Marketplace: Park City company gets active to empower women
Mpowher Apparel donates 20 percent of profits to women’s organizations
Laurel Kasel and Hanna Bowden wanted more.
The two friends, recent college graduates, were starting their careers in New York City. But their jobs left them unfulfilled, and they’d return home in the evenings and talk over dinner about what it would be like to create something that could do good in the world.
“We had talked about it for a while, then all of a sudden it was like, ‘Why don’t we just do it?’” Kasel said.
That’s what they did. Kasel and Bowden started Mpowher Apparel last fall, an active wear company with a philanthropic twist: empowering women. The business, based in Park City, donates 20 percent of its proceeds to nonprofit organizations that support women and girls.
Kasel and Bowden, who met while playing basketball for Colorado Mesa University, have always felt empowered through sport and fitness, but they know many other women aren’t as fortunate. Their mission is to help women take control of their futures.
“Our company is very focused on the positive,” said Kasel, a graduate of Park City High School. “It’s not like, ‘Poor us. This is what we’ve gone through.’ It’s all about, ‘What can we do now? Be a badass. Let’s see what we can do in the future by rallying around each other.’”
For Kasel and Bowden, narrowing in on a philanthropic mission was the easy part. More difficult was creating a business that would support it. Despite majoring in business in college, neither had entrepreneurial experience, and it wasn’t until an idea that should have been obvious struck them that everything came together.
It was a no-brainer: They could sell fitness clothing, a market they’d spent their entire lives testing.
“We asked, ‘How are we not bringing in our love for fitness into something that pairs perfectly together?’” Kasel said. “That’s why we brought in the fitness aspect with the apparel.”
The duo officially launched the company online this summer, starting with the basics: jackets, t-shirts, tank tops, headbands and fitness pants, all offered in black, white or gray. While they had years of personal experience of wearing fitness clothes to draw from, they also spent countless hours doing all they could to make the products as close to perfect as possible.
Months later, the response to the clothing has been heartening.
“We did a lot of market research, going to different gyms and seeing what everyone was wearing and talking to people about what they like and don’t like,” Bowden said. “We want this to be more than our clothing line. We want this to be everybody’s clothing line. We love getting feedback from people because the customer is who’s wearing it. That’s who we want to be talking to.”
More encouraging than the warm reviews of the clothing, though, is how much the company’s message of empowering women has resonated. Kasel described a recent interaction with a potential customer during a fitness class that exemplified the attitude they hope eventually propels them to becoming a nationwide brand.
“She was like, ‘Why would I buy something from Nike when it’s just going to go into a rich CEO’s pocket?’” she said. “‘Why not support the community of women?’ I thought that was a really cool point. I was like, ‘Yes, you get it. That’s exactly what we’re trying to do.’”
A year after first conceiving of the company, Kasel and Bowden marvel at how far they’ve come. Without experience in manufacturing or designing clothes, building the company hasn’t been easy. And since they donate 20 percent of their profits, they haven’t gotten rich — which is fine because that’s not why they started the company.
What they have got, though, is a blueprint for the future, one they hope will help empower women all over the world.
“It was a crash course on everything,” Kasel said. “Website building, social media — even though we’re from the generation that knows everything about social media, there’s stuff that’s different when you’re trying to build a business. Now, I wouldn’t say we’re an expert at anything, but we are much better off and we’re learning along the way.”
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