Kara Mendelsohn

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Kara Mendelsohn | cooper & ella

Kara Mendelsohn has always been a risk taker. In her 20s she ditched her degrees in art history and psychology from Lafayette College to chase her dream of working in the fashion industry. In 2013, after nearly two decades of rising in the ranks and working for some of the most renowned fashion houses—including Calvin Klein, Michael Kors and Marc Jacobs—Mendelsohn left behind stability and a sizeable salary to launch her own clothing line, cooper & ella.

“I’ve always had an entrepreneurial spirit,” said Mendelsohn, who lives in Centerport with her husband, Adam, and children, Cooper and Ella. When she noticed that there was an untapped market of women searching for affordable date tops—blouses that transition easily from “desk to dinner, day to night”—she pounced on the opportunity.

“I really know my customer. I spent so many years traveling across the states and around the world… You really learn what women want.” So far, cooper & ella’s success has proven that to be true; it’s selling from Long Island to Japan in some of the biggest department stores. The brand’s universal appeal is threefold, according to its founder: it specializes in blouses specifically, it has sophisticated and elevated design, and it’s affordable, ranging in price from $88 to $150.

There’s also the added benefit of charity. The cost of one hot, nutritious meal for a child in need is built into the price of each cooper & ella item. Last fall, Mendelsohn partnered with the Hope Foundation School in Bangalore, India, and launched the Empower giveback initiative. The school practices a “cradle-to-career” solution that gets kids into the schools, educates them and prepares them for the working world. “It’s changing the entire trajectory of that child’s life. It actually changes lives, changes the cycle of poverty children are caught in.”

Mendelsohn said her current focus is getting her customers what they need, but she is also working to grow cooper & ella into a lifestyle brand that offers more products. The company launched dresses this spring and is preparing to launch sweaters for the fall.

Mendelsohn is one of our featured Self Starting Style Makers