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    Sabine Jankowski, 55: Disruptive Entrepreneur

    After an early start in the fashion world, Sabine Jankowski set off on her own at the age of 40, creating a business that disrupted the wellness industry. Now she is disrupting retirement living. She is an entrepreneur with a unique vision, every project driven by meaning.

    Sabine is a headstrong woman. From the original one-piece she is wearing at our meeting, blond hair cut in a straight-edged bob, to the steadfast way she talks, everything is indicative of a woman who does not shy away. Even as a young girl she always knew what she wanted, and most of it lay ahead of the curve, “As a kid, I was kind of a trendsetter. I remember I would want these specific boots, and in my head, I knew exactly how I wanted them, but you couldn’t find them anywhere. Two years later, they were being sold and the latest fashion,” she remembers. That very determination (and sense of style) brought her from the small town of Oldenburg to working in the fashion industry in Berlin. She visited the German capital at 15 years old and was certain she would be living there one day.

    Early Start in Fashion

    Part of her independence, she tells me, can be traced back to her dad having passed away when she was very young. Her mother, a working mum, was left to raise four children, meaning that Sabine and her siblings learned how to take care of themselves early on. “I’m a doer,” she says, and her trajectory clearly shows that. She launched herself in the fashion world, and at only 25 she was a store manager and buyer for a Berlin label. For the next 15 years, Sabine would climb up the ladder of the industry, living in between Hamburg and Berlin attending trade shows and making a name for herself. 

     

    Sabine Jankowski photographed in Berlin by Magdalena Lepka for AGEIST

    Disrupting the Wellness Industry

    At 40 Sabine decided to go on her own. She launched Calm, a yoga studio and wellness center, in Hamburg. “When I jumped out of the fashion business it was a real turning point, it was about bringing my own concept to life,” she says. Sabine has had a healthy lifestyle for years; an early adopter of yoga, venturing into the wellness sector was right up her alley. But this was back in 2005, much before “health” was a buzzword and Lululemons dotted every high street. “I didn’t like the yoga scene in Germany at the time — it was hippie in the bad way. Muesli hippie style, with ugly rooms. If you wore lipstick and a Prada bag to your yoga class, you would be judged. I wanted to make a one-of-a-kind yoga studio,” she says. Calm opened up the practice of yoga to an entirely different market, with beautiful decor and spaces inspired by studios Sabine would visit in LA and aesthetics she would see on trips to Asia: “One thing that really drives me is innovation, redesigning traditional concepts and bringing new concepts to new life,” she says. “With Calm it was about taking the traditional yoga thing and making it disruptive.”

    Entrepreneurial Spirit

    Being disruptive also entails taking risks. After 5 successful years, Calm closed down: “I underestimated the amount of work. Also, in 2008 the recession hit us, and a lot of our customers were creatives that lost their jobs and could no longer afford the subscription,” she says. But that didn’t demotivate Sabine. By then she had uncovered a true entrepreneurial spirit within herself. “Being the first at something means it’s sometimes difficult, you open the door for other people who jump on the concept, but I don’t care. I never say “fail” — it’s always about learning and evolving. You have to fall down to learn how to walk.” 

    “I like to develop concepts and bring them to life”

    And, indeed, Sabine has been taking large strides in every new venture she has dove into, using her intuition, network and branding skills to propel ideas forward. “I started doing more consulting jobs. One of my friends even called me a launch director,” she laughs. One of the lessons she learned at Calm was how much she liked the big picture stuff, the strategizing and innovating: “I like to develop concepts and bring them to life, and then jump onto the next concept. The everyday work — not so much my cup of tea,” she says. Since Calm, Sabine has been involved in the development of a new breed of co-working spaces, consulted for a company opening high-end housing for the 60+ generation, as well as organized charitable events for NGOs, amongst other projects.

    The Importance of Meaning

    But as thrilling as it is to start new ventures, she insists on the importance of “meaning,” only getting involved in projects she believes in or holds a personal connection to: “I’m not going to work in a corporate business that produces cars, and I’m also not going back to the fashion industry — it’s so polluting,” she says. Sustainability is a concept of paramount importance in whatever business Sabine engages with. Not “sustainability” the hype but rather the truly meaningful kind, going to show that fighting for our planet is not an exclusively millennial cause. “I speak to people who want to start big things that have a big meaning but still live in their comfort zones, preaching sustainability and flying every week to their flat in Mallorca,” she says. “I really try my best to not eat this kind of factory-raised meat or fish, and then I hear of people doing mantras to clean their energies — and then eating cheap, tortured meat. It doesn’t make sense.”

    Co-Living for the Modern Elder

    With one of her current projects, a disruptive co-living concept for the older generations, it is clear just how much Sabine believes in it: “You either have the cruises or senior homes where you play cards. I’m 55 and I want to live my life in a completely different way! This project has a really nice concept that reflects a modern elder life: fit, healthy, active and socially engaged — like mine!” It is true that Sabine’s life is all of these things; in just one day she will manage to fit in her yoga, work, taking care of the house, seeing friends and hosting dinner parties as well as time with her husband and walking her dog, “And I’m not the 6 am kind of person,” she laughs. 

    “Have your own opinions and ideas”

    Much of this drive and many of these insights, Sabine admits, have come with age. “Sometimes the younger generations adopt everything without thinking about it,” she explains. “One of the most important things is staying curious, being willing to learn new things and not accepting what you get. Think about it, turn it around, and have your own opinion and ideas. Even if 100 people say yes you can also say no.” An already independent mind made sharper and more determined with the passing of years. 

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    Gaia Lutz
    Gaia Lutz
    Gaia has been working as a journalist in London for the past five years. She has worked for Monocle Magazine and Radio in London. She is now based in Lisbon where she continues to write and produce content for print, digital, broadcast and live platforms.
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