For this entrepreneur, motherhood didn't mean the end of a fashion career – it signaled the chance to dream even bigger.
As any fashion aficionado will tell you, the art of chic is all about reinvention. From runways in Paris and New York City to the glossy pages of Vogue, for fashion designers, staying relevant in such a seasonal industry means staying ahead of the curve and continuously reimagining product lines.
Kara Mendelsohn noticed a ‘white space' in the women's fashion market: the perfect top for both daytime wear and going out later.
For 18-year fashion veteran Kara Mendelsohn, this was a recurring theme during her stints at high-stakes powerhouses such as the Calvin Klein Collection, the Michael Kors Collection, Marc by Marc Jacobs and Thakoon. But when Mendelsohn gave birth to her children, Ella and Cooper, priorities at home started to shift. If Mendelsohn were to continue in the fashion industry, she needed to reimagine the way her dual roles as mother and worker could harmonize with her career.
"I like to work," she says. But with two young children, Mendelsohn says she needed to find a new solution to continue working in a way that was comfortable for her.
Around that time, Mendelsohn's extensive sales and merchandising experience in the fashion industry led her to pinpoint a unique business opportunity. She noticed a ‘white space' in the women's market: the perfect date top, suitable for both daytime wear and going out.
As Mendelsohn saw it, the piece had to be memorable, flattering and truly remarkable in design, but also affordable in price. She ultimately decided to combine her passion and nearly two decades of experience to capitalize on this opportunity.
Fast-forward to 2013 and cooper & ella, a name that pays homage to her two children, was born.
Staying true to a single vision
Women's apparel company cooper & ella operates under a single, simple premise: deliver quality, affordable pieces that make women look and feel amazing and can be worn from work to a night out on the town.
"My inspiration comes from my colleagues, my friends, my sister, my mother – I'm designing for real women I interact with every day. I know what women are looking for, and I'm delivering it," she says.
That commitment to being affordable isn't something that Mendelsohn takes lightly either.
"We deliver really beautiful, quality products at an accessible price," Mendelsohn explains. "People don't want to spend $295 for a blouse. That's a lot of money. Ours are $88 to $150. It's a fair price and people feel like they made a good investment."
Although the company delivers garments across the globe, cooper & ella's beginnings were far from large-scale. Mendelsohn wore (and continues to wear) several hats, from design and merchandising, to sales and branding. Her extensive industry expertise helped her gain recognition with retailers that could see the void the company was trying to fill.
A few top specialty stores picked up the cooper & ella line during the first season. Then, in her second season, Mendelsohn landed one of her first big accounts: Neiman Marcus.
After adding Saks in her third season and Bloomingdales in her fourth, Mendelsohn has since added retailer powerhouse Nordstrom. Today, the brand is available at over 250 specialty retailers worldwide.
For Mendelsohn, versatility isn't just limited to cooper & ella's clothing lines. It also means a commitment to a variety of shipping options.
UPS helps cooper & ella offer its customers multiple ways to have items delivered, sometimes overnight delivery and second-day service for customers throughout the United States and Canada.
"To be competitive in the online arena you have to offer free shipping. People expect it. If you don't offer it they'll go somewhere else," Mendelsohn says. "Free shipping is an important part of our growth."
Of course, free and versatile shipping aren't the only key delivery components. The company has to ship fast and accurately.
"We have to deliver on a timely basis," she says. "It's crucial that we deliver when we say we are going to, whether that's to a consumer or to a department store or a specialty store. If we don't deliver on time, the order is canceled."
Drop shipping, when a customer orders directly from a retailer like Nordstrom but is fulfilled by cooper & ella, is another important component to the supply chain, Mendelsohn says. When a customer buys one of her garments from another retailer, her team ships the item directly from cooper & ella's warehouse, as if it came from, say, Nordstrom.
According to Mendelsohn, that unique combination of free, fast and drop shipping helps her company stay competitive and stand out.
"Drop shipping has become a huge part of our business very quickly, and it's a great vehicle for growth," she says. "Having UPS as our shipping partner with us has been an important part of our success."
Growth and commitment
As sales have expanded, so has Mendelsohn's product line. The company now carries dresses and sweaters, with new items added each season.
In addition, the company's growth has added a built-in opportunity for cooper & ella to think beyond the business of fashion.
When the business began to take off, the company realized that with its success came a real responsibility to give back. By partnering with the HOPE Foundation School in Bangalore, India, cooper & ella can directly tie its sales to helping children in need.
"For every garment we sell, we donate one hot, nutritious meal to a child in need," she says. In 2015, cooper & ella has committed to providing a minimum of 100,000 hot meals to more than 400 children at the HOPE Foundation School.
Beyond her philanthropic efforts, Mendelsohn is looking to continue growing on a global scale.
"There's so much more we can do domestically and worldwide. I'd love to branch out into additional classifications like accessories and children's. We have a lot of opportunity for growth," she says.