Woman Crush Wednesday

#WCW: Katie McClure & Erin Breen

These Houston-based sisters have made the caftan cool.

By Abby Ledoux February 7, 2018

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Erin Breen and Katie McClure are the Houston sisters behind MIRTH, a line of caftans made from artisan Indian textiles.

A few years ago, Katie McClure was at a self-described crossroads in life. Feeling unfulfilled, she traveled, volunteered, and otherwise sought enlightenment at a yoga retreat, determined to find out what she was meant to do.

Perhaps more trivially, she also found herself struggling to find a good caftan—one she could wear all day, from yoga to the beach to dinner, feeling at ease but still put-together.

"Blown away" by the vibrant textiles and flourishing garment industry on a visit to South Asia and jonesing for a new endeavor, McClure partnered with her sister, Erin Breen, who similarly found herself at a fork in the road after closing a clinic for children with autism. The sisters mulled their plan over for years before finally pulling the trigger to found MIRTH, their line of caftans and resortwear that uses ethically sourced, handmade materials for a modern take on the ancient apparel. A portion of each sale goes toward child welfare and education initiatives in Jaipur, India.

Two years in, the delicate yet tailored caftans have earned fans here in Houston and beyond. MIRTH designs are sold locally at retailers like Saint Cloud and Birch Modern Mercantile, and McClure and Breen continue expanding their offerings: The new spring collection launches next month.

Houstonia caught up with the duo ahead of their upcoming trip to India, the source of their original inspiration and, now, their artisan textiles.

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On MIRTH's connection to India:

Katie McClure: It's one of the places that really affects you when you go. It's really kind of a magical place, and you really develop a connection with everyone you meet, even the guy sitting next to you on the airplane, he's inviting you over for dinner. You fall into this world that really has so much depth.

We came up with the most difficult business model, probably, working in rural areas on the other side of the world with artisans who are hand-making—with no electricity—some of these textiles in villages, in mud-bottomed huts ... we're learning every day, but we feel really good about who we work with now. It's the most difficult, but it's so worth it. It's so cool to see ... the impact of working with these groups. Ordering our fabrics from these small families or artisan groups, it really makes a huge difference in the quality of life of the people in the community, and that's why you do it.

Erin Breen: Visiting India and collaborating with the artisans is very inspiring. It's so exciting working together to create a beautiful piece.

On their designs:

Mirth headshots kendall hanna photography tmnxpx

KM: It's not what you see everywhere. You don't walk down the street and see the kinds of textiles that we use ... they're so soft and they drape well and they have this character to them. I think people can appreciate the uniqueness and the beauty and the handmade aesthetic.

EB: Each piece tells a story, from the intricate process of its design to the time and pride each artisan puts into it. This process of slow fashion is so important to our brand as well as giving back and having a social impact.

On the MIRTH customer:

KM: We design what we want to wear, just as normal women who care about what we look like but don't want to put a ton of time and effort into it. We want it to be unique and high-quality and special, but not super flashy ... We get a lot of moms and daughters, maybe like a 35-year-old woman and then her 65-year-old mother. We get a lot of, 'I wanted that, but my mom bought it first!' ... Our mom, that's all she wears. She's so funny, she'll tell anyone who will listen about caftans.

On being sisters and business partners:

KM: It's been interesting, and we definitely had to learn. We are really different people and we have different interests and different work modes. I think it actually makes it easier, because it’s pretty clear who’s going to do the accounting and who’s going to go to every single fitting. The nice thing about being sisters is that you can be totally honest; there’s no having to read between the lines, you can be very straight-forward. Even if you kind of have a little bit of an off day, at the end of the day you’re still like, ‘okay, want to go get a drink?’ 

EB: For me, it's both [an advantage and a challenge]. We have the same aesthetic, we balance each other out because we have different personalities, and we know each other so well. At the same time, this can cause friction, but because we're sisters we get over it pretty quickly.

On their personal style:

KM: Easy and effortless, that's what we try to do. I don’t believe in being too fussy, and I love just finding special pieces that you’ll have for a long time. We’re both supporters of the slow fashion movement, not cycling through your wardrobe; we both do a lot of vintage shopping and our line [is] just easy, special, effortless, throw it on and you can feel good, and just not to have to worry too much about it.

On favorite places in Houston:

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Image: Jenny Antill

EB: Cheeky Vintage is a new favorite. Whenever I shop there I remember how much I love wearing vintage! ... Besides new restaurants popping up all of the time, Houston has a lot to offer for kids. I love taking my son to different parks, Hermann Park has always been a favorite, and we are loving all of the activities at Levy Park. The zoo and Museum of Natural Science are almost a weekly outing, and it's nice to live so close to them.

KM: Oh, Montrose. I love Montrose. I go to Blacksmith almost every day. I love the vibe, there's a lot of creativity, opportunities to walk around—which you don't get everywhere in Houston.

On work-life balance:

EB: Katie works 24/7 and does such an amazing job of running the business. Going into launching MIRTH, I wanted more time to spend with my son, so I do it on a more part-time basis. Because of this structure I'm able to achieve balance most of the time, which I feel very fortunate for.

KM: It's hard because this is like my child. This is what I do 24/7, all the time. I love it, and I’m excited to wake up and work on it. I do have a goal to have a bit more of a life balance—the to-do list is never going to end, but I do try to exercise every day, almost every day; that’s really important. It’s so important for creativity to have some life space, blank, nothing planned or scheduled … that’s hard to do. I try really hard to do it. The best ideas for entrepreneurs in general, or anyone in a creative field, your best thinking comes when you’re not trying to think about it but you give your brain space to breathe.

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