Marie Dewet is the younger half of the duo behind Maison Cléo, a brand that was effectively born on Instagram in 2017 and is designed, manufactured and operated by the aforementioned and her seamstress mother, Cléo. Since its inception, Maison Cléo has garnered substantial attention from Instagram’s fashion-conscious population, including the editors (and founder) of this very platform. Two summers ago, as a matter of fact, I asked you whether shopping on Instagram was the future of retail, based solely on a purchase I made through Maison Cléo’s account. The subsequent winter, Harling went so far as to unpack a viral blouse trend rooted in simple white cotton but rendered in ambitious shapes that Maison Cléo no doubt contributed to creating.
Recently, Dewet, who runs the account, posted a sequence of Instagram stories dedicated to a holiday-themed blouse that takes 1.5 meters of fabric and three hours to construct by hand. I know this because the stories broke down the cost of the blouse that was to be released on the brand’s almost-always sold out e-shop — open just once weekly — to explain its 230-euro ($260) price tag.
It’s rare to find such a straightforward and transparent explanation of what it takes to make a shirt, but in an email conversation, Dewet explained, “I insist on price transparencies because I was shocked when I saw behind-the-scenes prices when I worked in fashion for a made-in-France brand. When I saw a polyester dress selling for 240 euro, for me it wasn’t worth it at all. I knew brands took margins, but I didn’t expect that much.”
That I never questioned why it is so rare to encounter such explanations is probably a function of having accepted that I’m not supposed to know where my stuff comes from, or how it’s made — just that I can have it. But in a world where fast fashion continues to dominate a market that is simultaneously growing more conscious of what it puts in and what it takes out, we (the consumers) are put at odds with ourselves — forced to reconcile whether we’re comfortable overlooking suspect practices in the name of acquiring something that make us feel good. But this begs the question: Why can’t we have both — a sense of moral soundness and the feel-good effect commanded by something new?
We’ve always gravitated toward clothes to make us better — look, feel, act, seem, whatever the verb is. We use this armor to be better. To make us feel pride. Until this point, the variables that have informed this pride were rarely wrapped up in an understanding of where our stuff is from, but this is perhaps the most unique public shift in our changing purchasing behavior.
How satisfying to know, for example, that in acquiring a new blouse from a brand like Maison Cléo, you contributed to the gain of a woman who spent three hours making it, the fabric mill that sold her the silk and the various creatives — models, photographers, stylists — who contributed to the marketing fees.
Though Dewet’s brand principles are enshrined in the craft of hand-making every garment Maison Cléo generates, this is not the only way to create sustainably — particularly at scale. For proof of this concept, you can look no further than the “radically transparent,” environmentally conscious Everlane, which generated over $100 million in sales last year.
Being “touched and want[ing] to participate in this way of consumption,” as Dewet put it, imagines a future where consumerism is not a dirty word. It is moral and tenable and unceasing. There is no trade-off. You are proud. And as it turns out, you can have your shirt and feel good about wearing it, too.