SBJCT partners with CARESTE as they launch the first direct to consumer made to order collection of sustainable, luxe wardrobe essentials. EW spoke with its charismatic co-founders, Elizabeth Shah and Celeste Markey about the challenges and rewards of seeking sustainability, building a business post-Covid, and paying it forward. Read on…
BY ERIN WALSH
CLOTHING THROUGHOUT Careste EARRINGS Marlo Laz RING Jennifer Fisher BRACELET RIGHT Alighieri BRACELETS LEFT Jennifer Fisher and Marlo Laz
Erin Walsh SO my lovelies, what a joy it is to feature you as part of our SBJCT Collective! I think now, more than ever, it is crucial, given the rapidly changing landscape of both the fashion industry AND the world, for designers to keep transforming and finding ways to be more conscious and sustainable. I am so excited about what you are doing with Careste and how it is doing just that and more. For our readers, can you give us a quick explanation of WHAT exactly Careste is and its purpose from a fashion perspective?
Careste Careste is a direct-to-consumer women’s luxury, fashion brand. We create sustainably-made women’s clothes, individually, and on-demand. By creating products individually and on demand, we are able to eliminate all of the excess waste created in the industry by mass production.
EW Can you give us some insight into your respective backgrounds pre-Careste?
C In addition to both of us having co-founded and run successful startups in our past, we have worked in fashion and design for our entire careers. Specifically, I (Celeste) have a background in PR and Marketing, and Elizabeth has an extensive luxury design background, from Paris, Italy, New York, to the West Coast. Together we have over 40 years of experience and have worked for brands and clients including Giorgio Armani, Sonia Rykiel, Bulgari and more.
SANDALS Ancient Greek RINGS Jennifer Fisher NECKLACE Alighieri
EW I know you had your sights set on launching before Covid-19 , which really altered your plans. What was your business strategy pre-pandemic and how has that shifted?
C Pre-Covid we were set to roll out multiple collaborations with an important brick and mortar retailer. Covid forced us to shift gears and entirely rethink our strategy. We actually were grateful and excited to have the opportunity to pause and to really think about what we wanted the future of Careste to look like- and where we wanted to focus the business: online. When we paused, we discussed at length about silver linings, perseverance, and also about how we had a unique opportunity to double down on our sustainability promise, especially in light of all of the cancelled orders and chaos in traditional supply chains that Covid closures caused. It became our mission to educate customers on this opportunity to support new, sustainable business models with increasing importance post pandemic.
Equality and sustainability are our guiding ethos. Everything we do begins with that in mind.
EW I think the journey to sustainable business models is EXTREMELY tricky and so layered. There are so many boxes to check and so many factors in terms of ethical business practices to be aware of. Is there a Careste checklist you have to keep yourselves in check?
C You’re right–the journey to sustainability is extremely tricky. Given our entire business model is sustainable, we are a small team, and that we started with sustainability as one of our core brand promises as well as our raison d’etre, it has been easier for us then perhaps for others. From the beginning, we mapped out not only a timeline to reach the coveted B Corp status, but also a timeline of attaining all of the elements of sustainability possible. We are working with experts to help guide us in our journey to becoming as green as possible. We are committed to constantly evolving and improving our sustainability promise.
EW From a design perspective, who are you creating clothes for?
C We are creating clothes for the modern luxury customer who is focused on making better, more informed and thoughtful choices in every aspect of her life. She’s educated, socially aware, and effortlessly chic.
NECKLACE Jenny Bird EARRINGS Agmes
EW What fabrics are you particularly excited about now?
C We are excited about the blends in our upcoming Fall Collection. We are passionate about our natural fabrics because they not only stand the test of time but from a health perspective they are better for the environment and our bodies. Natural fabrics drape beautifully and stand the test of time.
EW Let’s talk about the idea that Less Is More. It is very obvious to me that consumers going forward will want to buy less and invest more- let’s say, create more curated closets so that our wardrobe can actually empower us. Is Careste a brand that can eventually be all that we need? Or in terms of closet supplementation, what white space are you hoping to fill?
C Our ultimate goal is to become a go-to brand that women access across categories. Dresses and tops are only the beginning.
EW Any major source of design inspiration?
C Artists including Brancusi, Madame Vionnet, 18th Century Dutch painters. But, of course, it changes constantly.
EW Biggest challenge so far?
C Covid 19 has proven to be a formidable opponent, but we are rising to the challenge.
SHOES Robert Clergerie
EW Any mentors that were instrumental both in the creation of Careste and its journey thus far?
C One of our key investors, industry vet, William Simon, has been hugely instrumental in the creation of Careste as well as guiding and mentoring both of us as we build the first D2C Made-to-Order brand in the luxury space.
EW Anything in terms of 5 or 10 year plans you would like to share with us?
C Partnerships, continuing to grow our Careste Community and give-back initiative, as well as product category expansion.
EW You are both mothers. Let’s talk about leading by example. I am taken with your initiative you have created in partnering with Frontline Foods to support black owned restaurants. Can you tell me about this series?
C It’s important to us that our children see and strive for equality. On a daily basis equality for us means they see that both parents are working, creating, and contributing, and also that we focus on giving back and are encouraging conversations around diversity. We recognize that as white women we have been afforded privileges not available to everyone and we believe that it is imperative that we use this opportunity to build a diverse community around supporting, encouraging, and furthering equality. Frontline Foods is the perfect partner for us as we are able to encourage diversity and equality by supporting Black-owned businesses and also frontline workers who have tirelessly devoted themselves to serving others.
We are committed to constantly evolving and improving our sustainability promise.
NECKLACES Alighieri HAT Janessa Leone BRACELET Alighieri EARRINGS Marlo Laz
EW In continuing to pay it forward as a brand, what is the main guiding ethos for you?
C Equality and sustainability are our guiding ethos. Everything we do begins with that in mind.
EW Any particular causes or charities you would like to bring attention to?
C Outside of Frontline Foods, we love No Kid Hungry, Prototypes, Family Equality Council, and charity: water.
EW Who checks who- you are a DUO, which is not always the easiest dynamic. IF both of you are BOSS, how does this work? What’s your dynamic like as a team?
C Ha! Partnerships can be really trying, but surprisingly, Elizabeth and I have a very easy partnership and dynamic. I think that is not typically the case, but something about us just works. We are aligned, without even saying anything, on 99% of the things that come our way personally and professionally. The 1% of the time that we aren’t aligned, we aren’t afraid to duke it out. 😉
EW Walk us through the buying process with Careste- from someone placing an order to receiving a product- I would love for you to explain what the consumer experience might be like.
C It’s very simple! Go to our website, enjoy the collection, and select from one of our 22 sizes: 00-20, and purchase! Eight days are all we need to create your item (plus a few days of transit). Of course, if you would like any simple customizations, like a shortened sleeve, you may email email@example.com and we can accommodate.
NECKLACE AND BRACELET Alighieri
SANDALS Ancient Greek
EW Founders of Careste, Elizabeth and Celeste, what’s your SBJCT? What really moves you and drives you?
Celeste My SBJCT is building! Every day I wake up excited about what we are building with Careste.
Elizabeth My SBJCT is creating and solving the jigsaw puzzle that is intelligent design. Of course, also, finding solutions to becoming more sustainable also drives me.