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Two Boca women are taking their design talents and putting them toward a deserving—and personal—cause.
It’s no coincidence that proceeds from the high fashion purse brand Wren & Roch Inc. benefit organizations such as ACT (Abuse Counseling & Treatment) and Lauren’s Kids. You see, founders Karen Hansen, 44, and Laura Rachlin, 42, have more in common than just their love of purses; they are both survivors of sexual assault.
Hansen and Rachlin grew up in Florida, and currently reside in Boca Raton. Working in the interior design industry, the two met in 1999 on a sunset Intracoastal cruise hosted by a wallcoverings vendor. They connected instantly, becoming business partners and best friends.
But it wasn’t handbags they initially collaborated on. In 2001, they began a commercial interior design firm with a strong focus on health care, which led to working on numerous projects for Boca Raton Regional Hospital and West Boca Medical Center.
The business itself was succeeding beyond expectations. Hansen and Rachlin began product design, receiving both patents and awards for their creations. Soon, a search for a handbag manufacturer was in the works.
A phone call from a friend who suggested the duo donate the handbag proceeds to charitable organizations aligned with their life events led the ladies to realize their mission. The company now strives to increase awareness of assault, empower victims to feel confident again, “carry their courage” and strive to bring an end to abuse—something both women know well.
In 1993, Rachlin started classes at Valencia Community College, and in 1994, Hansen began attending college at Florida State University. One night, a man walked Hansen home after a night of drinking off campus with a group of friends. He insisted on coming up, and when they were inside Hansen’s place, he forced himself on her. The result was pregnancy.
Rachlin faced a similar attack that started with a date. When returning to her apartment, Rachlin’s date raped her.
Both cases went unreported. (It is important to note the common terms “date rape” and “acquaintance rape” were not in use until years later.)
“Our friendship has been crucial in our ability to manage these issues,” Hansen says. “It is certainly a form of therapy to have someone you can confide in completely without judgment. ...Wren & Roch has become an invaluable way to turn our difficult experiences into a positive outcome.”
Wren & Roch held a trunk show at Bloomingdale’s in Town Center at Boca Raton last month to benefit Lauren’s Kids, an organization that works to prevent child sexual abuse. The duo also hosts trunk shows throughout the country, with each show benefiting an organization local to that particular area. Proceeds aren’t just limited to trunk shows: Wren & Roch’s first year of e-commerce sales equally benefit Safespace Foundation and the aforementioned Lauren’s Kids. And the list should continue to grow.
“We are very proud of the work we are doing and already feel that we are having a positive effect on other victims and survivors,” Hansen says. “Each purchase includes ‘Carry Your Courage’ cards, which include our company’s mission, making it simple for clients to share our story and cause with others. We also encourage victims to become survivors and join our stance against silence by including themselves on our website’s survivor page.”
Shoppers will note products have compelling monikers and categories, such as “Street Smart-Common Sense” and “Love Note-Deep Thoughts,” so clients can connect with not only the product but also the mission.
In regard to giving advice to victims of sexual assault, Hansen has powerful words. “Do not blame yourself or feel ashamed,” she says. “This is the key to ending this epidemic and often the hardest part of the incident(s) to overcome internally. Predators often count on the fact that victims will fear not being believed, will feel ashamed or will blame themselves. … Speaking out can be empowering for victims in helping them transform into survivors, but it can also prevent others from becoming victims as well.”