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We always want to know about successful entrepreneurs, expecting some tips, some advice and some sort of shortcuts to achieve our goals. Of course, in recent years there is a tendency to look for ‘failed’ entrepreneurs so that the startups will be aware of the pitfalls that may ruin their business.

However, though the direct instructions, advice, tips and suggestions we get from our mentors save us from our misconceptions of a business, the life stories of our mentors and other entrepreneurs give us the philosophy needed to boost our morale and to set right our mindset. The biographies of great people inspire the common folks and many of us learn lessons that play a big role in our lives. Some lessons stay live in our minds and some hibernate in the sub-conscious level of our mind and popup when the right situation arises.

Dame Trelise Cooper, one of the New Zealand’s top fashion designers, is a personality who walked out of Otare State Home to receive one of the most prestigious State Titles ‘Dame Companion’. (Ms Cooper was named a ‘Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit’ in 2004 and she was elevated to Dame Companion in the same Order in 2014.)

We have not one but five important lessons to learn from Dame Trelise Cooper’s business and personal life:


#1) To hang on and to let go: way back in late 2005, Trelise Cooper had a copyright issue with Tamsin Cooper, another New Zealand fashion designer. However, in 2007, Trelise dropped the case. This shows her presence of mind. When you understand that there is no point in fighting, you give up. There is no ‘chauvinism’ in business. There is no point in wasting money on a fight which, you know pretty well, doesn’t result in your favor or which costs you more than the profit you expect from winning.

[Ms Cooper applied this philosophy in real life, too. When things did not work out well with her first husband with whom she managed a construction business, she broke up with him and looked for something more solid. Then Trelise married Jack Cooper, a textile wholesaler, who convinced her to open an online store (Source) and managed it so well when things were down with their physical boutiques that now the online store brings in more revenue than any of the brick & mortar stores they own.]


#2) To Keep as cool as a cucumber: in 2010, Trelise Cooper was approached to dress up the crew of Air New Zealand. She was selected from a long list of designers, and she did a great job. Gave a ‘chic’ look to the flying angels. However, there were several harsh comments and critiques regarding the airline’s new uniform. For example, some flight attendants found the new uniform not suitable for large body size and some felt they looked like ‘drag queens’ in the new outfits, and some newspapers wrote such strong words as ‘passengers go for barf bags when they see the hostesses in their new uniforms’. Trelise kept calm all along and let it pass. She had the last laugh when the crew wore the same ‘chic’ garb for four years straight and for the airline’s 75th  Anniversary–2015.

[And before that, in 2009, when Rachel Glucina, the Herald On Sunday writer, accused Trelise of showing a ripoff of London-based designer Markus Lupfer’s jersey which had the same embroidery ribbon the Cooper’s sweater design had at a Fashion Week Show, Trelise cooly made an explanation that she had got the ribbon from a supplier, and the harshest sentence she used in her warning letter to the supplier of the embroidery ribbon was “not to double-sell items because they had ‘mean’ media in New Zealand”. This shows how level-headed she is even under great pressure. ((“Trelise Cooper’s fashion tangle”; by Matt Nippert, Rachel Clucina, Sep 27, 2009 on Life & Style — Source)  

Ms Cooper reveals that her secret for staying cool is ‘keeping herself hydrated and breathing deeply all the time, and using Rescue Remedy, a blend of five Bach Flower Remedies, and singing’… in private, of course. (“What’s in Trelise Cooper’s beauty bad” by Melissa Williams-King, May 21, 2015 on Beauty — — Source)]


#3) To exhibit the right attitude: in 2014, Dame Trelise Cooper was under fire from the Press and the racist activists for walking her model with the Native American & Canadian feathered battle head-dress on the runway of the New Zealand Fashion Week 2014.  Though the media screamed ‘battle cries’ & ‘warpath’, Ms Cooper avoided the trap by not marching head on into the ‘war zone’. She immediately made an open apology admitting that ‘it was a mistake due to her ignorance’. This act of sensibility brought several Knights to the rescue of the Dame. Some of her supporters pointed out that the war headdresses had been in use in many other ads for a long time and some others conceded her sincere apology.


#4) To live & work with people: Ms Cooper has realised the most important fact that people are the ones that make anyone what they are. She admits that there can be some people whom you got to disown, but she emphasizes that there are always some in your family, friends, partners, employees, colleagues, suppliers and just well-wishers you must be indebted to.


#5) The fear of being incompetent: we all suffer from a sort of gut feeling which, according to psychology experts, is different from fear. The thought of being a failure because of incompetence is good for us, says Dame Trelise Cooper. She says it keeps us on our toes and urges us to move forward. Without that ‘gut feeling’, Cooper declares, entrepreneurs are as good as dead. She stated in one of her interviews that she had been restive until her brand made the first $ 5 million turnover.

Dame Trelise Cooper started her designing career with her first boutique in Auckland in 1985, and since then has gradually built her brand with three ranges: Trelise Cooper, Cooper by Trelise and Trelise Cooper kids, and in addition, she has Trelise Cooper Interiors, a fabric range; her signature fragrance ‘Trelise’, launched in 2009; Trelise Cooper Jewelry; and the home-ware range stocked by Ezibuy, the e-tailer. Recently, to keep the different target customers busy visiting her stores, Ms Trelise added three lines to her Trelise label: Cooper, for week-end wear; COOP, for youngsters; and Boardroom, for executives.


Trusting her own instincts and a sense of beauty and design, she has spread her fashion empire all over the world, with 12 flagship boutiques and with over 300 stockists in more than 14 countries across America, Asia, Australia and Europe, in addition to her online store.

Ms Cooper’s clients include such celebrities as Lindsay Lohan, Miley Cyrus, Liv Tyler, Stevie Nicks, Julia Roberts, Catherine Zeta Jones, to name a few. Her designs have appeared in such popular magazines as Marie Claire, InStyle, Vogue, Women’s Wear Daily, and have been telecast on TV series Sex and the City.

The Trelise Cooper Kids designs are so attractive to the kids that celebrity kids, like the Hollywood actor Tom Cruise’s daughter, Suri Cruise,  and the late Pop Music King Michael Jackson’s kids, Blanket, Paris and Prince, love to appear in them.

In 2007, The Trelise Cooper kids Auckland outlet won the Supreme Award at the New Zealand Retail Interior Design Awards — 2007.  Trelise Cooper Wellington won the Capital Christmas Window Dressing Competition — 2014.

In March 2009, Trelise Cooper got another feather in her hat for being the first New Zealand designer to organise a show on board the Queen Mary 2, the famous transatlantic ocean liner and cruise ship.

Ms Cooper enjoys such a huge reputation that she has been a brand ambassador for Mercedes-Benz, the automobile giant, since 2002. Ben Giffin, the General Manager of Mercedes-Benz New Zealand Limited, complimented that Dame Trelise Cooper was undoubtedly  one of New Zealand’s ‘most established and influential’ fashion designers and that his company was proud to have a partnership with her on the occasion of striking a partnership and working together on ‘Mercedes-Benz Presents’ program and naming rights partner, a prestigious and profitable global sponsorship deal, to a second Trelise Cooper Show during Fashion Week 2015.


She also has had the type of ‘partnership-cum-sponsorship’ with 21 different popular brands, including La Mer, the American international cosmetics brand. Her marketing strategy of having two Fashion Week shows, back-to-back — one for the media and the industry and the other for her own sponsors and retail guests, has scaled her up to a level no other fashion brand has reached. (“How one label survived the GFC while other fashion houses closed their doors”, by Cameron Bayley, October 2004, on Strategy, INTHEBLACK — Source)

It’s Payback Time:

Each one of us has a lot to give back to the society that made us what we are. It has become very common for successful entrepreneurs to share a part of their success with some of the less-fortunate souls, and Dame Trelise Cooper is not the one to miss that great satisfaction of paying back to the society.

For her part, Ms Cooper is involved in several charities: she is a patron of Breast Cancer Research Trust and one of the ambassadors for the Breast Cancer Cure; she advocates domestic violence awareness; and supports Maritage International, a UN partnered organisation that acts as a link between women from developed countries and women from underdeveloped countries.

Dame Trelise Cooper actively supports Habitat for Humanity, a non-profit international organization that strives to provide better housing and health to all the families in the world.

On Sep 30, 2015, Trelise Cooper is going to show her designs at a Fashion Show in Wanaka to raise funds for the Upper Clutha Hospice Trust.

Having their company certified as Carbon Friendly by New Zealand’s premier environmental company Green Carbon, Trelise Cooper and her team work tirelessly in promoting environmental sustainability. In order to discourage the use of plastic shopping bags, one of the banes of our modern world, they joined hands with New World, the most prestigious supermarket chain, to produce eco bags, and since 2008, they have sold more than 150,000 fashionable eco friendly bags. Showing their involvement in ‘going green’, the Dame and the staff at Trelise Cooper took part in planting trees where there are open spaces available in parks and the localities.

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Mash Bonigala

Mash B. is the Founder & Creative Director of Logo Design Works. Since 1998, Mash has helped thousands of businesses express their brand messages through creative and award winning logo designs.