Meet Ilana Kugel: co-founder and Creative Director of KORAL, a sustainable, fashion-forward activewear brand.
Growing up in Brazil, KORAL is infused with her Latin heritage and her longtime love and appreciation for fashion.
KORAL was born out of a gap in the market Ilana knew she could fill: an activewear brand that was not only sustainable but prioritized style. KORAL designs for the real women who wear their designs— the immigrants, the athletes, the business owners, the women who do it all, and then some.
Along with the help of Peter Koral, an industry veteran and the founder of 7 For All Man Kind, Ilana created the activewear powerhouse, KORAL.
We sat down with Ilana to get to know more about this inspiring business owner and her journey in the fashion and retail industry.
Can you talk about what inspired you to go into fashion?
When I was a little girl, I had a friend whose parents owned two big fashion brands in Brazil. I used to go to Sao Paulo Fashion Week with them, they brought me to their factories, we would shop in her mom’s closet - borrowing her Prada shoes and such for nights out, it was amazing. My friend’s older sister decided to go to fashion school in Brazil and that’s how I knew, seeing her and what she was doing in school inspired me, that’s when it all started, that’s when I knew I was going to go into fashion.
How do your Brazilian roots influence your design aesthetic?
I design the way I was raised, as a Brazilian woman. Brazilians are different from Americans in the way they dress, the weather is different, we have things like Carnival that allow us to get dressed up, we’re more comfortable in our bodies. Women in Brazil are wearing the same thing whether they are XS or XL, they are more comfortable in their skin and accept their bodies the way they are. When I design, I’m not trying to design sexy, I design in a way that I feel will make women feel good about themselves, that will make them feel strong, and sexy, and that’s heavily influenced by my Brazilian roots.
The activewear space has grown significantly over the last few years. How does KORAL stay successful in such a competitive retail space?
Simple, we’re true to ourselves. KORAL is the same brand it was when I created it eight years ago, with some obvious improvements. We’re not looking to follow trends, we don’t believe in fast fashion, we believe in quality, in keeping true to our vision. When I created KORAL I believed in crafting a collection that’s fashion-forward, with the ability to cross over from gym to night, to mix in the pieces with your wardrobe seamlessly, that’s why I brought the KORAL Lustrous™ leggings to the US. Instead of wearing dull, matte black leggings the KORAL Lustrous™ legging gave our customers the ability to be more fashion-forward, more dressed up in their activewear. We are sustainable too, our items are good for the planet so that definitely gives us a competitive edge, and we’re timeless - these pieces will always be in style.
As a female founder, what advice do you have for a young entrepreneur looking to break into the fashion space?
Believe in yourself! Take that idea and concept in your head and run with it, don’t let the market, media, or whatever else get in your head. Stick to your vision no matter what, when you stay true to yourself people notice, and they respond positively. We as women have an innate instinct, and sometimes we choose to ignore it because we think following the pack will make us successful. It won’t! Stay true to yourself and your vision and success will follow.
What type of woman inspires you when you are designing for Koral?
All women! Every single woman inspires me, I’m creating pieces for the athlete, the yogi, the mom, the businesswoman, the college student, and everyone in between. Most importantly I’m designing for women to feel comfortable, confident, and sexy, no matter who they are.
What are you most proud of from your journey with Koral thus far?
This is such a hard one! I’m most proud of the fact that we’ve been around for eight years! That’s no easy task in this industry. I’m proud of the day I picked up and moved to LA from Brazil to follow my dream, I’m proud of the work my team puts in to make KORAL more and more sustainable every single day, and mostly I’m proud of how much further we have to go, this is just the beginning.
Sustainability is a core part of Koral’s mission. Can you talk about some of the ups and downs of creating a sustainable line of clothing?
Like I’ve mentioned, we’re so proud of being a sustainable fashion brand. We are doing our part to minimize the waste and impact on our beautiful planet. The ups are definitely watching the process, from ensuring that our hangings are made from recycled paper to learning about the process for our sustainable fabrics like our Koral Blackout™fabric that uses solar panel technology and local water that is treated and returned to the environment, and our Koral Rib™fabric that is made by LYCRA® EcoMade™yard which is the first recycled yarn from the LYCRA company. The industry as a whole has really been contributing to sustainability as well, with technology helping to alleviate the need for so many samples, through 360 designs and the ability to retouch images. Some of the challenges are longer turnaround times and a more expensive product due to the different processes that need to be accounted for.
Koral has caught the attention of celebrities like Jennifer Lopez and Hailey Bieber. Who would be your dream celebrity to dress in Koral?
I am always so grateful when any celebrity wears KORAL, and there are so many amazing women I’d love to wear our clothes! One right now is Lucy Charles, an English professional triathlete specializing in the Ironman and 70.3 distances. As a triathlete myself who just completed her first Ironman, I admire Lucy for her determination and accomplishments, she’s someone I would love to see in KORAL for the sheer fact that she’d appreciate the technology and the style!
Can you talk about your journey as a Latina immigrant? How has your Latin heritage impacted Koral’s mission?
My Latin heritage has influenced the kind of clothes I design. In Brazil, we live in our bikinis, which is why I began my career in fashion designing swimwear. From there it was only natural that I move into activewear, a genre of clothing that had been in my life since I was a little girl. I remember visiting my brother in college wearing leggings and a sports bra while the rest of the girls, who went to school there, walked around campus in sweatpants and oversized t-shirts, a stark difference from how I dressed. I knew then I needed to bring this influence to the US Market.
It’s women’s history month. How does your brand cater to women who do it all?
Simple, we do it all! Our clothes are so versatile, you can wear them running, lifting weights, doing yoga, or you can style them for brunch, or a night out. We cater to the woman who is running around all day and doesn’t have time to change before meeting friends for drinks, and the mom who’s going from pickup to her workout. We cater to the woman who cares about the environment just as much as she cares about how she looks. Our company’s majority is women, so KORAL is for us, by us. Forget renaissance man, we cater to the renaissance woman!
Photography by: Courtesy KORAL