Oh Sew Unique: Local tailors garments to the individual

Emilee Wentland, photos by Andrea Paulseth

Elizabeth de Cleyre
Elizabeth de Cleyre

It starts with a conversation. From there, local clothing maker Elizabeth de Cleyre gets to know the person seeking a new garment before she designs them a custom-made piece. A transplant from Portland, Oregon, de Cleyre provides them with examples of pieces she’s done before and swatches of various fabrics, then gets to know their lifestyle to create the best piece possible for each customer. Finally, she creates the garment and makes sure it fits the customer properly, making alterations if need be.

"It’s a really awesome experience to wear something that’s been made for you." – ELIZABETH DE CLEYRE, CEDE

“It’s a really awesome experience to wear something that’s been made for you,” de Cleyre said. “It’s just really special and it’s something that I get to do for myself, but I realize not everybody has the time or energy to do that so I love providing that for people.”

De Cleyre has her own business, Cede, which she officially kickstarted during Red’s Back Alley Market this year. Now, she works with her clients to create custom-made, ethical fashion.

Sometimes de Cleyre starts with a sketch prior to getting to work, but occasionally she’ll start a piece without a pattern and go from there.

“It’s a lot of experimentation,” she said. “Sometimes it ends in a lot of failure, but it’s always really fun in the end.”

She acquired a skill for sewing when she was young. Her mother was a quilter and worked at a fabric shop, de Cleyre said. She recalls flipping through the pattern books all day while her mother worked at the shop.

Now, she’s always researching and observing what other people are wearing. She’s found her niche of fabrics – anything natural and easy to work with, but also fabrics known for longevity, de Cleyre said. She looks to the fashion of the 1930s and ’40s, back when fashion was what de Cleyre called “accidentally sustainable.”

The clothing designer looks to many female style icons, such as Audrey Hepburn, Georgia O’Keefe, and Joan Didion.

She also draws inspiration from the likes of Clare Waight Keller, the artistic director for Givenchy, and Maria Grazia Chiuri, the artistic director of Dior. Major fashion houses, such as Givenchy and Dior, typically don’t have female creative directors, de Cleyre said. That role is usually filled by men. However, when these women began their roles as artistic directors, de Cleyre noticed a shift in the practicality and wearability of the high-fashion clothing they put out.

De Cleyre is also influenced by ethical and sustainable brands, such as Jesse Kamm and Elizabeth Suzann.

Ethical and sustainable fashion is necessary because of how big a polluter the fashion industry is. The former Dotters Books co-owner described her clothes as ethical rather than sustainable, because what she does still carries an environmental footprint. She refers to her brand as “slow fashion,” in contrast to the major fast fashion retailers around the globe.

“Though I try to be mindful and conscious of where I’m sourcing fabric from,” de Cleyre said, “my main concern is the design, quality, intention, and longevity of the garment.”

Ultimately, de Cleyre isn’t looking to grow her business. She enjoys making her pieces to order, rather than mass creating and selling her fashion in bulk, like major online retailers would.

“There tends to be a flattening effect where everything looks the same online,” she said. “Clothing is really tactile and you don’t get that when you shop online, so it’s hard to distinguish what’s actually good quality online.”

De Cleyre can be reached via her website, cedeclothing.com.

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