Milly was in trouble.

Credit…Ángel Franco/The New York Times
Credit…via Michelle Smith

In its heyday, Milly had generated $50 million in annual wholesale revenue. But costs associated with trying to navigate the changing retail economy had brought it to auction, which concluded with its sale in 2019 to a subsidiary of S. Rothschild & Co., an apparel company, for $5.7 million.

After the last bid, Ms. Smith slipped out of the office, in tears. “I left quietly, not wanting to be noticed. I felt stripped and raw,” she said.

This week, though, she is introducing a new fashion line, named simply Michelle Smith. It diverges from Milly in nearly every way and is a reflection both of the current moment and her own new life.

In the penthouse apartment in Harlem that she shares with her children, ages 13 and 11, and often Ms. Griffith, Ms. Smith described relief from the pressures of the old fashion cycle. “Instead of working from a place of, ‘I need to make a camisole that’s on-trend,’ I am asking myself, ‘How can I express myself most honestly through this fabric,” she said.

Milly was a comer in the contemporary market of the aughts, alongside brands like Alice + Olivia and Marc by Marc Jacobs. It was introduced to a New York defined for women by the ladylike polish of Kate Spade and the lustful adventures of Carrie Bradshaw. The aesthetic of Michelle Smith is that of a more mature New York woman who’s done with norms of office dressing (just let a man criticize her for what she wears to work — not that she’s leaving home to work these days anyway). It is not exactly androgynous, but it is less overtly ladylike. Women won’t wear it to look pretty for others; they’ll wear it to feel comfortable and sexy to themselves.

Bright and flowy dresses have been replaced by comfortable and sexy loungewear: sweaters with extra long sleeves and chill-out slip-on pants, all in cashmere, to be paired and layered with silk camisoles and slip dresses for the dressing-up version of dressing for your couch.

In muted colors (beige, black and a few pops of maroon) the entire new line was hanging on racks in Ms. Smith’s apartment, which doubles as her studio and office. A bolt of black sparkly fabric sat idly in a corner, awaiting a different moment in the culture. “I was excited to use it, then Covid happened and I literally went back to the drawing board,” she said.

Starting a business of luxury casual wear with pieces that cost between $600 to $1,000 during a pandemic marked by a steep economic downslope for the average American isn’t ideal. She is using all her own money to get started, is selling directly to her customers online, and will take pre-orders that will dictate how much she produces.

After decades of the runway-to-department-store churn, Ms. Smith is now interested in conserving resources, both material and psychological. “This is not a time of excess and Michelle’s sensitive to the fact that she is launching a luxury brand when the country is under a lot of strain,” said Stephanie Ruhle, the senior business correspondent for NBC News and the anchor of “MSNBC Live With Stephanie Ruhle,” who has been a friend of Ms. Smith’s and a Milly customer for years.

“People are not going to spend money for the sake of spending money right now. We’ve all trimmed down our lives and so has Michelle. With her, you have a designer that truly lives her brands. Michelle Unzipped” — the Instagram handle adopted by Ms. Smith as she separated herself from Milly — “is the brand I followed much more than a label.”

On that Instagram account, Ms. Smith has chronicled her metamorphosis from creative director of a corporate brand and wife to unbound, freehanded designer and champion of personal freedom, love and L.G.B.T.Q. rights.

Image“Instead of working from a place of, ‘I need to make a camisole that’s on-trend,’ I am asking myself, ‘How can I express myself most honestly through this fabric,” Ms. Smith said.
Credit…Simbarashe Cha for The New York Times

Now 47, Ms. Smith first came to New York in 1990 at 18, enrolling at the Fashion Institute of Technology. She’d wanted to be a designer since she was a little girl drawing dresses on the kitchen floor of her family’s middle-class homes in Connecticut, New Jersey and Ohio — wherever she, her siblings and her stay-at-home mother moved for her father’s job as a factory plant manager.

While still a student, Ms. Smith got a retail job at the flagship Hermès boutique on 57th Street which she parlayed into an internship with the brand in Paris. Smitten with the French city and language, she landed another internship at Louis Vuitton and then enrolled at ESMOD, the French fashion school.

The next internship was at the haute couture atelier of Christian Dior on the Avenue Montaigne. Ms. Smith worked on the second floor, illustrating gowns in watercolor: one copy for the client, one for the archives. “It was such a dream,” she said.

Missing the energy of New York, though, she decided to return in 1996.

She got an entry-level job on the design team at Gallery, an outerwear company. “I love coats,” she said. “A coat is the first impression you make.” She was brought in by Mr. Oshrin, an executive on the company’s business side who was impressed by her portfolio.

By 1998, Ms. Smith moved to a design role at Helen Wang, a contemporary brand. “It was a new market sector that I was excited about, with brands like DKNY, Anna Sui and Rebecca Taylor. I wanted to be able to create beautiful fashionable clothing that I could almost afford.”

She carefully tracked the progress of her designs, sold in the department stores that were not yet seriously threatened by e-commerce. “The designs I worked on were doing well and one even got on the cover of a Neiman Marcus catalog,” she said. “It was building my confidence.”

In 2000, Ms. Smith and Mr. Oshrin, who’d begun dating and ideating, started Milly as a wholesale brand. “I handled the design and creative aspects and Andy handled the financial side and production,” she said. The business plan called for Milly to do $1.2 million in wholesale sales in the first year. They hit the target in three months.

“I think Michelle has always done a great job at knowing how to design in a way that is relevant and shifting as things shift in time,” said Tracy Margolies, the chief merchant for Saks Fifth Avenue.

Milly spread across the country, to Neiman Marcus and Fred Segal in Los Angeles. “We were coming out of the minimalist ’90s with the dark Prada and Calvin Klein looks. What I was doing was super-colorful and printed with a little ironic wink to vintage,” Ms. Smith said. “It was totally different from what was going on at the time.”

In 2011, Milly opened its store on Madison Avenue and, a few years later, another in East Hampton. Ms. Smith began to develop close relationships with her customers.

“I would go to the store on Madison Avenue and we would sit in the dressing room and talk about our bodies and our lives and everything women talk about,” said Ms. Brzezinski, who hosts “Morning Joe,” on MSNBC with her husband, Joe Scarborough, whom she married in a dress designed by Ms. Smith. “Michelle can feel your vibe and has an ability to help you translate that into your own personal style that is just so spot on.”

But supplying the contemporary market, which demanded new product every month, could be dizzying. “By the end, I was designing 27 collections a year with over 100 styles per collection,” Ms. Smith said. “It was a crazy carousel and it was going so fast.”

In 2013, the stressed-out designer followed the advice of her friends and started taking SoulCycle classes. She especially enjoyed those of Ms. Griffith, a favorite of Kelly Ripa and the former trainer of Madonna who wrote a book about going from alcohol and drugs to fitness, “Two Turns From Zero.”

“I couldn’t believe Stacey’s energy and personality and the way she lit up the room,” Ms. Smith said. The two became friends outside of class, collaborating in 2015 on a collection of T-shirts with Ms. Griffith’s motivational catchphrases like, “No One Remembers Normal.”

But Milly’s expenses and debt were growing as the brand tried to expand its e-commerce footprint while continuing to meet its department store obligations. Its founders quietly decided to separate while still living and working together, but the situation was untenable. “It just became a dysfunctional environment,” Ms. Smith said, of the company. “I don’t think the right decisions were getting made, because you had one person who said ‘black’ and one person who said ‘white.’”

Mr. Oshrin is currently working as a apparel industry consultant. “It’s a tough time to start any business,” he said, “but Michelle is a talented designer and has tremendous creative instincts.”

Ms. Griffith declined to be interviewed for this article, saying that she wanted the spotlight on her girlfriend.

Credit…David Benthal/BFA

At the end of 2016, Ms. Smith heard from Meredith Koop, the stylist for Michelle Obama. Ms. Koop had been selecting pieces from Milly for the first lady for years, first buying things off the rack and then working directly with Ms. Smith on pieces like an off-the-shoulder dress Mrs. Obama wore on the cover of Essence in 2016, and a prom dress for Malia Obama. Ms. Smith “is a woman who designs for women,” Ms. Koop said in an interview. “It’s a cliché thing to say, but it’s true in her case.”

The white dress Ms. Koop wanted for the official portrait “was very authentic to what Mrs. Obama would actually wear in her personal life,” the stylist said.

Ms. Smith worked on sketches, adjustments and pulled the dress from her collection to keep it special, but still wasn’t sure it would be selected. “I had made coats for the second inauguration that weren’t chosen, so I didn’t think it was a slam dunk,” she said. Its choosing “was the most exciting moment in my entire design career.” (The dress will be on display in the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery exhibit, “Every Eye Is Upon Me: First Ladies of the United States,” which opens on Nov. 13.)

It is the only piece of her past professional life that Ms. Smith hangs on to, and she finds it irritating when Milly’s new owner seems to claim credit for the dress, as it has on Instagram on occasions like Mrs. Obama’s birthday. “It’s cheesy,” Ms. Smith said. (“We bought all the assets of Milly and that dress is an asset of Milly,” said Mark Friedman, the president and chief executive of S. Rothschild. “I feel bad that she’s irritated, but she shouldn’t be.”)

In August 2018, Ms. Smith was invited to a barbecue in Montauk. Ms. Griffith was there. “We both felt really happy to be in each other’s presence and we started spending more time together,” Ms. Smith said.

When the relationship became serious enough to tell her children, Ms. Smith said overheard her son tell a friend, “Wait till you hear this one: My dad has a new girlfriend and so does my mom.”

Last year, the couple made it Instagram-official, posting photos of themselves in embrace at the New York City Ballet. Ms. Smith captioned hers “#lovewins.”

Department stores are falling. Fashion is flailing. Winter is coming. But her wheels are turning, and she finally feels comfortable in her own skin.

“Going through everything I’ve been through, going from a young woman to an adult in my late 40s, I have found my own voice and my confidence to freely express myself in my personal life and my creativity,” she said. “For the first time, everything has aligned and it feels amazing and true.”

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