The Tell of Cloina

By Felton Kizer

What started as a way to get rid of some old clothes on depop has become a Chicago staple in the local sustainability scene. Cloina Store is now celebrating their one-year anniversary, and I spoke with Cloina about the rise of the Cloina Store and all that she hopes to accomplish in the next year.

You just celebrated your one-year anniversary of Cloina Store. How does that feel?

Good. I mean, there was something nice about someone asking, “How long have you been doing this?” and me saying, “Oh, just under a year.” But I'm feeling good. I'm very proud it's still around, which is statistically not easy for a new business. I'm very grateful, and it was a long year.

How has it been, navigating your business amid the COVID-19 pandemic?

I'm very lucky, because I've worked very hard my whole life to get in the mindset of accepting the current reality. Even in the beginning, I was just like, okay, I'm going to focus on digital. I’m going to focus on making new products and figuring out how to photograph them myself, without a model. From the beginning, I was preparing for the worst, and I guess I just accepted that things might not go back to normal for a very long time. But prior to COVID-19, I was preparing for all of the spring events that now will never happen. That was definitely a bummer, but I feel like I was able to quickly get over it and start figuring out my next plan.

That's amazing. Let’s start at the beginning. Can you talk about the series of moments or feelings that happened that made you decide to launch the Cloina Store?

I feel very lucky that Cloina Store just happened—not necessarily as an accident though. Typically, if someone wants to start a brand, they go straight into the branding. You have to think of a name, you have to think of X, Y, and Z. I feel like I would have just not been able to make any moves, because I would have been so intimidated about picking out that stuff and sticking with it. But the Cloina Store actually started on depop. I ended up going with the name Cloina because I was just planning to sell some of my old things and Cloina was my Instagram name already. It ended up going really well because of my retail and styling background. So then I was like, well, what else can I make? What else can I sell? What else should I be doing? And it just started going from there. I've been a crafter and artist my whole life, and I’ve always been interested in a bunch of mediums. Cloina Store gave me that platform to actually produce the work that I want to produce and then put it out in the world.

I was working for Nike e-Commerce for a really long time, working as a stylist. Then they finally jumped ship and moved to LA, but I wasn't quite ready to leave Chicago. I knew there would be less pay in LA, but it would be more expensive to live there. I figured I could keep getting styling jobs as they come and just focus on the shop. I eventually got to a point where I could sustain myself and pay my bills.

Some days I'm still in that period where I just hope this is going to work out. Hopefully I’ll have a few more moments coming that I can believe it is going to work out.

Talk to me a bit about your relationship with conscious fashion.

Wow. So, it's interesting because of the way I was raised. I have an immigrant mother, and I grew up in a zero-waste household. I was just taught that as a very young, and as I got older, I also saw how it benefits the earth. It's a very natural route for me to go in the fashion world. Also, I am not a designer that can just sit down with a blank page and sketch something out and then find the fabric to complete my idea. I thrive when I have objects or things in front of me, and then I can just be like, what can I do with these things? How can I remake them into something else? That's why styling is also a passion of mine because it's really just manipulating and reworking clothing. A lot of times I'll source a garment and then completely cut it up and just use the fabric from it. It makes sense for me to just work with things that already exist and around me, and I get inspiration from that.

But as I started actually looking a little bit more into being a sustainable fashion brand, there's still a little part of me that felt like it's a fraud in the sense that nothing is truly sustainable. It's like, oh I made the dress out of your textiles and old clothes, but I still had to use packaging to ship it to a customer. I have a very small impact compared to other fashion brands, but I still feel like anything that you do is going to produce waste. I just keep trying to refocus and figure out how I can keep doing what I'm doing and create less waste along the way.

How would you describe your customer?

My customer is me. Any item that I would find interesting is how I design, and I design for younger humans who are trying to figure it out, have an interest in art, and have an interest in being independent financially. I guess I just think of myself and others like me.

Thank you for that.
How would you describe your current state of mind?

I would say I am very hopeful, and I'm very excited. Although quarantine obviously is not ideal for any human, it kind of allowed me to take a little stress off myself, because I was like, “Oh, the whole world is on pause. And I can keep working towards my goals and you know, where I want to see this brand.”

I'm excited for things to start opening up. I'm also nervous. But overall, I think I was really able to kind of take a step back and rework a few things—see where I want the brand to go. So, I'm feeling very hopeful right now.

What would you consider your greatest achievement thus far?

To be honest, when I can hire and pay someone for their work, that probably feels like the best achievement so far with Cloina Store.

I think it's really interesting that you said: “with Cloina Store.” Do you feel like you have a different personal greatest achievement?

I don't know. For me, achievements are so difficult in the sense that you have it, you write it down, you think about it, you work towards it, and then you hit it. And it can feel really great in the moment. It can feel really great, but looking back, it's like such an old check mark on the list where it doesn't seem that exciting or even that much of an achievement—even though at the time, you were dying to do it. Even when I tell people, Oh, I was with Nike for a really long time working at their photo studio doing styling, and they're like, Oh my God, that's so crazy. I'm just like, no, I just got very, very lucky that I was given the opportunity and able to rise to it. But looking back, it was just a job. That's what it is. I feel like this is my parents fault, but I feel like they've kept me so humble that sometimes I don't see achievements as achievements. I'm just like, It's okay. I'm just working.

You used to do a lot of pop-ups, correct?


What was something that you really enjoyed about participating in pop-ups?

Lot of times, sometimes a friend would come in to set up with me, which was nice, because I'm used to working alone. Even just like spending a few hours with a friend, talking with customers, socializing, I think that is what I love the most about it. Another perk is just being able to speak to the customer and hear their feedback, especially if they're trying something on. Even if they're saying it to their friend—and not mean, it's about the fit and stuff—things like that are very important. I'm able to take everything in and figure out a different way to do it if there’s an issue.

I've been doing [pop-ups] so much that I started building relationships with other vintage sellers or some food vendors and stuff. Now I feel like we're friends, even though we only see each other at pop ups, but it's just like, Oh cool. We're friends when we talk, when we get to talk. That's been really nice to just build relationships with people and discover a bunch of small brands in Chicago that I would have never discovered otherwise.

What would you say you're looking forward to at the moment? It can be something general, like rest, or it can be something that you may have in the works.

That's a hard one. Right now, I’m working on some sustainable packaging because most of it is a scam. It says it's recyclable or sustainable, but if you really look into it, it's not. In a month or two, I hopefully will have biodegradable packaging made out of cornstarch with my branding on it. So I'm very excited for that and to finally move away from tissue paper and anything else that doesn't align with sustainability