Caren Lettiere ’83 started Democracy Clothing 13 years ago as a way to provide stylish clothing to busy women navigating “post-baby bodies.” A political science major, she also saw an opportunity: to extend that focus on women’s well-being to create a greater impact. “I always wanted to do something to give back to the community,” she says.

So when she decided she wanted the brand she founded to spotlight “change-making” women, she immediately thought of her college friend Elizabeth Gelfand Stearns, “an incredibly dynamic and charismatic person.” Stearns lost both her mother and grandmother to Alzheimer’s disease. She now chairs The Judy Fund, a philanthropic organization she started with her father 20 years ago to raise money for women’s brain research related to Alzheimer’s.

Stearns and Lettiere at Stearns’ home in Santa Monica

From Stearns, Lettiere learned that women are more likely than men to suffer from Alzheimer’s disease, as well as more likely to become caretakers for someone with the illness. She knew The Judy Fund was the place for her company to focus its advocacy efforts.

Democracy Clothing featured Stearns’ philanthropic work in a blog and then raised money in various ways, including encouraging customers to round up their purchases and sponsoring Santa Monica’s Walk to End Alzheimer’s, among other initiatives. By the end of 2022, Democracy’s efforts had contributed nearly $15,000 to The Judy Fund, with more to come.

Stearns is touched by her dear friend’s long-term commitment to the cause. “We are incredibly appreciative of Democracy,” she says. “It all started at Sproul Hall with our 18-year-old selves, and now here we are, many decades later.”

For Lettiere, the partnership is a great way for the brand she founded for women to address an issue that has a huge impact on them. “It’s something that is not only going to have a positive impact on a disease that has no cure, but [will] specifically apply the research to women,” she says, “so that we can try to solve this problem for women.”

Read more from UCLA Magazine’s Spring 2023 issue.