There’s an old joke that a camel is a horse designed by a committee, which, like similar adages that hinge on “too many cooks,” implies that too many hands in any one thing will always end up perverting it. Despite fashion’s reliance on many, many hands—the petites mains celebrated by venerable houses like Maison Margiela and Dior and, most recently, Chanel—this is largely an industry that relies on some semblance of hero worship. These are the rebels and the renegades, the mavericks, wunderkinds and boy kings, the illustrious maestros—singular rock star–like figures who helm brands and command crowds and sell entry into their world via vials of perfume, tubes of lipsticks, or a logo-bearing T-shirt. This has decidedly not been the case with Dôen, a luxuriously bohemian-minded clothing collection of fluidly feminine wardrobe staples that is proudly designed and produced by a collective of eight women in Los Angeles, California. With their professional backgrounds ranging from law and comedy to writing and gemology, the Dôen partners are a living argument for real women designing clothes for real women—no singular genius or cult figure required. They share ideas, they share responsibilities, they share credit. That this is something of a revolutionary idea tells you a lot about the industry they’re in. That has not stopped it from becoming something of a movement—and to hear the women behind Dôen tell it, this is just the beginning.
For sisters and founding partners Katherine and Margaret Kleveland (the brand’s CCO and CEO, respectively), Dôen was born to fill a very real hole in the market—and their closets. “For so long, the fashion landscape had been so minimal and masculine, and we were like, ‘We are over here in California, it’s hot out, and we are having babies!’” says Margaret, who relied on ultra-feminine vintage pieces to carry her through her day-to-day. But the changing face of retail provided not just a nudge in the right direction, but something akin to a calling. “Because of the plateau of the wholesale market, and the rise of direct-to-consumer selling channels, there was a new, accessible space in the market for independent companies, and the possibility to create an elevated product that was well designed, in luxe fabrics, at a price that was still approachable,” explains Margaret. “All of these factors really added to the feeling that not only had this project, in a way, choose us, but that it was already greater than us.” For Katherine, who had previously worked in an EVP of design position for Joie, Current Elliott, and Equipment, it was about waking up after a work trip to a “sort of punch-drunk bliss feeling,” and then the idea for the brand came. “I’d never been inspired to start something solo, but I felt confidence and excitement at building a brand with a team of women,” she says. “Immediately, there was so much energy, passion, and determination.”
There is also the matter of being a working mother in 2016. Working by their own rules meant, well, making up their own rules. And the first on their list? You shouldn’t have to sacrifice your personal life to do what you love. “When I became pregnant, I really began to feel that once I returned to work there would be a lot of unnecessary compromises,” says Margaret, who took stock of the technological advances that were offered to her friends who worked in tech and finance. This was not and has never been the norm in fashion. “More and more I realized that the fashion landscape lacked the space to work hard and be effective in a career while functioning within the less rigid parameters necessary once you are a parent,” she adds. “We also looked at the way companies in other industries incentivize people via partnership/ownership, and we wanted to create that same space after working side by side and being supported and inspired by women peers who were doing amazing things in their fields.” And so they began to do their own version of outreach, and to build their team.
There are plans for expanded home offerings next, as well as children’s wear, footwear, accessories, and jewelry, but in the meantime, the women have their hands full; their first collection, for Spring, sold out in record time—proof that girl power also looks good in garment form. “I think when people discover the brand, they feel a kinship with our style, mission, and general brand identity,” says Margaret of the future of the company and the collective. “I always want Dôen to feel special and covetable; I want the business to grow in reach, community, and success, but I always want it to be authentic and personal and never have the polish of a large corporation, losing track of the nuances that make people connect.”