Welcome to Who What Wear Spotlight, where we’ll be using our editorial platform, social following, and ad inventory to turn the spotlight on small businesses that need our support now more than ever. Each week, we’ll be highlighting 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. Wherever brands can tout eco-friendly practices, they’re sure to. The fashion-wide movement is really owed to the work of the smallest brands—the ones that reflect a 100% commitment to ethical production from top to bottom. Caes is the most recent slow, sustainable fashion label to catch our attention at Who What Wear, and we’re not the only ones. The Dutch fashion brand just launched on Net-a-Porter last Friday, and we’re eager to share the story behind the brand before its collection sells out at the retailer.
Based in Amsterdam, Helen de Kluiver launched Caes in reaction to the large-scale fashion industry she worked in during the beginning of her career. Sustainability, to de Kluiver, is full-fold: It’s a move toward slowing down to curb overproduction. It’s sourcing family-run factories so that materials and production are small-scale, high-quality, and eco-friendly. It also means designing pieces that can be styled together now and for years to come, encouraging a smaller capsule wardrobe and discouraging fast-fashion trends that disappear with lightning-quick seasons.
“The origin of the name Caes is twofold,” says de Kluiver. “I wanted it to embody the importance I give to clothing items—the way they are worn close to your skin every day, protecting your body like a case. It’s the reason I value high-quality materials with a luxurious feel. Secondly, Caes is phonetically the same as my father’s name Kees. He was a great scientist and a true inspiration to me, and sadly, he passed away when I was a young girl. This is my way of honoring him.”
Chic silhouettes and luxe fabrics abound in Caes’s small-but-mighty collection. As one sifts through the designs, it’s evident de Kluiver has manifested her goals of creating high-quality, investment-worthy pieces. Read the interview to find out more about how she implements her ethos into her brand and which Caes pieces are her favorites.
Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your business?
Before launching Caes, I worked as a designer for many years on huge collections that had to fall within a strict framework of (seasonal) styles, budget, and time, as is the case with most fashion brands. On a personal level, this didn’t feel right anymore. I had a strong desire to focus on designing items that would not be limited to one season only, where quality and fit would be a focus and I could really give my full attention to each piece, take my time, and really love the end product. That was my dream. I envisioned smaller collections in “editions” rather than seasons, with qualities and colors that would remain timeless and wearable year-round. I toyed with this idea for some time but was finally brave enough to take the first steps at the beginning of last year.
The first thing I did was look for the right suppliers who shared my vision. We ended up working with family-owned companies in Portugal, so we can visit them often and closely follow the production process because everything is made in-house. They are all very dedicated and truly care about their people. To me, this is as important as the quality of their work.
The actual start of the brand was a very exciting time for me. I had, of course, worked in the fashion industry for a long time, so I had many talented people around me that I could turn to for advice. I also noticed that my story and vision excited people—it was as if they were all waiting for someone to fully commit to slow-fashion design in this way.
And if you had to sum up your business in five words or less?
Simplicity, timeless, feminine.
What inspired you to start Caes? How did you get interested in ethical consumption and production?
Because I was doing the total opposite and when I gave birth to my daughter, I felt that I needed to change something. I wanted to do better for her and for future generations. Suddenly being responsible for someone else makes you think you are doing the right thing at that moment. It reaffirmed, for me, that there was an opportunity to do things differently—to focus on quality over quantity and caring for other people.
You launched in Net-a-Porter this week. Congratulations! What did it feel like when you got the news, and how do you feel this will impact your brand?
Thank you! I think I literally did a dance of joy for half an hour when I got the news—I was so excited. I am very grateful that they believe in Caes. It’s fantastic that such a large platform is focusing on more sustainable brands. With their global reach, they can make a real difference, so this is a good thing. My hope is that selling on Net-a-Porter will give us more brand awareness and highlight other smaller brands with a similar ethos.
What has been your proudest moment as a business owner?
I think it was the launch of the website—when it all finally came together: the story I want to tell, the images, and all the products.
Can you tell me more about your decision to do away with fast fashion and fashion seasons? What has been the reaction to that?
After years of working this crazy back-to-front schedule, where summer collections had to be delivered in January when it was still very cold in Amsterdam and collections had to be so large that I knew there would be a lot of unsold stock (ultimately, how much do we really need?), I wanted to create capsule collections where you can combine everything together. We often use styles from previous collections in the new collection shoot to showcase that wardrobing aspect of the brand. We also use vintage pieces to show that you can combine old with new.
Your brand’s ethos extends beyond just producing environmentally sustainable fashion. Can you tell me more about the ways you ensure that 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 each and every process. It is definitely challenging and involves a lot of research and, of course, continuously evolves with new innovation, which is really exciting. We work with a fantastic pattern maker, who makes everything in 3D to avoid waste of material. With packaging, there is a lot of plastic used in the industry, sadly, but we have found a company that produces compostable bags for packing and shipping. When we think about sustainability for us, it is not just about using the right materials. It is also about supporting each other and sharing your learnings.
Can you speak to the inspirations behind your pieces? Who are they for, and how do you envision people wearing them?
Normally, I like to visit a lot of museums to get my brain working. I am always very inspired by backstories and how things are created. I also love just walking down streets and seeing how people dress and move. I definitely miss that after this last year and having the opportunity to be reenergized through new things. That said, when I am designing a new collection, I will often start with myself and think about what I would like to wear or might have missing in my wardrobe. The next key aspect, for me, is the fabric—with minimal design, the focus then has to be on incredible materials that the customer will love and want to wear for years to come. My main hope is that someone who is looking for the perfect sweater to wear for years will find it at Caes.
How did the pandemic and stay-at-home orders affect your business? How have your priorities shifted over the last year?
This is a challenging time for us all, and the huge impact it has had on people and businesses around the world makes me very sad. I try to stay positive, but of course, I struggled with the immensity of it all, too, especially as we have been in lockdown after lockdown in Amsterdam.
It didn’t really affect my creative approach and strategy. If anything, it reaffirmed that I needed to slow down for my focus to be on quality over quantity. I think there has been an awakening as to what we actually need versus what we want. A person really doesn’t need that many material things. Instead, prioritizing social interactions (when we can have them!) and caring for each other seems so much more important nowadays. This is very much the idea behind my brand, and that makes me hopeful for the future of Caes.
We like to give a little Spotlight love to other brands. What are two to three of your favorite brands you like to support and why?
Sophie Joanne is also a brand from Amsterdam. Sophie designs beautiful jewelry, all handmade. I think we need to support each other, especially as we are such a small country. I love her vision, and she is so passionate about what she does.
St. Rose makes clean, transparent, gender-neutral fragrances with a beautiful aesthetic and ethos. I really love the scents.