Stylish Start-Ups

Four Female Founders

Michele Cosentino

Founder, Top Banana

Last year, Michele turned to her sewing machine and AAS in fashion design from Parsons to brighten up the grey days of quarantine. She designed and produced a kaleidoscope of clothing, whimsical quilts, and covetable retro tennis dresses that she’ll soon market and sell as Top Banana.

Her first project: “I made a Liberty of London pair of shorts and a tank with ties which I wore with a cardigan I knit. I also made a tie-dye fabric with the kids which I made into a skirt.”

About her quilts: “It started out as the ‘Commuter Quilt Series' because I was making them out of Ari’s [Michele’s husband] shirts. I have a box of them I’ve been collecting since I met him - the cuffs and neckline were fraying, but the rest of were fine.

“When he got Covid, I gathered all the blue and white shirts and made a quilt for him while he was in the hospital.”

More fun than a hospital quilt: “I made a Pac Man ghost quilt and now I’m making one of Ms. Pac Man. People like the pop icons and primitive pixels, which works well with the fabric squares.”

Her tennis dresses: “I collect vintage tennis patterns for inspiration. I use the essence of them for today’s use. I play a lot of tennis so I think about what I would want in an outfit.

“I was wearing one of them, a yellow dress with white trim, and the captain of my tennis team asked me to make them for all the members of the Dogwood [Birchwood Country Club] team. It’s ‘The Birchy’ - white with navy trim. I call them ‘game day’ dresses, for special tennis matches.”

Jessica Qualls

Co-Founder & Designer, Drinking Dresses, with her sister-in-law Nicole Qualls Doyle

Every evening at 5:00, when Grandma June of St. Croix and her mother, Kakee, threw on their comfortable dresses it was time to start shaking cocktails! Inspired by the family love of their “drinking dresses,” June’s granddaughter (Nicole) and granddaughter-in-law (Jessica) now design a line of tropical island-chic muumuus to celebrate June’s ineffable spirit and to invite women to get together, toss on a dress, and toss back a cocktail.

Why now: “We talked and joked about it [Drinking Dresses] for years, then around Christmas we decided to get it started.”

Their designs: “We looked at Grandma June’s old dresses and some dress patterns from the 1960s to come up with initial silhouettes. The best moments during all of this was sitting at my in-laws kitchen table and going through boxes of photos and hearing stories about her and other relatives.”

Thank goodness that: “Everything has a pocket.”

Fortuitous mishap: “I worked to get a whole team of professional models for the photoshoot but at the last second we had to re-schedule and a lot of them couldn’t make it. So we ended up having a mish-mash of family, friends, and co-workers.

“They all began talking and connecting. It was a happy accident; I realized that Drinking Dresses is more than just cotton dresses. It’s about getting different groups of women to meet each other and make connections.”

Moving forward: “I really want to bring women together and have cocktails with friends. Sometimes before the event is the greatest part of the night.”

After all: “There’s a million dress brands out there. We know we’re not doing anything revolutionary; it’s more about the women wearing them.”

Marjorie Liff

Founder, 5 Kids and Dyeing

Marjorie is the mother of five kids, eight years old and under, including three year old triplets. She began tie dyeing as a creative outlet, a project to do with her children, and to shield her mind from that special insanity that lingers on the periphery of motherhood with five kids, including triplets.

Why tie dye: “We started tie dyeing when Ruby was 4 and Cara was 2. They’re now 8 and 6. It became a springtime tradition for us - something fun and creative we could do together. Over the years we sharpened our skills. After some encouragement from friends we decided to launch 5 Kids and Dyeing during the pandemic.”

Trickiest requests: “It’s usually from my own kids! They’re always asking me if I can make them flowers or smiley faces. We are working on it!”

On the beauty of her timing: “Everyone’s love of leisurewear during the pandemic helped fuel our business when we first started.” 

How she tie dyes with all of those offspring: “I pride myself on being a master of multi-tasking. I mostly do my dyeing during school/camp hours and after the kids go to sleep. My older girls still help with the kids stuff, when they can fit it into their busy schedules!”

If she could tie dye for anyone: “I think I would go back in time to the original tie dye boom… Woodstock… think Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, CCR. I would have loved to make tie dye stage costumes for any of them.” @5kidsanddyeing

Aliza Cohen

Founder, Mad Candy

Style isn’t just about clothes. Last Valentine’s Day, Aliza posted three snazzy candy trays to Instagram in hopes of kicking off a candy biz. The response was super sweet. Now she designs colorful boards and more for holidays, college acceptances, birthdays, fundraisers, and anything else you can image.

Helpful quotient of her kids: “I have 3 kids:

- 19 year old son… tries to eat my candy

- 16 year old daughter… tries to eat my candy

- 14 year old daughter… she is super helpful. Totally gets my creative vision. She helps with big orders and is my social media go-to person.”

Her favorite: “My fave candy is hands down sour lips. I love the sweet/sour chewy taste and love how they look on the boards. Haribo cherries are a close second.”

Taste for fashion: “I worked in the fashion industry in product development for around ten years in NYC. Pantone color chips have always excited me. My favorite part of my job was working on new color schemes and trend inspiration boards. I am now using those same concepts, just swapping creating clothing for candy boards."

Instead of Netflix: “Literally every night I sit and stalk everyone else’s Insta accounts, candy sites, and decorating sites. I discovered some Swedish candy websites that are unique and they taste delicious. I threw a couple bags of candy out recently because I didn’t like how they tasted.”

Get your order in soon: “Halloween will be a big deal and I want to launch breast cancer awareness trays and donate a percentage of sales. A stylish little pink board.”

On creating a board for Lehigh University: “The white and brown was a challenge. But I love a good candy challenge.”


Top Banana,

Drinking Dresses,

5 Kids and Dyeing, @5kidsanddyeing

Mad Candy, @MadCandyCT

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