That’s the first word that comes to mind when I think of KemperKemper founder, Kemper Mitchell. After a few moments of talking to her, it is clear everything Mitchell does has a purpose and a meaning far beyond what meets the eye. Her custom-made handbags and personally curated one-of-a-kind hats are not just an exceptional addition to any person’s wardrobe but also a reflection of the fulfillment of a dream years in the making. With one freeing move to California, the Texas-native began a pursuit of fashion that eventually led her to start the online store of her dreams.
Every piece of Mitchell’s original work and hand-selected pieces from other artists, exudes individuality-the feeling that when you wear it, everyone around you won’t help but notice. The distinct flair of any KemperKemper piece is an echo of its creator’s own love for unique clothing and bags.
“At the age of 10, I would always look at older women and watch how they dressed, how they carry [sic] themselves and the bags that they were wearing,” said Kemper. “My grandmother-she wore the big hats and the nice bags. [I said to myself] you know what, when I grow up I’m going to be just like my grandmother.”
Taking cues from her stylish matriarch, Mitchell has always been committed to the field she believes she was destined to pursue. “I feel like I was born with an eye for fashion,” the artist informed me when asked how long she’s felt called to work in the fashion industry.
It is this eye for fashion and commitment to her dream that allowed Mitchell to continue expressing herself through style even when she was in an unrelated career. She recalls,“Fashion was a hobby, I never worked in the fashion industry. My background is hospitality…so I worked in the hospitality industry for about 18 years but I’ve always liked to dress; I’ve always admired women that carried themselves well and had a nice clutch bag.”
It’s impossible to look at Mitchell’s pieces and not feel that they were made by an artist who cares about each piece she creates. When asked whether she had any favorite pieces she replied, “I can’t say that I do. I just feel as though anything I do is a favorite…any and everything I do is a favorite.”
Just as her bags and hats are a reflection of her distinct personality, so is the name of her company. Speaking about her eponymous brand name she says, “growing up I didn’t like my name, no one pronounced it right. As I became an adult I realized my name means ‘champion.’ It’s very unique and I’m a very unique young lady and why not name my company, KemperKemper?”
Though she currently beams confidence and self-assurance, the fashion lover informed me there was a time when she could not see herself living out her dream. “I’ve always thought about being very successful in the fashion industry; however I never really thought I would get there and that’s just from upbringing…a negative environment,” Mitchell remembers. “So moving here to the Bay Area was just…it was a wise move and a huge move for me to pursue my dreams and my goals.” Twenty years after her move to California, Mitchell is still living out her goals and challenging herself.
“Today I am still in school. [I’m] pursuing my dreams and my passion for fashion and you know, just the sky’s the limit,” she says through a smile. “I’m no longer stuck on fear, stuck on allowing fear to cripple me from just doing whatever I choose to do. I now know that whatever I choose to do, whatever I put my mind to, I can do it. I can do anything I put my mind to so that’s where I’m at today.”
It is this type of unlimited optimism and inspiration that feels almost tangible through the phone. In listening to her story and how she overcame various obstacles of self-doubt and negativity it is easy to tell that Mitchell has had to make a lot of courageous decisions in order to achieve what she has now in KemperKemper.
It was her bold decision to focus on herself and her ambitions, after the high school graduation of her daughter, which brought KemperKemper to life. On getting the business started she joked, “Okay what do I do now? I don’t have anyone to bug so what do I do? I say, ‘well now’s the time for you to focus on you…your daughter has graduated from high school.’ So I would have to say that sparked it, seeing my daughter through high school, seeing her graduate and saying, ‘okay now’s it’s my turn, now I can focus on me.’”
Committed to giving back to her community, Mitchell believes her story and her success can be used to inspire others. “I give back to the troubled young girls, and even young women that are struggling because I can relate…giving back is what keeps me going…It’s very important for me to share [my story] because, you know, God didn’t save me for me, He saved me to share with other women not only my story, but to encourage, inspire and motivate them to keep going.”
Speaking encouragement to people is as much of a passion for Mitchell as designing and curating her handbags and hats. Even when asked the lighthearted question, “If you were a raindrop where would you fall?” Mitchell’s answer is focused on urging others to keep moving forward. “I would want to fall on the hopeless, the homeless. I would want to fall on people that have given up on themselves, given up on life.” After a brief pause she laughs, “I would want to fall in a lot of different places.”
Whether it’s “Georgia’s Gems” or “A Night Out in Capetown,” each bag or hat I viewed on her site left me wanting to know a bit more about the piece and what inspired its creation. Mitchell acknowledges the designers who came before her, for sparking her own creativity in her pieces.
“I didn’t just start designing my own bags, I started selling other people’s bags, so I would have to give credit to designers that came before me, that made a way for me to even make it possible for me,” says Mitchell. “That’s pretty much it…people that came before me, people that are unique. That’s why shopping at the malls are not for me — I’m a boutiquer, so I feel like if they don’t have it at the boutique store I need to sit down and figure out how to make it.”
With a successful business underway, Mitchell makes it clear she’s only planning on growing bigger and better as time goes on. “I’m just getting started. The best is yet to come, it’s the beginning for me and I’m grateful for just where I am and where I’m going and where I’ve been. I just look forward to what God has in store,” she announces with unwavering faith.
Few people can say they’ve pursued their dream no matter what obstacles have been ahead of them. Kemper Mitchell is one of those people. She overcame addiction and a negative environment in order to make her fashion-driven vision a reality.
Kemper Mitchell’s pieces are as inspired as she is inspirational. Admiring one of her accessories is just like speaking to the creator of it herself; no matter how you encounter them, they will leave an unforgettable impression on you.
Tags: Accessories, Fashion, handbags, hats, Kemper Mitchell, KemperKemper, woc, women of color