Susan Kopperman’s Story

Susan P KoppermanSusan Pollock Kopperman calls herself a “people decorator.” She helps strengthen corporate images by designing the clothing that employees wear to work. Her clients are varied in their needs. And Kopperman’s skills and interests are just as diverse.

This spring Kopperman’s company, Careerlook Inc., received the Career Apparel Institute’s Image of the Year award for her work with Sprint PCS. She shares this award with such past winners as Mobil Oil, Coca-Cola and Exxon. It is the uniform industry’s highest honor. Because of that exposure, she has a growing list of new accounts wanting the benefits of her expertise.

The Career Evolves

Kopperman’s work in the business began in 1971, when she went to work for Career Apparel, Inc., in Chicago, Illinois. One of her first clients was Ozark Airlines. Attendants had worn basic navy blue uniforms, but she gave them variety by designing new mix-and-match wardrobes. She helped develop work clothes for the employees at Yellowstone National Park. She worked on structured apparel programs for the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, U.S. Customs and Immigration, McDonald’s and others.

In 1974, Dutton Brookfield of Kansas City’s Unitog, a uniform company, hired her to work for him. Her task was to call on “white-collar” companies, such as banks or savings and loan institutions, to sell custom-made office apparel, such as embroidered shirts and blazers. The division was called Careerlook.

Kopperman worked for Brookfield until he closed the Careerlook division, then she ran an apparel business on her own. Susan recalls: ” I got a business plan. I got my trademark. I started making contacts with CEO’s of companies that did purchasing, going to vendors, getting the concept of my company all together.”

Through Careerlook, Kopperman has provided everything from T-shirts for workers at a car wash to business suits for executives. Local clients have included Angel Flight America, Fiorella’s Jack Stack, First National Bank of Olathe, the Diagnostic Imaging Center and Sprint.

The Sprint PCS project came to her, like most of her accounts, because she saw a need. It became obvious to her the day she went into a Sprint PCS retail store and couldn’t tell who worked there. “I just happened to go in to buy a phone. I said, ‘Are you guys on a [uniform] program? Who is your manager?’ and one thing led to another,” Kopperman said. She made a presentation to Sprint PCS and competed with four other companies for the account. “To get this award this year was like a validation,” Susan explains.

Challenges, Fears and Resolution

Susan explains, “Now is a wonderful time for a woman to start stretching out, even if she is only doing part-time work–to start exploring that side of herself and learning about money and how things work. I’m learning about all of those things I never knew.”

She is a great female advocate, but she doesn’t think of herself as a woman in her role as company president. “I think of myself as doing a job.

“And if you do have fears, and I do, I think part of being in business is you have to process and work through your fears. But you are a better person when you get to the other side of it because you have received the message. I always ask myself, ‘What is the message here? What am I supposed to be learning?’ And it’s a process; you are always looking for the right answer.

“The most important things to me are my children, my health, my work and my relationships with the people I love. That’s it. That’s what I focus on every day.”

-Ann Vernon, Sun Publications
-Photo by Keven Blayne