Photographs courtesy cooper & ella.
Kara Mendelsohn had a vision to create something inspiring, not only through her clothing, but also by giving back. As the creative director of cooper & ella, a contemporary woman’s fashion brand, Kara designs desk-to-dinner wear while donating a percentage of sales to the HOPE Foundation in India.
Kara, a resident of Long Island, and her business partner, Susan Correa, launched cooper & ella in Spring 2013 with a collection of women’s blouses. As a working mother of two, Kara wanted to create the perfect date blouse and developed a day-to-evening line for the “woman who is doing it all and wants to look good while doing it.”
Her clothing is both affordable and appropriate for the professional-to-personal transition.
“Right now, I’m carried in Saks, Bloomingdale’s and Neiman Marcus,” Kara says. “My prices are retailed from $88 to $150, so I’m coming in at about 20 to 30 percent less than my competitors in that marketplace.”
Most recently, the brand launched dresses that will reach stores this month.
“Each season, I’m growing and looking to add new things to the line, always with the same intention of keeping the price point accessible and keeping the products very elevated. I’d like to make it a lifestyle brand and expand it globally.”
Despite its inception just two years ago, cooper & ella is available in more than 250 department and specialty stores spanning North America, Asia and Europe.
But the brand’s success is not limited to style and reasonable pricing.
Named after Kara’s children — Cooper, 7, and Ella, 9 — the line is also about children, so much so that in October of last year, Kara launched EMPOWER, an initiative that partners with the HOPE Foundation to help underprivileged children.
Like the 400-plus students in Bangalore, India, who receive a basic education that is a springboard to the future through the HOPE Foundation’s “Cradle to Career” program. EMPOWER helps provide lunchtime meals, which serve as the only daily meal for many students.
“For every single blouse, dress, anything it is that I’m selling, we donate one hot, nutritious meal to a child in need through the HOPE Foundation. Our product actually comes with a hangtag that says, ‘By making this purchase, you’re giving back to a child in need.’ For my customers, it’s like, ‘Look what I’m getting for my money. I’m getting a great product at a great price, and I feel great because I’m giving back by doing that.’”
As a goal for EMPOWER’s first year, Kara will donate 100,000 meals to the organization.
“I’m giving 100,000 meals whether I sell that much or not. I’m committed to that,” Kara says with a smile.
As her website states: “This is just the beginning for cooper & ella and EMPOWER, and we couldn’t be more excited.”
Kara began her fashion career after graduating with a dual degree in psychology and art history from Lafayette College in Easton, Pa. Following college, she moved to New York, where she began working for the Calvin Klein Collection in wholesale sales. She then went on to work for a number of designers, including the Michael Kors Collection, Marc by Marc Jacobs and Thakoon before becoming an independent consultant in 2007.
“I have two small children, so having my own business allows me flexibility. I have an amazing team that’s really small, but each of us wears a lot of hats. I really enjoy working, and I think that’s rare to be able to say that.”
For more on cooper & ella, visit cooperandella.com.
For more on the HOPE Foundation, visit hopefoundation.org.in/.