Sisters Katie McClure and Erin Breen. (Photography by Kendall Hanna)
San Sebastian short caftan in Handmade Edition handloomed colorblock. (Photograph Kendall Hanna)
San Sebastian caftan in Handmade Edition handloomed colorblock. (Photograph Kendall Hanna)
Corfu caftan in Handmade Edition blockprint. (Photograph Kendall Hanna)
Each caftan comes packaged in a reusable Potli Pouch.
Poolside in Mirth Caftans. (Photograph Kendall Hanna)
Erin Breen and Katie McClure wearing Corfu caftans. (Photograph Kendall Hanna)
Katie McClure and Erin Breen at the Jahaz Mahal in Mandu, Madhya Pradesh, India.
It takes a village: In the printing community of Bagru, India, many artisans play a role in the printing process. Here, one of the expert hand dyers mixes a vat of dye (sometimes using natural dyes from the earth like mustard from flowers, pomegranate or turmeric) to obtain the right shade.
After yarn has been saturated with a paste made of potatoes or rice starch to protect it during the weaving process, it is wound by hand onto bobbins for the looms.
One of the weavers in Maheshwar, India setting up the wooden handloom to prepare for weaving.
Blockprinters hand stamp each section of fabric using wooden blocks. The print is intentionally imperfect.
Once fabric is printed, dyed, washed and dried, this man irons each meter of fabric in his storefront in Chippa Mohalla (the printer's quarter), using the same iron generations have used before him.
Erin Breen and Katie McClure in front of the Peacock Door at City Palace in Jaipur, India.
El Tule caftan in Handmade Edition handloomed ikat. (Photograph Kendall Hanna)
San Sabastian caftan in Handmade Edition handloomed ikat. (Photograph Kendall Hanna)
Eze caftan in Handmade Edition handloomed ikat stripe. (Photograph Kendall Hanna)
Katie McClure styling model wearing the Eze caftan in Handmade Edition handloomed ikat stripe. (Photograph Kendall Hanna)
A series of serendipitous events while traveling prompted sisters Katie McClure and Erin McClure Breen to create the beautiful and benevolent Mirth Caftans. McClure, who majored in apparel and textiles at the University of Texas, Austin, was bitten by the travel bug as an adult and spent time in Switzerland and Singapore. But it was a solo journey of self-discovery to Bali for a yoga/Pilates retreat that sparked an idea: to create a business informed by a life of travel and slowing down, while creating something of lasting beauty and giving back.
Inspired, but unsure of the product or how to implement it, McClure shelved that spark for a few years.
In the summer of 2014, Breen — a long-time caftan devotee — had just closed her early-intervention clinic for autistic children and was looking for a new career path. McClure convinced her somewhat reluctant sibling to travel to India. Each stop along that journey, and the people they met, many of whom specialized in textiles and block printing, drew them closer to discovering what their new venture should be.
“India’s thrilling mess of color, tastes and stunning landscapes, and the rich experiences with the people you meet, have the ability to change you,” McClure says. There was something especially magical about the city of Jaipur. While on an elephant ride in the desert, after a fruitful day touring the city, the sisters realized that the product McClure couldn’t conceptualize before was travel-friendly clothing, and the partner she needed was her sister — as well as all their new friends in India. Mirth Caftans was born.
Of course, starting a business continents and oceans away is not easy. Initial setbacks included bad samples from the first trip, which led to further visits to India to find more appropriate partners. Each visit, they were led to someone else who could help them or a new discovery, encouraging them to persevere. Their efforts have resulted in chic, comfortable and unique caftans that they say are ideal for “long voyaging and slow living.”
Neutral colors and simple prints prevail, making for suitcase-ready pieces. Roughly two-thirds of the collection is comprised of fabrics handmade either by loomers, block printers or dyers — ancient methods worth preserving for future generations. Each caftan comes in a clever Potli, a reusable cloth pouch perfect for sunscreen and shades for a trek to the beach.
McClure and Breen say it is of the utmost importance that their caftans be ethically made, meaning fare wages and hours, and a safe and pleasant work environment. Mirth donates five percent of profits to an education initiative in the block-printing village of Bagru, India, where many of their partners are located. Even finding a beneficiary for the altruistic element of their brand was serendipitous. One of their partners in Bagru, fourth-generation block-printer Deepak Chhipa, introduced them to the Naam Dev School of Bagru, which Chhipa founded with the goal of providing an enjoyable place for kids of all castes in the community.
Attending school is not mandatory in Bagru, and many parents don’t require their children to go, as it’s more valuable to them for the children to learn the family business of block printing or agriculture. By creating a place that includes a daily meal, indoor plumbing and a safe and fun environment, children attend school because they want to go.
One caftan results in one day of school — a big-hearted bonus to a beautiful purchase.
Available March 15 at mirthcaftans.com; end of month at Brooke Feather, 2020 W. Gray St., 713.520.0211, and Saint Cloud, 5217 Kelvin Dr., 713.522.0077.