This time of year often spurs moments of self-reflection. Looking back, I realize that I’ve experienced a lot of “firsts” recently. One of these "firsts" was meeting Cloe, the designer behind Cloina.
Cloina is a fashion brand that specializes in sustainable wear, shoes, and accessories. Cloe, a Chicago native, started the brand in 2018 and has grown a substantial following in the sustainable wear community. Through the process of upcycling, she transforms thrifted pieces of clothing and makes them new again with her own artistic flair. Many of her pieces are 1 of 1s meaning there is only one like it to exist. This method of small-batch manufacturing is considered sustainable because it extends the lifespan of an article of clothing, delaying its eventual journey to the landfill or incinerator.
To give you a taste of what she does, here are a few items available now on the Cloina website that I love:
Technically, we first met Cloe at an event this past summer. This event was unique as I had never attended a backyard vending party like this. It was also my first time meeting any sort of clothing designer, let alone one who handmade clothes I own. That day I happened to be carrying my cow-print purse by Cloina. Of course, she recognized it and we got to chatting. Next thing you know, she invited Maricar and me to hang out at her studio.
My love affair with the Cloina brand is an interesting one. Back in the summer of 2019, I attended Pitchfork Music Festival in Chicago, my first ever music festival. To my surprise, there were a ton of great vendors out, Cloina being one of them. Though hot and sweaty, with dirt and dust everywhere, I was determined to thoughtfully shop the Cloina store racks. There was something there that attracted me, and it wasn’t a particular item (at first). It was the general look and feel of the clothes. Eventually, I found a blue T-shirt dress layered with chiffon. It was a bright, shocking shade of blue with neon green writing. As soon as I saw it, I knew I had to own it. Funny enough, it ended up being my outfit to Lollapalooza (my second ever music festival), which I attended about one month later. It’s probably one of my best looks to date.
Before finding out about Cloina, I didn’t really care where my clothes came from. I gave little thought to the hands that sewed my shirts, hemmed my pants, or the machinal labor, time, money, and resources going into a single article of clothing. I did not prioritize shopping from vintage, re-sale, handmade shops, or anyone else in the slow-fashion space. I’m better now but not perfect. Since Cloina was my introduction to slow fashion and sustainable wear, it’s appropriate that Cloe is the first clothing designer I met. So of course, Maricar and I took her up on her offer to collaborate.
Right before the Thanksgiving holiday last month, we all met up at Cloe’s studio to browse her collection, see what she’s working on, and just get to know each other. Though quite informal in nature, this collaboration was important for us, as it’s the first true Chicago collaboration project for Our Friend the Artist. That said, I’m glad to be spotlighting Cloe and the Cloina brand for our last Artist Spotlight Article of 2021. This collaboration fully encapsulates our sole purpose for existing - to connect with local Chicago artists and share their passion with the rest of the city.
Passion must be our word of the year. It is a key ingredient to creating art, I believe. There are many ways an artist can find passion. For Cloe, it’s her customers that inspire her to create. “My audience definitely, definitely inspires me. Like at Pitchfork people are trying things on and I’m like ‘Can I please take your photo? You look really good in that. You styled it in a way that I would never think of, so definitely customers and what they like [inspires me].”
Passion, inspiration, and creativity are also spurred through the physical process of creating. Cloe’s creative process is hands-on and relies heavily on the material she’s manipulating and the way it lives in the world: “I can’t just sit down and sketch something and turn it into a pattern. I’m inspired by the objects in front of me and then lean into manipulation. I get inspired at the thrift store and estate sales. [It’s when] I have the objects in front of me and I start making piles of things that would look good together, but every day is completely different. Sometimes I won’t have the idea until it’s in front of me on the mannequin and I’m trying to think of how to make this a completely different garment than it was made to be.”
What’s interesting here too, is that Cloina fully encompasses the concept of sustainability from both a physical and theoretical sense. Physically, Cloe takes actual pieces of clothing (accessories and shoes too) and makes them into something new. Theoretically, the process of taking inspiration from a place and the objects around us is recycling LOCAL ideas and concepts. The inspiration could be the city, ourselves, or friends. Perhaps the same reigns true for most other independent small businesses and creators. Assuming they draw inspiration from the world nearest them, the pieces they make reflect that environment and hopefully attract the interest of local customers.
Passion is also crucial in times of hardship. More recently, the challenge of overcoming Covid-19 was a significant one. Prior to the pandemic, 70% of Cloina sales were garnered from in-person purchases. So when stores closed down, you can imagine the tight spot Cloe was in. Hardships, however, are great opportunities to learn, especially for small businesses. Failing is just part of the process, Cloe explains, “You can’t succeed without failure. You can’t learn, you can’t grow and you can’t get a different mindset. You can’t even get the knowledge without failing... We’re made to think that you choose to do something and then you’re gonna do it, and now this is your life and it’s great and it’s perfect and it’s just like nah.”
In Cloe’s case, she now knows she can’t totally rely on pop-ups and other in-person events. Instead, she looks internally at her branding and voices a desire to revamp the business with new, more cohesive messaging and content, “I’m narrowing down on that and making sure my Instagram goes with the website...I want something to pop up and [the person browsing] just knows it’s Cloina.”
I think I would be able to identify a Cloina piece anywhere. Thinking back to the first time I shopped at Cloina at Pitchfork Music Festival, I now understand why I was attracted - the sense of originality and uniqueness. I was at a point in my style journey when I wanted to start being more “cool” and adventurous, and that fits the exact customer Cloe tailors to. Cloe told me she wants people to feel good, seen, accepted, and comfortable when they wear her clothes. More specifically, when Cloe gets to designing, she thinks of a certain type of consumer, herself as a 25-year-old, and what she wanted:
“[25-year-old Cloe wanted to feel] hot as hell. When I started out, my customer was me, a young human trying to figure it out and has style. Maybe I’m still designing for my 25-year-old self. I always wanted something that was a little bit different. Cloe just wanted to be cool - weird, oversized, and just cool.”
Bravo Cloe, mission accomplished. I can confirm that I am a 25-year old who feels hot as hell and cool when I wear anything from Cloina.
So, Cloe has found a fan in me. What else is she proud of in the last two to three years of being in business? Quite honestly, she says it’s the fact that she hasn’t given up. “Not giving up is my biggest accomplishment. Everyone is set out for failure, but you just have to swim through. Learn and figure it out and you won’t be set up for failure… Lean into fate”, she says. Despite the difficulties of getting started, Cloina stands. And maybe next year, the brand will stand taller thanks to a few more people; Cloe says, “I really look forward to having a team and being able to scale the business. And also there’s so many talented and creative people in Chicago but not a lot of fashion companies in general.”
“Next year I want to focus on manipulating pre-loved pieces that are on their way to waste. Even when I buy something from the thrift, it’s on a path to waste and will not break down in our lifetime.” And Looking ahead a few years beyond that, Cloe wants to add homeware to her repertoire, recreating something to be beautiful and useful. Homeware is such a good space to dive into and I for one am interested to see how Cloe puts her touch on different types of objects.
Overall, getting a chance to meet Cloe was such a pleasure. Not only did I interview her (OFTA’s first in-person interview), but we also had a mini photoshoot and styling session. Follow Cloina Store and Our Friend the Artist on Instagram and TikTok to see the cool stuff Cloe made and let us wear!
Our Friend the Artist