Sincerely Cienne: In Conversation With Founder Nicole Heim
While more and more self proclaimed “conscious” brands are cropping up, the majority still leave something to be desired when it comes to design and wearability. Enter: Cienne. Their versatile, minimal and well tailored pieces are “globally sourced, locally made” but, the clothes are so chic that the line’s sustainable and responsible practices seem more like the cherry on top rather than the raison d’être.
Cienne’s founder Nicole Heim launched the brand after falling in love with Ethiopia and being inspired by the local textiles. Their fabrics are now sourced from artisans across the globe and used for the production of fine garments right in NYC’s garment district; being close by guarantees quality control for the New York based company and it shows. On the heels of their recent pop up shop at our very own Poolside Collective, we chatted with Nicole about sustainability, aesthetic, travel and more.
What is the most rewarding aspect of Cienne for you personally?
Having a (fashion) company is the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but it’s also the most rewarding! I think my favorite part is meeting our customers – the girls who are actually bringing Cienne into their day-to-day lives. I always feel so honored. I also love the creative and collaborative aspects…working with some of the most talented artisans around the globe and artists in our own city is incredibly inspiring.
How would you say the fashion ethos has changed in the past decade and how have those shifts impacted your business?
Fashion is going through a lot of major shifts right now – sustainability is becoming a bigger conversation and things like ‘buy now, wear now’ calendars are emerging. While it may be a slow progression, I do think people are becoming less interested in mass market and more interested in the designers or stories behind why you exist. I also think it’s a particularly challenging market right now – but challenge means opportunity. Leading up to our launch, I spent a long time building out the business in ways that I felt were relevant to today. We’re still so new, so right now I’m really learning and listening to what’s resonating with customers. We always want to adapt and continuously push ourselves to become better.
What does sustainability mean to you both in your day to day life and when it comes to Cienne?
Personally, sustainability means being conscious of my actions. I think little changes go a long way, and I believe in this day and age it’s our responsibility to think about the planet and people around us, and make choices that don’t just benefit ourselves. For Cienne, I look at sustainability as a tool. I wanted it to be built into how we operate – it’s not who we are or what we create, but it is a factor in everything we do.
You told Fashionista that “aesthetic comes first,” when discussing the sustainable aspects of your brand. Can you elaborate on that?
I was really inspired by the idea of aesthetics and ethics co-existing within Cienne – but in my mind, in order for that to happen, everything must come from a design point of view. No material is chosen just because it’s sustainable. We seek out sustainable options, and then we select and design materials around aesthetic. Our mission with Cienne is not to choose between ethics or environment, modern methods or traditional ones, but rather to pull the best of each world and present it in a cohesive and thoughtful way.
You currently source textiles in Japan, Peru and Ethiopia among others. What are some of the complications that go along with sourcing from these locales? Where are you looking to next?
It really depends on the country, as each has its own unique challenges, which is also what makes things so beautiful. Ethiopia for example – they work on very old looms that are quite narrow, and because the fabrics are made by hand, there are a lot of inconsistencies…like the stripes on a fabric may all be slightly different in width, or the colors may vary due to what yarn is available in the local market. We’re introducing a hand knit sweater from Bolivia in our Fall/Winter 2016 collection that we’re really excited about, and we’re currently sourcing and designing Spring/Summer 2017 which will have beautiful new hand-woven silks from India. I also always have my eyes on Africa – I would love to expand our presence there as it’s where our roots lie as a brand.
What are some of your favorite Cienne garments for spending the day poolside (like at the MBH for instance)?
Tell us a story from your travels.
There are so many! I think my most memorable travel was my time in Ethiopia. I would go trekking up and down mountains and fields for 30km a day in search of remote water projects for the non-profit charity:water. I was by myself so I hired a translator and 4×4 driver and we relied heavily on my GPS unit and local villagers to point us in the right direction. I’d be 3 hours walking distance away from any sort of road and the villagers would bring me into their homes and stuff me with coffee, food and just about anything they had. It was the most incredible and genuine experience I’ve ever had. The Ethiopians are some of the most beautiful people you’ll ever meet.
Check out this video for a deeper behind the scenes look at Cienne’s process:
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