Q&A: the Dôen Founders on Running a Sustainable Fashion Brand
We interviewed DÔEN two years ago and since then their perspective on sustainability has evolved. We hope all brands will embrace circular fashion and encourage their communities to keep pieces out of landfills. For details on DÔEN’s current approach please visit their Social Responsibility page.
Do your fashion fantasies involve gallivanting across prairies in the perfect gauzy dress, cozying up in Peruvian-made knits on the beach and ethical production practices? If so, you’re probably already familiar with DÔEN (and if not, get ready to fall in love). Founded by sisters Margaret and Katherine Kleveland, the LA-based line is a modern bohemian dream filled with timeless pieces that are invitingly easy to wear. And if you already have some of their pieces in your collection, we have good news. We’re launching a special offering for Earth Month: consign any DÔEN piece at our LA or NYC stores, and get a $50 credit at shopdoen.com right there on the spot. It’s a prime opportunity to switch things up for spring and support sustainability and the circular economy at the same time — something both DÔEN and TRR are all about. To celebrate and dive deeper into the story behind the brand, we caught up with the founders who shared the mentors they look up to, the small changes that add up to a bigger environmental impact and what they’re consigning.
How did DÔEN begin and how have you grown the company?
Coming from a wholesale background, we saw a glaring gap in the market for clothing made for women by women that felt feminine, easy and natural. We made the decision to be a direct-to-consumer brand in order to receive product feedback directly from the customer versus a middle-man (retailer). Pursuing a DTC sales channel felt like the only way to have an intimate connection with our customer while also giving us the ability to offer our clothes at a more affordable price. We use our social media platforms to hear from and engage with our customers in order to know what people are loving, how items are fitting, thoughts on fabric, etc. Having open communication allows us to build trust with our community. Our customer knows they can email or message us online and receive a quick yet personal response.
We take pride in cultivating a community that feels connected to the brand above and beyond a typical customer/retailer relationship. We look to build a safe environment for women to encourage and lean on one another. As a feminist, women-owned business, our audience has also been very receptive to our vocal stand on political issues. Using our brand as a platform to promote positive messages is hugely fulfilling and we consider it a great achievement. Building this community is crucial to us in forming a customer base of women that want to buy from a brand they personally align with.
You’re very conscious about the factories you work with. How does sustainability come into play when you’re designing the line and running the business?
We consider sustainability a top priority in consciously running a forward-thinking business. We work with factories (whom we consider true partners) that are on the forefront of sustainability, constantly brainstorming and acting on ways we can lower our carbon footprint and give back to Mother Earth. We prioritize making small changes in the day-to-day of our supply chain that will make a large impact in aggregate. We are extremely thoughtful in the design process and avoid over-producing fabrics by only creating pieces we are deeply passionate about — and therefore produce fabric exactly to our units. We primarily use natural fabrics and embrace a “fewer, better things” mentality in regards to consumption. By making quality, timeless pieces, we ensure that they can be worn season after season. We reject the idea that clothing is disposable, and encourage the reselling of our clothes via secondhand and consignment retailers.
Our packing is 100% recyclable, and our Eco-shippers include a minimum of 90% post consumer content. We are working to participate in production methods that eliminate waste — our children’s clothing offering started as a way to produce garments from what would have been the wastage fabrics from our women’s collection. As we expand our children’s offering, we are also expanding our commitment to work with organic fabrics when possible. Many of our children’s knits out of Peru are 100% organic Pima cotton.
Are there businesses or mentors you look up to? What is some of the best advice you’ve received?
We are grateful to have various mentors who have always been (and continue to be) there for us as a sounding board since we launched DÔEN. Friends whose businesses we look up to — like the amazing Emily Weiss of Glossier and Amanda Chantal Bacon of Moon Juice — as well as partners of the brand who are experts in their own fields like our campaign photographer and creative consultant, Hilary Walsh.
One company we always look to when making decisions on our future is Patagonia. The kind of company Yvon Chouinard built is one that we strive to be – from production and company culture to the respect and care for its employees and customers. We love this quote (along with many others) from his book Let My People Go Surfing: “I think of Patagonia as an ecosystem, with its vendors and customers as an integral part of that system. A problem anywhere in the system eventually affects the whole, and gives everyone an overriding responsibility of health of the whole organism. It also means that anyone, low on the totem pole or high, inside the company or out, can contribute significantly to the health of the company and to the integrity and value of our products.”
In your experience, do people seek out DÔEN pieces because they are produced ethically and sustainably? What is the industry’s role in creating that kind of demand?
With so much information out there through social media and beyond, we feel consumers are shopping smarter than in the past and want to buy from brands whose ethics and principles they support. We’re open about how we run our company and the organizations we stand behind, both vocally and financially; we want our customers to know that when they are supporting us, they’re supporting a women-owned and operated company, girls’ education (through our partner Room to Read), and the slow fashion & sustainability movements.
Some brands have yet to embrace consignment, but others like Stella McCartney and now DÔEN are recognizing its place in supporting sustainability and the circular economy. What are your thoughts on seeing DÔEN pieces as part of this movement?
From inception, we knew we wanted to be a part of the slow fashion movement. Slow fashion to us is all about thoughtful purchases, recycling and reusing. We are also vintage lovers and are always pairing DÔEN with used Levi’s or a worn-in sweatshirt. It’s exciting to us to wear a consigned piece because you know it has been loved previously — it’s fun to think of its past and giving the piece new life.