Student Small Businesses: Blue Bear Apparel, Made to Make You Feel Good


Courtesy of Kathryn Mann

Founder and senior Kathryn Mann, pictured in the Off-White Cardigan Top, self-models for Blue Bear’s instagram @_bluebearapparel.

By Charlotte Cao and Jaein Kim

Founder and senior Kathryn Mann’s business began in her Advanced Technical Theater class when drama teacher Samantha Sanford gave students a month to work on a project that would build upon their artistic knowledge. While some students used this time to learn a new skill, such as lighting, Mann, whose passion is costume design, took this project one step further: she aimed to develop a fully-fledged clothing line.

“Kathryn proposed one of the more complicated projects,” Sanford said. “She said she wanted to start her own business, and she worked it through with the assistance of her parents to figure out what model would work and how she would want to roll it out.”

Though Mann does have prior sewing experience from her work as costume design lead in various school plays, she said she hopes that Blue Bear Apparel will be her first official step into the fashion industry, which she plans to pursue as a career.

“Sewing’s been a big part of my life since I was little. My mom taught me the basics,” Mann said. “I remember always watching red carpets and drawing up designs of my own. I think that’s when my passion began.”

With the support of her parents and friends, Mann officially launched Blue Bear Apparel in September 2020 with five designs. Since then, she has added two more pieces. Mann buys each design from a wholesale retailer in packs of six. The biggest challenge during the pandemic, according to Mann, is the lack of in-person visits and examinations for her wholesale purchases.

“I’m really proud of her, and I know she’s gonna do something amazing with this line,” Mann’s friend and senior Maria Pantoja said. “She would show me her sketchbook during French class, and I was just amazed by her designs. They were all things I knew I would buy, and I knew a lot of other people would want to, too. All her hard work is paying off.”

Currently, Blue Bear Apparel is selling items such as corduroy jackets and cardigans on its website Mann also introduced custom corsets to the collection on Jan. 31. But no matter the piece, Mann always places the emphasis on comfort and empowerment, rather than simply keeping up with the latest trend.

“The message is less about Blue Bear Apparel,” Mann said. “I did a lot of comparing myself to other people online, how I looked in clothes to how they looked in clothes. The real message I want to communicate is to try to stop being so judgemental of yourself and work on finding clothes that make you feel confident.”

This story was originally published on Portola Pilot on February 8, 2021.