Fashion designer Nanette Lepore has grown her company considerably over the nearly 14 years since she and her husband, the painter Robert Savage, opened a small shop wedged between a gas station and a soup kitchen in New York's East Village.

Today, her women's apparel line - which bears her name and features pretty patterns, textured fabrics and vivid colors -- is sold in department stores and eponymous boutiques in New York, Los Angeles, Bal Harbour, Fla., Chicago, Las Vegas, Boston, London and Tokyo. So far, she's done it all without the help of outside investors - unless you count a $5,000 loan from her father in 1990. Private equity firms have courted her a few times over the years, but Lepore has opted to remain independent, she explained during a recent fireside chat with Mergers & Acquisitions editor-in-chief Mary Kathleen Flynn at the ACG New York Women of Leadership summit.

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