With fashion, raising awareness for nonprofits

Local designer Gabrielle Mandel wants to make a positive impact with her work.

Gabrielle Mandel worked for brands like J.Crew and Rebecca Minkoff for several years in New York—but she felt guilty about the practices of the fashion industry.

So she moved back home to Philadelphia to create her own line.

“There were a lot of negative things that go on in the fashion industry, so I wanted to start a clothing brand that had positive implications,” Mandel said. “Things were getting made at really cheap labor costs and we live in such a throw-away culture for fashion. I wanted to do something where I could create better quality products but also raise some awareness.”

Mandel, designer of local brand Supra Endura, chooses nonprofit organizations as her inspiration each season. She then creates patterns and garments inspired by the organizations and donates a portion of the proceeds to the groups. Supra Endura is currently supporting The Wistar Institute and Urban Tree Connection, two Philadelphia-based nonprofits.

Mandel said $2 from each purchase from her online store goes to the nonprofits, but recently she has worked more closely with the organizations by getting involved with fundraising events. She sells her scarves wholesale to the organizations so they can resell them to donors at full price and earn more for each scarf sold.

Supra Endura’s relationship with Wistar, a biomedical research facility in University City, began in 2014 when Mandel met Lynsie Solomon, the institute’s chair of the ambassadors. Solomon said she bought a garment from another local designer in The Philadelphia Fashion Incubator, a program for up-and-coming designers, who in turn introduced her to a colleague: Mandel.

“[Mandel] makes [science] fashionable—like literally fashionable—and brings it front and center,” said Darien Sutton, the senior media relations associate at Wistar.

Sutton said The Wistar Institute was in the forefront of the medical field after Wistar researchers developed the first vaccine for rubella in 1969 and improved the rabies vaccine during the next decade.

Sutton said Mandel took images of cells from the microscopes that Wistar researchers used and made them into artwork for her designs.

“It’s just a really great story and amazing how she can take something that happened in the ‘80s and make it artistic,” Sutton said.

“Each season I design a print that is effectively a storyteller, but a woman will also see in a store and want to buy,” Mandel said. “[I try to make it] artistic but sellable, [it] will tell a story but is not so gimmicky that a person won’t actually want to wear it.”

Mandel had a similar creative process when she designed pieces inspired by Urban Tree Connection, a nonprofit that revitalizes urban neighborhoods by building usable spaces like gardens, parks and urban farms in abandoned lots.

Eliav Decter, development director of Urban Tree, said Mandel came out to visit the revitalized lots after reading about the organization. After taking pictures and talking to community members about the impact of the new green spaces, Mandel designed a series of scarves inspired by the landscapes.

“What I think she really loved was that we’ve taken these kind of gritty urban spaces and turned them into these lush, green, flower-filled spaces, some even with vegetables coming up,” Decter said. “[She designed] floral, green prints inspired by natural growing plants, and so in that sense she’s representing that green that we do in these neighborhoods.”

Now one of Mandel’s Urban Tree Connection-inspired scarves is on sale as an Urban Outfitters exclusive. A portion of the proceeds still go to Urban Tree Collection, and the Urban Outfitters tag includes Urban Tree’s mission statement and information.

Mandel said the Urban Outfitters scarf has a similar natural pattern to her other Urban Tree Connection-inspired garments, but with a more vintage feel to suit Urban Outfitters’ brand. Mandel produced the scarf herself and it will be sold in select Urban Outfitters stores.

“[Mandel is] helping to bring in some much needed funding for us and helping spread the word,” Decter said. “The work we do isn’t that expensive so even a relatively small contribution can make a huge difference. I love that this is a fun way of getting out the word of our organization that we would have never been able to pull off on our own.”

Erin Moran can be reached at erin.moran@temple.edu.

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