THE GRIT AND THE GLAMOUR
Happy Birthday KLEED!
As we celebrate 7 years of KLEED luxury loungewear, our feelings are in a turmoil. We are deeply, quietly grateful to our clients, partners and followers - for believing in us and in KLEED’s unique place in the sustainable fashion industry. We are awed by all we have achieved together, over these seven years, from fashion startup to thriving business. And we are thrilled with our exciting vision of the future – and everything we can do, to ensure a balanced and long-lasting world for our children.
Today, as a brand, KLEED is in full force – exciting, energized and glorious. Inspiring? Certainly. But how did it all come about? It’s time to tell you the KLEED story.
The true story - the grit and the glamour.
Because, really, that’s me - Carolina. The founder and CEO of KLEED, I have two ruling passions in my life: wildlife conservation and luxury fashion.
I’ve always worked hands-on, month-long stints, in various rhino and elephant conservation projects in Africa - with the long hours and primitive conditions they entail. Equally important in my life, luxury fashion: artistry, aesthetics, and craftsmanship. The quest for perfection. The thrill of risking one’s all, on one daring collection.
Inevitably, I worked in fashion and communication, ending up in GUCCI, in the throes of its transformation into the luxury world’s most coveted brand. High-powered, fascinating, and challenging. But I wanted more. I wanted my own luxury brand.
Inspired by my iconic grandmother – chic personified, in her flowing silk kimonos and long-line dresses – I knew that luxury loungewear was the future. Yet there was Africa, there was the whole world, beckoning, demanding my attention. How could I possibly reconcile the two spheres? By being true to myself.
In 2016, after much soul-searching and market researching, I left GUCCI, took the plunge, and launched KLEED – the Afrikaans word for robe. Luxury loungewear for today’s sophisticated, demanding woman. My lifelong dream of being an entrepreneur came true – in every sense.
Predictably enough, it was tough. Painfully short-staffed – and even shorter on budget – I spent hours and days, choosing through reams of wholesalers’ leftover fabrics. Working with seamstresses I trusted to bring my creations to life. Sustainable before its time, KLEED supported wildlife conservation projects in Africa and only produced to order – and we literally worked around the clock to deliver. Uncompromising on quality yet fearlessly focused on growing the brand and its markets.
Through it all, wildlife conservation in Africa was still a part of my own life, now taking up every day of my precious annual holiday. Back and forth I went, literally walking the talk about the need for meaningful action with wildlife conservation projects. Right now. Right here.
Through it all, as with so many entrepreneurs, friends and family were invaluable – believing in my dream, cheering me on – and celebrating every small order.
Instagram appeared and helped immeasurably. Finally, a digital medium to share and translate what luxury brands were all about. And so KLEED’s visual brand voice was heard – by high-end media outlets, eager to understand how a fledgling luxury brand could possibly be sustainable.
And so we grew. Next, the need for business partners that could fuel KLEED’s growth took me to India. Incredible India.
My first trip to India was to Delhi, on a shoestring budget and was very nearly my last. A terrifying stay in a ramshackle hotel, with damp paint-streaked walls, one-lightbulb room with a rickety bed - and bedbugs and beetles galore. A banana for lunch, and katchouris for dinner.
The culture shock was huge. I was overwhelmed by the colours, the scents and the light - but also by the all-pervading misery, the homeless, the dying on the streets, the beggars and the blind.
Naïve in business and endearingly trusting, I was easily taken advantage of. Frustrated with the minefields of bureaucracy, bewildered by suppliers that vanished overnight, thrown by the (un)expected delays and prices that increased tenfold in a few days, I very nearly gave up.
But I’ve always been fiercely independent and was determined to hold out, and to overcome this challenge. Deep down, I realized that part of the learning curve was to change my outlook on India, to accept and master its reality: the enormous scale, the centuries old culture and the very different way of conducting business. And I did.
On one of my trips, I discovered Jaipur – magical Jaipur. Where India’s culture and fascinating history throb with life. Where a thriving multi-cultural and global community of designers and creatives welcomed me warmly and immediately made me feel at home. An international trading post of commerce in jewellery, fabrics, and anything else…
A random meeting in a tuk-tuk brought me Pawan and lovely Pritti, who understood what I wanted for KLEED and introduced me to trustworthy business partners and suppliers. They even opened up their home to me for a month-long stay, while we made it all happen – together.
Today, I go to Jaipur three or four times a year and Pritti and her husband Jain welcome me with open arms every time. They are truly my Indian family.
When in Jaipur, I now stay in a magical farmhouse – as pink as the Pink City itself. A veritable oasis in busy Jaipur, with its incessant noise of oaring traffic, morning milk van deliveries, strident calls to the temple. Gently ageing, elegantly fitted out, a delightful estate with its resident peacocks, monkeys, and doves.
Above all, it is a warmly welcoming community of semi-resident designers, wanderlust travellers and itinerant artists, like Adeline, Julio, Charlotte or Samira - a veritable community of fashion, the arts and design.
After a frantic week with suppliers, artisans, and our local business partners, a place to unwind. Together, we celebrate, we connect, we discuss and dissect. We regroup and recover, and we create anew.
Carolina Guedes Cruz