Ivoryton Designer CAIT SHEA Opens Boutique and Coffee Bar, Talks “Slow Fashion”


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ESSEX — Ivoryton designer Cait Shea, says she prioritizes ethical consumer practices, and styles designed to last, in an era of retail fashion meant to sell fast and wear out soon.

“It’s all about going back to basics and focusing on the quality,” Cait Shea Clark said. “Trends are constantly moving, but a classic white linen shirt will never go out of style.”

After about eighteen months at a previous location in Chester, on October 12 Clark opened CAIT SHEA + Sprouted Coffee Bar at 104 Main Street in Ivoryton. Clark’s family has lived in Ivoryton since she was 12.

Ivoryton Designer, Cait Shea (Credit: CT Examiner/McDermott)

Clark sells women’s wear, jewelry, candles, and small gifts. Her store also features a coffee bar with a lounge area. She said she prioritizes locally-sourced goods, such as coffee from Blackhall Roasters in New London and candles from Roost Candle Company of Sandy Hook. All of the to-go cups, lids, and filters are compostable.

“There’s a growing trend in retail called multi-functional lifestyle brands,” Clark said. “My generation and the generation below, we don’t just want to go to a place and buy goods. We want an experience. When people come here, I want people to come look at what we have, to have some coffee, to hang out in the lounge, we have a table in the back to work on your laptop. It’s a place to gather and connect with people and talk.”

In her own designs and the other lines that she buys for her store, Clark said she operates by the principles of “slow fashion.”

Slow fashion, she says, is a reaction to “fast fashion,” a retail term for clothes that move quickly from the catwalk to the storefront. Critics like Clark say that this also means fast fashion clothes move quickly to landfills.

Quilted Jacket (Courtesy of CAIT SHEA)

“It’s basically disposable fashion,” Clark says of fast fashion. “You wear something once or twice and then the fabric just can’t physically hold up to the wear and tear of wearing and washing.”

That same industrial-scale of constantly changing clothing leads to abusive conditions in factories where the labor is outsourced, Clark said.

“You can watch a video to see how a twinkie gets made on a conveyor belt and everything, but clothing is not that automated. It’s still a person at a sewing machine piecing things together…  I’ve always been adamant that I don’t want to ship production overseas. I know the harsh reality of factory work. I don’t ever want to contribute to that.”

“Slow fashion,” Clark said, “is starting to get people more aware of the harsh effects of the fashion industry and trying to get people more aware that they don’t have to have so many clothes.”

She sews clothing out of “deadstock” — the bolts of fabric left over from production runs by large manufacturer and the surplus from textile mills –fabric in too small a quantity for a larger makers to use.

“It challenges me as a designer to constantly come up with new designs and ideas,” Clark said.

For her own designs, Clark does all of the work in-house. She has her small studio in the back of the storefront.

Cait Shea at Sewing Machine

As a student at the Rhode Island School of Design, Clark specialized in ballgowns, where she learned the complex work of understructure, but the CAIT SHEA line focuses on simplicity: white linen shirts, wide-leg trousers, and kimono jackets in which the sleeve and body of a garment come from one piece of fabric.

She said she takes similar care with the coffee bar, where she offers classic drip coffee alongside specialties like caffeine-free turmeric latte, made with ginger, coconut, and cayenne powder.

Clark said she offers coffee to attract visitors and to encourage them to stay for a while.

“When [the store] was in Chester, we’d have people come in for meetings or for first dates,” she said. “It’s exciting to be able to facilitate that for people while also offering some cool original designs.”

As for sales of the clothing line, she said she hopes to appeal to customers “interested in design and sustainability and who appreciate the handmade nature of all the things we have.”