The Sisters Changing the Direct-to-Consumer Fashion Game

Margaret and Katherine Kleveland. Photo: Jessica Sample

During their years working in fashion, Southern Californian sisters Margaret and Katherine Kleveland were increasingly impressed — and not favorably so — by how rare it was to see women holding top positions in the industry. This even though, as they note, women are most often the ones “designing, purchasing, and wearing the clothes.”

Never ones for half-measures, the sisters decided to create Dôen, their own women-run, direct-to-consumer brand. They gave all six of their partners —women they had known since childhood or met while working in Los Angeles — equity ownership in the company, threw their lot in with principally female-helmed production facilities, and dedicated a portion of their proceeds (and digital real estate) to Room to Read, an organization that helps promote literacy and gender equality around the world.

If this sounds idealistic, you should see the clothes. The brand’s nostalgic-bohemian aesthetic, flattering fits, and supersoft fabrics made it a quick hit among the fashion cognoscenti, and the pieces have been flying off shopdoen.com’s virtual shelves since their 2016 launch. Think: Isabel Marant quality and covetability at a low-contemporary price point (a romantic India-embroidered, cotton voile blouse retails for $125; printed silk-jacquard dresses top out at $375).

When they started the brand, a year ago, the sisters had no idea just how prescient their idea would be. In the wake of the election, the Klevelands have become vocal advocates of Planned Parenthood, and plan to continue using their brand platform as an agent of change. “We’re taking a public stance — which many brands are choosing not to do — and doing activism on a national level,” Margaret says.

Below, the Klevelands discuss women who inspire, sisterly arguments, and the importance of giving back.

What drew you to the direct-to-consumer model?
Katherine: I think from our experience it was the only option. We had a desire to create a product of the best value, present it in the most integral way, have the direct line to the customer, and avoid all the pollution and markup that’s generally involved in wholesale.

What’s been your biggest challenge?
Margaret: We make a huge point to react to customer feedback. But because it’s not fast fashion we have products sell out, and we get overwhelming requests for restock, which feels great, but don’t want to let customers down [by not having the product immediately].

How is it working together as sisters? Do you argue?
Katherine: It has really made us closer than ever. We were close growing up but working together is so different. Back then, being sisters a disagreement was like, “Ugh, you’re making me crazy,” then you walk away; now if an issue comes up we have to talk through it immediately. There are more boundaries so there is no sisterly explosion — we treat each other more like you would treat a business partner.

Margaret: We fought like hyenas as kids, so we really surprised our parents.

Aside from your collective members, who else has inspired you along the way?
Margaret: We actively seek out mentors and try to engage in conversations with people from different industries. Emily Weiss has been a longtime friend and has been very transparent about how she does fundraising with us; she’s made herself very available. I love people who have that attitude, where you’re a confident woman and not afraid that other women are competing.

Katherine: Another one of our mentors is a man named Joe Knoernschild, who was co-founder of Billabong USA and Hurley. He very much champions having good karma and being of service in whatever do. We’ve learned that if you’re close to your vendors and your partners, your business has much more chance of succeeding than if you do it without kindness.

What’s happening at your desk?
Katherine: Margaret’s is pristine and smells good and mine has food on it and is a mess.

Margaret: The contrast is kind of an office joke.

What can we expect for summer?
Katherine: We’re always most inspired by our Santa Barbara upbringing, so it’s a continuation of that. Our clothes are often an homage to vintage, but summer is a little bit more Victorian than previously. The color has evolved a bit but it’s still rooted in earth and nature tones.

Margaret: In contrast to previous collections, [this one] is very much Victoriana, prairie living.

Katherine: Like if Victoriana came back in the ’70s.

What’s your uniform?
Margaret: I’m also pretty hot on vintage Levi’s 505s. They’re the only thing I’ll wear outside the collection—I have four or five pairs. Katherine is head to toe in the collection every day.

What’s your favorite place in Santa Barbara?
Katherine: It’s hard to boil it down to just one—I have my favorite beach, but favorite hike, but then there’s the natural history museum and the rose garden. Our parents were divorced but lived walking distance from each other, and the rose garden was the spot between their houses.

Margaret: I have the fondest memories of being a kid on the beach in Carpenteria.

How has the current political climate influenced your work? Margaret: We are doing a lot of activism on a national level — we decided to take a vocal stance on supporting Planned Parenthood. We had a holiday benefit and that will continue; we’re also planning pop-ups and a warehouse sale to benefit the organization. Any time we can do events that fundraise we absolutely will; and of course we will continue our work with Room to Read.

How do you stay organized?
Katherine: I write everything down with a pencil or a pen. It helps me internalize my thoughts. When I don’t do it I feel in a haze. I feel like it helps set energy into motion. I don’t have a particular notebook I use, just any piece of paper, any stickies, whatever notebooks get to me. I also just think after having children we both became so much more efficient in time management, and our level or work and output. If it’s not fluid on a certain day I don’t have to force it in terms of the design process. If I’m not feeling it, I won’t design, I’ll do other things and then hopefully the next day I’ll come back with new ideas.

What do you collect?
Margaret: I’ve been more of a purger than a collector for the last two years. I’ve wanted my life to be simpler and unencumbered by things. But it’s counteracted because I’m also an active flea-market-goer. I’m always on the hunt for the perfect Levi’s or sweatshirt or straw bag.

Katherine: I also recently moved into a smaller house, so it was best thing ever to get rid of everything we didn’t need or use. Lately I covet heirloom teddy bears. A girl we know makes them, so I try to give them to friends for every holiday or occasion possible.

Did you read the Mari Kondo book?
Katherine: I read first 20 pages and was like “I totally get it,” and didn’t read any more.

Margaret: My most exciting takeaway was the portion about gift giving and feeling obligated to hang on to things because they’re symbolic. But to hear that their purpose was to given and received was very interesting.

What’s the first thing you do after waking up?
Margaret: I always find myself setting goals for well-being (like: I want to leave my phone at home) but then I do emails first thing. Katherine sets boundaries and won’t look at email until she’s in the office.

Katherine: Realistically, I’m woken up by my 3-year-old who comes in and pokes me in the face most days. Then I literally grab my phone and hope to see a notification that Clinton is president.

The Sisters Changing the Direct-to-Consumer Fashion Game