By Noemi Plaza & Sophie Weissensteiner
Fashion does not need to be this concept of constantly buying new stuff, especially in times of climate crisis we should challenge the status quo and aim for quality rather than quantity.
Their seasonless and timeless capsule wardrobe provides a better alternative to fast fashion’s trend-driven clothing. Instead of producing a vast amount of pieces for each collection, the slow fashion label launches two to three editions each year that build upon each other.
We’re all about CAES’s minimalist style, the natural colour palette, and the sustainably and ethically sourced materials. Our founder, Noemi, talked to Helen about the ethos of CAES, her commitment to sustainability, the brand’s launch on Net-a-Porter, the perfect capsule wardrobe, and much more.
What motivated you to create a fashion label, and be part of the slow fashion movement?
Helen: In the fashion business, it’s common to have huge collections with about 200 pieces each season. That’s a lot of clothes considering that several collections get launched a year.
“At one point, I was like, okay, maybe I need to do something different and focus on quality and not quantity. That’s why I decided to quit my job as head designer for a Dutch commercial fashion brand and start CAES.”
Did you approach fashion as slow fashion even before you created CAES while working as a designer for a Dutch commercial brand?
Helen: Yes, I was already very aware of quality because up from when I was 16 or 17 I have liked visiting vintage stores to buy designer clothes that I could not afford otherwise at that age. So I have clothes and shoes that I have had for over 20 years.
But I also feel like there is a time when you’re younger where you’re tempted to buy a lot of clothes. I guess a lot of us were at this stage at some point. However, I have always liked to invest in pieces of good quality. So I’ve been conscious about quality and craftsmanship for quite some time.
The name CAES is an anagram of case, describing the way clothes protect our bodies and to signify the importance of choosing high-quality materials. Do you think fabrics can have an impact on our skin or health?
Helen: Yeah, sure. A lot of materials are made from toxic chemicals. I think wearing natural fabrics made of organic and non-toxic materials are much better for the skin and the person wearing it.
I would say it’s similar to the cream you put on your face and body or the things you eat. If you only eat organic foods, I’m sure it will be better for your health because nothing was added to it. And I think the same accounts for fashion. If you only wear clothes that contain natural, organic, or non-dyed fabrics, I think it will be better for your health.
I feel like that is something people do not think about much. The skin is one of the biggest organs, so the quality of our clothes matters. Did you create the name of your brand only with that in mind or is there another meaning?
That is lovely. I know you are a big fan of using innovative materials and fabrics. You have introduced different new materials for Edition 3. Could you tell us more about the materials you’re using for this edition?
Helen: Yeah, for Edition 3 we still have the leather that is made from the waste of the wine industry. We also use buttons that are made from natural products coming from the food industry. The lining, for example, is always made from recycled or organic cotton, whereas the zippers are made from recycled nylon.
So we don’t just think about quality in a one-sided way but rather try to apply a holistic approach, considering all our materials are natural in some kind of way.
For the pieces in Edition 3, we used a lot of recycled materials like recycled cotton. It’s exciting that we can add more products because all these recycled and natural materials become more and more available. It’s very interesting that the buttons, for example, are made of recycled paper.
Wow. It’s so interesting how they reuse qualities and give them a new shape. All your pieces are also made in Europe. Where do you manufacture your collections?
Helen: We produce in Portugal, mainly in small, family-owned companies. Our fabrics and yarns come from Portugal or Italy because they have the most beautiful selection. So everything we use is from Europe.
Which is your favourite fabric at the moment?
Helen: The leather made of fruit pulp, which is waste from the wine industry. I do like the outlook and the shine of this leather alternative because it’s tougher. And now that it’s made from a good material, it’s even better. I think the quality is great and you can use it in all kinds of ways.
We know it can be very hard to be 100% sustainable as a brand. However, sustainability is one of your core values. How do you approach sustainability as a brand?
Helen: I think to start a new brand now, you really need to think about how you can do things differently. It’s not just about making clothes, it’s about how you make them.
“There are many things to consider like how you treat the people you work with, which materials should you use, or what is the packaging made of. We decided to only use compostable polybags because the amount of waste produced from polybags in fashion is huge.”
I think you can’t be 100% sustainable, it’s really hard. We think about all kinds of steps our business can take to be on an even better way. But of course, it’s still super hard to do everything 100% sustainable because after all, you do need to ship your products which causes emissions.
What does sustainability mean to you personally?
Helen: Sustainability is very important to me because I have a four-year-old daughter. Since I have become a mother, I have been very conscious about the earth and how we treat materials and products. I asked myself what kind of future do I want for her.
In Holland, we have something called Pieter Pot which is a shop where you can order zero-waste groceries. They put everything in glass containers that you just give back after finishing the product. The company has a special system to clean the glasses and it’s amazing.
“I try to be aware of different materials and try to cut off plastic. Another thing I do is to buy good quality, vintage, or second-hand clothes. When I don’t wear an item anymore, I give it to somebody else. It’s really important for me to have this awareness and think about my consumption, what I use, and what I buy.”
Yes, how we behave as consumers can have a great impact. I saw that you are very conservative with using dyes for your fabrics. How do you approach the colouring of your fabrics?
Helen: Exactly! We use wool that is not dyed and so you can only select four colours – natural, light beige, white, or grey. We’re trying to work with different materials and techniques in order to use less toxics. However, this can be pretty hard because sometimes you just need to dye something.
I can imagine that this can be challenging for the creative process. You have a section on your website dedicated to women you admire. Which role do they play in the creative process of CAES? Do you feel inspired by these women?
Helen: Yes, I think I do feel inspired by women because I want to make clothes that they can wear easily. I’m interested in what people do, what they care about, and what they’re passionate about. Obviously, at the moment it’s very hard to travel but normally I would take inspiration from everyone, especially women, on the streets when I visit different countries. This is pretty hard right now because I can’t just go somewhere, I’m stuck in Amsterdam.
What was the inspiration behind Edition 3?
I love that.
Helen: In the campaign, you can also see that we put emphasis on the models’ work, the no-makeup look, and no filters. We just focused on how women are and how we see them. So yeah, we’re really inspired by the new women and what is important to them.
You launched CAES in 2019, only a few months before Covid-19 hit. How has this period affected you and have you noticed any shifts in the fashion industry?
Helen: Yeah, it was pretty hard. Now I’m used to working like this but of course, that’s not a normal way of working. I think in a way people got more aware and like brands that make a shift. At the beginning of the pandemic, everything got closed and everything just stopped.
I feel like in a way that was good for brands to rethink what they’re doing. To think about questions like, are we doing the right thing, or do we need to focus on something else? So, I think Covid-19 has definitely affected the industry. We should be more aware of what we’re doing and how we can change.
I agree. I think that this can also be an opportunity as before our world was very fast-paced. Somehow this time has helped us to ease up, reflect, and think more as consumers and as brand owners. I think both sides have made a shift. How do you see this transition?
Helen: I also think that there has been a shift. As a consumer, you can still buy clothes but you don’t need them because everything is shut down. Also, a lot of people could not buy anything because shops were closed for a long time. I think this whole crisis has made us very aware of what is important to us.
Do you have any top tips for anyone looking to build their capsule wardrobe?
Helen: I would say you should invest in good quality basics like a pair of suit pants, a tank top, and a sweater. Then you can start adding some bold pieces as well to make your style more interesting. Instead of buying a lot of stuff each season, invest in good quality pieces that you can use to style different outfits all year round.
“We would like to show customers that you can combine new pieces with old ones.”
Amazing. I think I also saw that you are using pieces from previous campaigns in your latest edition, and I think that is great. Why do you think it’s important to incorporate pieces from previous collections into the latest?
Helen: We have some pieces that are carryovers and will be sold the whole year. But we also add new pieces to each collection to keep it interesting. However, we would like to show customers that you can wear and combine different collections with each other. We always take a piece from one edition to another, for example from the second edition to the third edition, from the third to the fourth, and so on.
Normally, you have a completely new collection each season but we would like to make people aware of the fact that you can wear pieces from different collections together. It’s not about having everything new.
That sounds great! I love your tank tops by the way. It seems like you always have them as a signature piece at CAES. Do you include a tank top in every collection?
Helen: Yeah, because it’s so easy to wear.
Where would you like to see the fashion industry in five years?
Helen: That’s a really good question. I hope that people become more aware of what they’re buying and brands become more aware of what they’re producing. I would like to see the fashion industry producing less and focus on just a few pieces. I also think there needs to be a shift towards better quality.
“Factories should foster a nice environment for their workers and they should get paid well. We should really think about how we want to treat people and how we want to take care of the world. I hope the fashion industry will become more intuitive.”
Politics also need to play a part in it for this to happen.
Helen: Yeah, but I’m not sure if this is going to happen. I think we need to care more about these things as consumers. We need to value quality more than just buying a lot of fast fashion which will only last for one season and then it’ll be gone. If we focus on better materials, our clothes will last longer than just for one season.
Yes, definitely. What is next for CAES? Where would you like to see your brand in the next five years?
I would like to see consumers becoming more aware of what they buy. That’s my main hope for the future.
And, of course, I hope we’ll be able to continue creating more collections and editions.
How was your launch on Net-a-Porter?
Helen: We’re super happy about making it so far this year. It was our main goal.
Congratulations. That is a huge achievement, also considering you started CAES only a few months before the pandemic has turned the world upside down. When will you introduce your new collection, Edition 4? Can you give us a sneak peek?
Helen: Thank you! Edition 4 will be out in September. We will launch a trench coat, suit pants, and a couple of more pieces to make it a complete collection.
Are there any new and innovative fabrics and materials that you will be using for Edition 4?
Helen: Yeah, the coat is made from recycled polyamide and it’ll be a nice classic trench coat. We’ll also launch suit pants made from eco-friendly wool. And, in general, we continue using a lot of recycled materials.
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With CAES, Helen does not only show the creative but also innovative possibilities of slow fashion. Sustainability is not about compromise, it’s about our choice towards a greener future. As consumers, we have the power to push for this change to happen. Along the way to a more conscious lifestyle, we need more sustainable brands like CAES. We’re excited about CAES’s fourth edition launching in September 2021.
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