The second in our series, SeeMeSoar - Meet Karina Cousineau and Karina Dresses
In our quest to find and celebrate remarkable women doing remarkable things in their 50s and beyond, we discovered a woman who, with more than a thimble-full of entrepreneurial spirit, is making affordable dresses that help busy women like herself look as beautiful as they feel regardless of their age.
Who: Karina Cousineau - Founder of Karina Dresses
“Don’t focus on the 20 percent that‘s going wrong; focus on the 80 percent that’s going right!”
Her creation: Karina Dresses, an online and retail store Cousineau founded in 2008, where she sells her own modern riffs on classic designs that flatter women of all ages, sizes, and body types.
What first piqued her interest in designing and sewing: My mom made all my clothes when I was a child, and she taught me how to sew. I’ve always had an interest in fashion, so by the time I was 14 or 15, whenever I’d see a dress that I loved in a magazine or on a TV show , I’d try to recreate it at home. It was trial and error for a while. I learned a lot by taking apart my own clothes and then putting them back together to see how they were made. Eventually, I taught myself how to make my own patterns.
How she went from home sewer to successful business owner: I’d wear my own designs, and people would say to me, “I’d love a Karina dress too!” So that planted the seed—and gave me the name of my company. A friend who owned a store in Brooklyn, New York offered to start selling my dresses, so I thought, okay, I’ll make five—which I did over the course of a few weeks. (I was managing a coffee shop in Brooklyn at that time, which meant I could only do my sewing at night.) My friend sold all the dresses in a week! So, I took the money I earned from those five, and bought enough fabric to make ten more. About a year in, I met a buyer from the Sundance catalogue, and a couple of days later, she placed an order for 300 dresses. I ramped up production in New York and it just grew from there. Then I gained a business partner, opened our online store, and expanded our production team to Los Angeles. Up till recently the business was on track to do about $2 million in sales this year. But of course, as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, we’re suffering like everyone else.
How she’s responded to the pandemic: As soon as I heard there was shortage of face masks, I contacted an organization near me in Kingston, New York (where I moved fulltime a few years ago) that was mobilizing people to make masks at home. I donated some of my own fabric, got a donation from my supplier, and we started cutting out masks from a pattern we found online. We’ve created kits that home sewers can pick up at my store in Kingston and take home to make 50 masks at a time. We plan to make close to 5,000 to be distributed to hospitals, nursing homes, supermarkets, and other essential businesses upstate and in New York City.
What’s kept her going every day: The customers. I love how happy my dresses make them. They’ll send me these amazing stories over social media saying things like, “After 25 years of marriage, I’m now divorced and dating again—it’s daunting, but your dresses make me feel confident.” I mean, who wouldn’t love to hear that?
Her words of wisdom for business owners and entrepreneurs: When you’re starting your own business, don’t be afraid to reach out to people for advice. There’s a lot you can learn from others, and people like to help. And then once you get started—my business partner actually taught me this—don’t focus on the 20 percent that‘s going wrong, focus on the 80 percent that’s going right!
Learn more about Karina at www.karinadresses.com