For many who reach a crossroads in life, it’s a time to individually navigate a new path moving forward. But for this sister act, it so happens they reached this turning point together and emerged with a fashion line—MIRTH.
After an unsuccessful search for fulfilment in her career from event planning to recruiting to sales, Katie McClure packed her suitcase and flew to India to re-inspire the creativity she’d somehow lost along her journey. Although she studied fashion and textiles, formerly interning at Marc Jacobs, McClure never left for her travels with the intention of creating a fashion line, but rather to experience a general reboot to find a lost joy. At this time, her sister Erin Breen was also in need of travel’s healing powers as she had to close the clinic she founded for children with Autism; freeing up her schedule to join McClure in India. “We happened to be at a similar crossroads in life at the same time,” says McClure. “Which I think was fate, as cheesy as it sounds.”
After a caftan-sporting McClure welcomed Breen to India, the seed was planted as McClure encouraged Breen to start a company with her, using their upcoming weeks of travel around India as inspiration. Architectural sights, textile studios, industry locals and overwhelming nature were all contributing factors that fed the sisters’ vision, but it was a sunset elephant ride that ultimately resulted in mirth—both the sentiment and assurance that they were on the right path. This sentiment of “amusement expressed in laughter” became the only way to label the organic turning point they reached, and thus, became the name of their new company. “We were elated and overjoyed, laughing so hard–and the dictionary led us to mirth,” says Breen.
Two years later and the sisters have successfully created a resort-wear collection of caftans, blouses, and dresses reflecting a fluid design to constantly honor, “feeling good.” McClure describes, “feeling good in the clothing, feeling good about purchasing it and where it comes from, feeling joy because of the places you go and things you do wearing it, and bringing joy to those involved making it.”
We caught up with the stylish sisters to learn more about MIRTH’s beginnings, what that first trip to India really entailed, and of course, what it was like to make the leap into the ever-expanding fashion industry.
Tell me about the different backgrounds you come from, and how you found yourself in the fashion industry.
Katie: We were both looking to create something of our own, so we combined our varied backgrounds to form a company with a backbone of creativity, travel and a mindful life. We’ve both always had a similar aesthetic and style… maybe because I always borrowed her clothes in middle school without her knowing. Working together creatively made sense.
What was the breaking point that led you to take time off and travel?
Katie: I went through a few tough years and the best thing to come out of it was realizing that I wasn’t doing anyone any favors by going through the motions of life and just earning a pay check. That realization made any fear of not doing the “normal thing” dissipate. Fear of failure is devastating, much more so than actually failing. I also understood the power of travel— and I’m a huge proponent of traveling alone— so I knew I needed to do something drastic to help me figure it all out. Hence quitting my job to travel for a few months. And it brought me exactly where I’d hoped it would.
Erin: I had to close my business, the clinic. It was difficult and I was ready for a change—the opportunity to meet Katie in India seemed like just what I needed to hit reset and figure out what was next.
What was your first destination? Then how did that lead you to India?
Katie: The story is a slow one that took shape over many trips and experiences. I was traveling in Bali years before when the idea first came. I was admiring the batik and ikat textiles there when I realized that combining these two loves–versatile caftans and resort wear and beautiful heritage textiles from around the world–would be something I’d love to explore and pour myself into.
I noodled on it for years, collecting fabrics when I lived in Singapore for six months. It wasn’t until a year later, during a volunteer trip to Nepal and a two week tour of India, right after Erin closed her clinic, where the signs came together and gave us the push we needed. I chose India randomly but I think anyone going to India is prepared for something quite big, quite life changing. I met a tailor in Nepal who made some caftan samples for me. Although they weren’t great, just taking that first step and having a physical item I could wear was a big mental step. The saying “just start” is so true—that’s the hardest part of being an entrepreneur.
Tell me about the elephant ride that was the “tipping point” used as final motivation to create a company?
K + E: We had one day in Jaipur, visiting incredible architectural sights, pouring through basements full of textiles and talking to people we met about the industry, where we would look at each other and think, “this is it! we can do this!” The day ended with an elephant ride in the desert outside of the city and we were elated with our new sense of purpose and our newly formed path that felt so right. We couldn’t stop laughing and it felt as if years of puzzle pieces just came together– pure mirth. We were excited for, and ready for, the leap of starting a business instead of being fearful of it.
Photos by: Jenny Antill
And why caftans? What does this style mean to you?
Erin: We’re all about effortless style. I’ve always loved caftans and the idea of throwing on something beautiful, simple and comfortable that still makes you feel and look good. I wore caftans my entire pregnancy, though I wish I had MIRTH back then! Mine were rather frumpy or didn’t transition well into everyday life. We try to design ours to be worn anywhere—dressed up, down, from the beach to town, as we say. And we try to tailor a bit more so you don’t feel like a garbage bag or a costume. We’ve also had a love for interesting textiles and the striking story they can tell on their own. Quality textiles make a huge difference in a garment.
How would you describe your collections both in wear and personality?
K + E: We’ve grown from caftans and now produce a full resort wear collection, all with the same idea of ease and comfort, flattering cuts, natural fibers, all easily mixed and matched. We try to choose really pleasing colors, but we do want to get a bit bolder this year colorwise. Everything’s really wearable, but they are pieces that people stop you on the street to ask you about—it’s the best compliment when customers tell us this happens to them!
Why is global opportunity so important to you?
K + E: It’s something you can’t ignore — human rights and social impact are crucial. We couldn’t work on this everyday without feeling good about the people we work with throughout the process. And whenever we visit India in person and see the opportunity created from our orders, that sense of purpose keeps us going.
As you continue to grow the company since your 2016 launch, what do you find as the biggest challenge? And then, the biggest reward?
Katie: The challenges on the production side seem endless. But I’ve learned there’s always a solution. You just figure it out and keep going. I struggle with comparison all the time— the downside of having to keep up with a social media presence. So I do take some social media breaks, but I also find lots of inspiration from other accounts. I just have to remember our story, and why and how, we started, and that puts me back on the right track mentally. We can’t be everything to everyone, but I hope we’ve found a niche and aesthetic that is our own and resonates with others. Erin is so positive—she reminds me of all the rewards and good things we have going on because the days working can be tough.
Erin: Yes! There are many good things we have to keep in mind. The impact on the communities we work with, the moment we make a charitable donation is so incredible… the fact that we have so many repeat customers—it’s still mind blowing, and we’re so grateful for the women who have been supportive of MIRTH and truly enjoy the product. Our mom wears MIRTH nonstop which is special for us to see. And she’ll sell one to a stranger on the street! Mom’s the best! We actually often hear from mothers and daughters that they argue who gets to buy which style. I love that our customer base is so broad – our styles work for a 70 year old woman and just as well for a 25 year old.
As you continue to draw inspiration from India, with collections inspired by landscapes, textiles, hand loomed fabrics and seaside prints—what is the next part of the country you want to explore? Or do you think you’ll draw inspiration from a new country?
Katie: We’ve really let this come to us as opposed to seeking out too heavily. India is so chock full that it can be overwhelming. We try to visit new places and explore co-ops creating textiles while keeping consistent work with the wonderful artisans we collaborate with already.
We do want to grow smartly because there is a lot of work that goes into getting our supply chain under control and functioning how we need it to. We’ve been searching for the right partners to work with on wools so that’s definitely in the immediate future. We had great success with one piece in plush wool, similar to cashmere, so we’re looking to do that again—and selfishly visit the gorgeous mountains in northern India.
Erin: And in the more distant future, we’d love to explore textiles in other countries—Morocco, Japan, Peru to name a few.
The dictionary tells us that MIRTH is defined as “amusement expressed in laughter,” but what does MIRTH mean to you?
Erin: When coming up with a name for our brand, we spent a long time brainstorming. Finally, we said, let’s find a word to describe what we consider the moment we decided to jump into this—sunset after the incredible day in Jaipur. We were elated and overjoyed, laughing so hard — and the dictionary led us to mirth.
Katie: And by extension, that’s what the brand embodies—we want to spread mirth, bring a little joy to people, and inspire the MIRTH woman to make time in her life to have this feeling.