From Wharton App Essay to Cancer-Curing Fashion

Zofia M. Wosinska wrote her Wharton MBA for Executives application essay about wanting to start a business to support cancer patients. When Wosinska, WG’14, enrolled and took classes at Wharton | San Francisco, she realized she really could do it. Now she is—in maybe not the way you would think a Ph.D. chemist would.

Wosinska is throwing a presale. More specifically, she is launching her fashion startup ÉSTAINE in October, Breast Cancer Awareness Month, by taking orders on a collection of luxury accessories and apparel. Seven items in all—scarves, ties, pocket squares—all in patterns and colors to mimic the dyes of cancer diagnosis. She has designed them and will turn to artisans in Italy to manufacture them.

First, she must sell them.

ÉSTAINE presale

The ÉSTAINE rose scarf

Visitors to the ÉSTAINE website can make a “pledge” on one or more of the items, which come with price tags ranging from $100 to $500.

She considers the presale her first round of funding.

“We decided to kind of launch this as our own Kickstarter,” she says.

The goal is to meet the minimum to cover the manufacturing costs, though obviously the better they do in October, the more the startup’s development and future will be funded.

ÉSTAINE presale

The Fiore tie, another piece in the first ÉSTAINE collection

And the future of cancer research and education. Wosinska’s is a for-purpose startup—with part of the firm’s profits (as much as 20 percent of every sale) going to a cancer-related nonprofit beneficiary. She confides that one of her earliest decisions was whether her company would be for-profit or nonprofit. She went with the former because she wanted to have impact, but through a sustainable business model.

The market, she explains, can be “a very powerful tool to making a difference.”

For the October ÉSTAINE presale, the charity is BreastCancer.org, a nonprofit focused on education and resources.

“This has been my dream for a really long time,” she says.

Her life for a decade has been in diagnostics and research, and her husband, Jeremy Picker, is a cancer survivor. Picker also runs his own fashion company (AMB3R.com), and her younger sister had her own fashion line. While Wosinska herself was wearing a lab coat for eight years as a Ph.D. student and then a Roche employee, she always was dressed well underneath, she assures.

Zofia M. Wosinska, WG'14, founder of  ÉSTAINE

Zofia M. Wosinska, WG’14, founder of ÉSTAINE

It was at a Roche tissue diagnostics lab in Tuscon, Ariz., where she first combined the worlds of fashion and medicine. On top of her day job at the diagnostics company, she raised money for a local children’s hospital by doing a fashion show with clothing inspired by the colors and patterns she saw under her microscope.

“Man, this is such a fantastic way to raise awareness,” is what she remembers thinking.

Wharton has turned out to be a fantastic way to raise momentum. Besides the confidence and knowledge gained in the classrooms along the Embarcadero, Wosinska tapped the network. Americus Reed, the Whitney M. Young Jr. Professor of Marketing, is on the firm’s board of advisers. Social impact pioneer K. Robert “Bobby” Turner, W’84, is on the board as well, and had a big hand in convincing Wosinska she could pull off ÉSTAINE.

“Through his mentorship, he gave me a lot of confidence in myself and the for-profit/for-purpose business model,” Wosinska says.

Wharton | San Francisco classmates Kristal Dehnad, WG’14, managing director at Stanford Management Co., and Dr. Simran Sethi, WG’14, CEO of Urology Associates of Stockton, are also close at hand with help. And BreastCancer.org’s CEO is Hope Wohl, WG’92.

To support the ÉSTAINE presale, and to reach out to potential customers (Wharton alumni and otherwise), Wosinska and company have been on tour throughout October—starting in San Francisco; followed by a visit to Tucson and former colleagues at Roche; then Denver; and eventually Philadelphia on Oct. 23, where she’ll present on campus at noon in Jon M. Huntsman Hall, room G60—in time hopefully to boost her presale by month’s end.

 

Watch Wosinska explain how “Wharton Made Me Bold” in the video above.

 

 

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