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Welcome to Who wears what headlights, This is where we will use our editorial platform, social networks and ad inventory to spotlight small businesses that need our support now more than ever. Every week we will introduce a new fashion or beauty company. If you own a small brand and would like to be considered for the program, please apply here.
It's no secret that sustainability is in it. Wherever brands can promote environmentally friendly practices, they are safe. The fashion-wide movement is really thanks to the work of the smallest brands reflecting a 100% commitment to ethical manufacturing from top to bottom. Caes is the latest slow, sustainable fashion label to bring our attention to Who What Wear, and we're not the only ones. The Dutch fashion brand was only launched on Net-a-Porter last Friday. We'd like to share the story behind the brand before their collection sells out at the retailer.
Based in Amsterdam, Helen de Kluiver founded Caes in response to the large fashion industry she was in early in her career. For de Kluiver, sustainability is in full swing: it's about slowing down to curb overproduction. It moves into family-run factories so that materials and production are small, high quality and environmentally friendly. It also means creating pieces that can be styled together now and for years to come, promoting a smaller capsule wardrobe, and discouraging fast fashion trends that fade with lightning fast seasons.
""The name Caes has two origins, "says de Kluiver." I wanted him to embody the importance I attach to clothes – the way they are worn every day and protect your body like a cover. For this reason I appreciate high quality materials with a luxurious feel. Second, Caes is phonetically the same as my father's name, Kees. He was a great scientist and a real inspiration to me, and unfortunately he died when I was a young girl. This is my way of honoring him. "
Caes' small but mighty collection has lots of chic silhouettes and luxurious fabrics. As you leaf through the designs, it is evident that de Kluiver has manifested her goals of creating high quality, investment-worthy pieces. Read the interview to learn more about how she translates her ethos into her brand and which Caes pieces are her favorites.
Can you tell us something about yourself and your company?
Before launching Caes, I worked as a designer for many years as a designer on huge collections that had to be within a strict framework of (seasonal) styles, budget and time, as is the case with most fashion brands. On a personal level, that didn't feel right anymore. I had a strong desire to focus on designing items that weren't limited to just one season where quality and fit were paramount, and I was able to give each piece my full attention, take my time, and really the final product love. That was my dream. I imagined smaller collections in "editions" instead of in seasons, with qualities and colors that would remain timeless and wearable all year round. I played with this idea for a while, but ended up being brave enough to take the first steps early last year.
First, I looked for the right suppliers who shared my vision. We ended up working with family businesses in Portugal so we could visit them frequently and follow the production process closely as everything is made in-house. They are all very dedicated and really care about their people. For me this is just as important as the quality of your work.
The actual start of the brand was a very exciting time for me. I'd worked in the fashion industry for a long time, of course, so I had a lot of talented people around me to turn to for advice. I also noticed that my story and vision got people excited – it was like they were all waiting for someone to fully embrace slow fashion design that way.
What if you had to summarize your business in five words or less?
Simplicity, timeless, feminine.
What inspired you to found Caes? How did you become aware of ethical consumption and ethical production?
Because I did the opposite, and when I gave birth to my daughter, I felt that I had to change something. I wanted to do better for them and for future generations. Suddenly, when you are responsible for someone else, think that at that moment you are doing the right thing. For me it was reiterated that there was an opportunity to do things differently – to focus on quality instead of quantity and to take care of other people.
You started in Net-a-Porter this week. Congratulations! How did it feel when you got the news and how will it affect your brand?
Many Thanks! I think I was literally doing a joy dance for half an hour when I got the news – I was so excited. I am very grateful that you believe in Caes. It's fantastic that such a large platform is focused on more sustainable brands. With their global reach, they can make a real difference so this is a good thing. Hopefully selling through Net-a-Porter will give us more brand awareness and highlight other smaller brands with a similar ethos.
What was your proudest moment as a business owner?
I think it was the start of the website – when it all finally came together: the story I want to tell, the pictures and all the products.
Can you tell me more about your decision to end fast fashion and fashion seasons? What was the reaction to that?
After years of working on this crazy back-to-front schedule of the summer collections having to be delivered in January when it was still very cold in Amsterdam and the collections had to be so big that I knew it was (ultimately would be a lot of unsold inventory, how much do we really need?), I wanted to create capsule collections where you can mix and match everything. We often use styles from previous collections in the shoot of the new collection to demonstrate this wardrobing aspect of the brand. We also use vintage pieces to show that you can mix and match old with new.
Your brand's ethos goes beyond creating green fashion. Can you tell me more about how you are ensuring this in every aspect of your business?
We try to think through every aspect of the business and our supply chain. We want to minimize our impact through every single process. It's definitely challenging and requires a lot of research and of course it's always evolving with new innovations which is really exciting. We work with a fantastic model maker who does everything in 3D to avoid wasting material. Unfortunately there is a lot of plastic used in the industry, but we found a company that makes compostable bags for packaging and shipping. When we think about sustainability for ourselves, it's not just about using the right materials. It's also about supporting each other and sharing your insights.
Can you talk to the inspirations behind your pieces? Who are they for and how do you imagine people wearing them?
I usually like to visit a lot of museums to get my brain working. I'm always very inspired by backstories and how things come about. I also love just walking the streets and seeing people dress and move. I definitely miss that after this last year and have the opportunity to recharge my batteries with new things. That said, when I design a new collection I often start with myself and think about what I would like to wear or what could be missing from my wardrobe. The next important aspect for me is the fabric – with minimal design, the focus must then be on incredible materials that the customer will love and want to wear for years. My greatest hope is that someone who has spent years looking for the perfect sweater will find it at Caes.
How have the pandemic and stay-at-home orders affected your business? How have your priorities shifted over the past year?
This is a challenging time for all of us and I am very saddened by the huge impact it has on people and businesses around the world. I try to stay positive, but of course I also struggled with the immensity of it all, especially since we were repeatedly banned in Amsterdam.
It didn't really affect my creative approach or strategy. If anything, it was re-confirmed that I needed to slow down so I could focus on quality over quantity. I think there has been an awakening to what we actually need and what we want. A person really doesn't need that many material things. Instead, it seems far more important these days to prioritize social interactions (if we can have them!) And take care of each other. This is the idea behind my brand and it makes me hopeful about the future of Caes.
We'd like to give other brands a little spotlight love. Which two or three of your favorite brands do you like to support and why?
Sophie Joanne is also a brand from Amsterdam. Sophie designs beautiful jewelry, all handmade. I think we have to support each other, especially since we are such a small country. I love her vision and she is so passionate about what she is doing.
St. Rose makes clean, transparent, gender-neutral fragrances with a beautiful aesthetic and ethos. I really love the fragrances.
Next up are the made-to-order lounge sets that will be blown up in the fashion world