Fruitopia Founder Loses Fortune On Skirt Addiction

Reductress - Fruitopia CEO

In 1999, Wendy McConnell was selling cases of Fruitopia by the millions and was number eight on the Forbes “Most Powerful Women” list. She now lives under the Peachtree Highway overpass in Atlanta, with a severe case of whooping cough. What went wrong?

 

“It was the pencil skirts. They were just coming into fashion back then,” McConnell says between dry heaves. “At first it was just about treating myself. But then I couldn’t stop.”

 

McConnell made her fortune when the ethereal fruit drink was acquired by the Coca-Cola Company. Fruit drinks had become overwhelmingly popular in 1994, and McConnell’s homegrown brand of spirituality and juice came at the right time for the soda brand. After living in a broken-down Volkswagen and wearing the same Grateful Dead T-shirt for much of her young-adult life, McConnell used her newfound wealth to delve into the the extravagant world of corporate women’s wear.

 

McConnell’s former accountant Claude Mills confirms McConnell’s story. According to Claude, McConnell had a laser focus on finding the perfect knee-length stunner, which ultimately put her on the road to bankruptcy.

 

“She didn’t need the skirts. She had a lot of skirts. They became a drug for her. She would constantly hold it over people when she found a killer skirt. It was excruciating. It sidetracked important meetings.”

 

 

Instead of investing her money back into the fruit-flavored drink business, or even into a basic long-term savings account, McConnell started cashing her CEO paychecks and going straight to the Lenox Mall Ann Taylor Loft.

 

According to her ex-husband, Peter Slate, McConnell hid her addiction from family and friends—renting out a separate apartment just to house her ever-expanding wardrobe. “Sometimes she wouldn’t come home for days,” Slate recalls. “I found out later that she had driven all night to New York or Miami so that she could be the first person at the door for some stupid sample sale.”

 

In 2003, it all came crashing down. The Fruitopia line was discontinued by Coca-Cola due to the alleged misuse of company finances. The healthy paychecks that fueled her addiction disappeared overnight. Within a year, McConnell was divorced and bankrupt. The following year, she was living on the streets, where she’s been ever since.

 

“I just want people to know my story so they can learn from me,” McConnell said, as she poked her head out of her newspaper blanket with tears in her eyes. “Just because you love a skirt doesn’t mean that you need it. When you’re a CEO, you think you can afford a thousand skirts. But you can’t. Not if they’re nice skirts. God, they were so nice.”