Meet Ilana Kugel, the Latina Powerhouse Behind the Groundbreaking Fashion Brand Koral

Ilana Kugel Koral BELatina Latinx
Photo courtesy of Ilana Kugel.

As the world has shifted in focus during the past few decades, especially after the pandemic, so has fashion. Many women, for example, have ditched more formal clothing in favor of comfortable activewear. 

However, just because your closet is filled with athleisure does not mean you need to abandon your style. This is something that Ilana Kugel, the Latina entrepreneur behind Koral, believes deep in her gut. In her opinion, athletic wear should still be fashion-forward and fun, and she is on a mission to make sure that’s the reality for women coast to coast. 

A Latina immigrant from Brazil, Kugel is an athlete, a fashion-obsessed businesswoman, and an entrepreneur. After many years of working her way up the fashion ladder in Brazil and then in America, with schooling, internships, and apprenticeships, Kugel created a brand that is as much about style as it is about sustainability. 

Koral is a sustainably sleek activewear brand that is changing the face of athleisure in more ways than one. 

Gone are the days of dull fabrics or depressing colors — no more uncomfortable leggings (too tight in the waist, material that pinches in all the wrong places) or ugly (but functional) tank tops. Koral is focused on creating trend-forward pieces that are perfect for a workout and make women feel their best so they can express themselves and get sh*t done.

Koral blends Kugel’s Brazilian roots with her active Los Angeles lifestyle. Its growing fan base includes women across the country and celebrities and style icons such as Jennifer Lopez. 

The brand officially launched in 2014 to fill a gap in the activewear market in the US. Koral’s products have been sophisticated, sustainable, and crafted for high-performance activities from the very first collection. They are also designed to be worn all day — perfect for the modern woman who wants to elevate her wardrobe to fit seamlessly into her daily life.

Thanks to her industry-standard-setting work at Koral, Kugel was inducted into the CFDA in 2019.

We chatted with Ilana to hear more about her background, what drives her, what inspires her entrepreneurial spirit, and how her Brazilian roots influence her daily style.

Tell us about your background — where are you from, and what first inspired you to become a fashion designer? 

I’m from Brazil. I moved to LA 16 years ago to continue my fashion career. I was first inspired to become a fashion designer after spending a lot of time with a good friend of mine’s family. They owned two very popular fashion brands in Brazil and would bring me to Sao Paulo Fashion Week and to their factories. It was fascinating! When my friend’s older sister began fashion school in Brazil, hearing her experiences made me realize exactly what I wanted to do. My Brazilian roots continue to influence my designs by allowing me to infuse empowerment — and bold colors! —  into every piece. 

In Brazil, because the weather is different and because of our overall culture, we’re a bit more comfortable in our own skin and accept our bodies as they are. From XS to XL, women are wearing what makes them feel sexy and empowered. When designing, I keep that in mind and want every woman to feel beautiful in Koral, which I believe is important for American culture. 

What or who inspires your entrepreneurial spirit? Did you always know you wanted to be a business owner?

I would say the females I grew up with and have met throughout my life – from family members to friends — have all really helped mold me. Once I realized that I was interested in fashion, I knew I wanted my own brand and went to university at 18 years old to learn and make it happen. Being inspired by my roots, my approach was to design swimwear and activewear, two types of clothing we constantly wear in Brazil, and to be the designer behind them. 

What is the biggest challenge you have faced as a Latina entrepreneur?

I would say the language barrier and bringing a Brazilian vision to America were the biggest challenges for me. In Brazil, we are wearing bright colors, prints, bolder designs, etc. which is quite different than American fashion. In my designs, I aim to give women the confidence to be able to embrace themselves and live more courageously.  

Koral is dedicated to sustainable fashion and reducing fashion waste. Why is this so important to you and to the brand? What measures are you taking to minimize your environmental impact at Koral?

I believe that fashion needs to take responsibility for its impact. The fashion industry creates so much waste between samples and scraps. While creating my brand, I knew that sustainability needed to be a big part of it. At Koral, we’re taking all the measures, from recycled paper hangtags to our proprietary sustainable fabrics like our Koral Blackout™ fabric that uses solar panel technology and local water that is treated and returned to the environment, and our Koral Rib™ fabric that is made by LYCRA® EcoMade™ yarn which is the first recycled yarn from the LYCRA company. 

What are currently your favorite, must-have KORAL styles? 

Such a hard question! We release new collections seasonally, so my favorites are constantly changing. For Spring, I’m so excited about our new colorways. They’re so bright and fun. Right now, I’m loving the Koral Lustrous™ Max High Rise Legging in Blush with the matching Attract Infinity Top — it’s the perfect fusion of feminine and strong.

What’s next for KORAL? What are your goals for the future of the brand?

We have some exciting collaborations coming up that I cannot wait to share! We’re really flexing our design muscle, partnering with like-minded, elevated brands to bring something unique to the market. In the future, I want to keep collaborating with amazing designers, celebrities, and influential people to create memorable collections for our customers to enjoy.