ALL ARE WELCOME: Raised by parents whose careers were rooted in fashion retail, Alexandra Connell had an insider’s view of brand building from a young age. But her father Steven Bochner, who led Swatch’s sales into the U.S. and later served as president of Christian Dior Jewelry, always advised her to choose a different field.
He only coalesced, when she asked, “What if I sold empowerment?”
Her online store, pattiandricky.com, specializes in apparel and accessories for the physically challenged. “He always wanted me to help people and he knew that I was very passionate about wanting to help people with disabilities,” she said.
Launched about 10 months ago, the multibrand e-tailer caters to the more than 50 million Americans with either a mental or physical disability. Diagnosed with dyslexia and ADHD as a child, Connell was always keenly aware of how disabilities and looking or acting differently could have a major impact on a person’s life. The company’s name is a tribute to her mother Patti who died 10 years ago and her cousin Ricky who is unable to walk or speak.
“My mother was always on trend and when she got sick with a brain tumor, there was nothing fashionable out there for her. She wanted a leopard print cane. I went to the medical supply store that was gray, ugly and scary. I ordered her a pink one with roses,” Connell said. “At the chemo center, everyone was treating her like a baby even though she was the ceo of a company. Once she got the new cane I saw the power of fashion. Everyone just started to talk to her about where she got the cane, what her weekend plans were and how the business was going. They were treating her the way she wanted to be treated.”
This summer Connell will open her company’s first pop-up store near one of the entrances for people with disabilities at Grand Central Station. Apparel and accessories for women, men and children are offered. A graduate of Columbia University’s Teachers College, Connell wanted to apply her disability studies degree towards a shopping experience. Current bestsellers include Fidget jewelry and Braille printed jewelry, $72 men’s shirts with magnetic closures and “gala-ready” arm slings starting at $59. In response to the suggestions area of the site, Connell tries to track down the items they want online, by word-of-mouth or scouting in the industry, “If it exists, I try to find it for them,” she said. “It just makes so much sense to bring these designers together. Disability is not something I fear. It’s just something I think is beautiful and is another difference. You have to have people with disabilities involved with the process.”
Aiming to partner with designers on select items and to open pop-ups within major department stores, Connell said, “Even people who are blind want to be told they are beautiful and to have beautiful jewelry that they can feel. Growing up, I remember my parents talking about logos, company names and marketing. It was definitely hands-on learning — no college was necessary for that.”
Sprayology, a homeopathic resource that offers essential oils and FDA-approved homeopathic sprays is another brand sold via Patti + Ricky. Recalling how her mother wound up cofounding the company, Connell said, “When my mother was working at Kenneth Cole Belts, she got chronic fatigue syndrome and became a homeopath on the weekends. That was 15 or 20 years ago. She was way ahead of her time.”
Next month she will share her own retail knowledge as a panelist discussing “One Size Does Not Fit All: Inclusive Design and the Modern Consumer.” The talk is part of the annual gathering of entrepreneurs, creators and businesses called Alvanon Trailblazers. MagnaReady’s ceo Maura Horton and Grace Jun of Parsons’ Open Style Lab will also be speaking at the New York event.