Before Old Navy stripped away our fear of white jeans, New York label Elizabeth & Clarke changed the game last year (and answered the prayers of accident-prone girls everywhere) with its unstainable white shirt. The brand's innovative fabric, which took about six months to develop, is treated to repel stains at a molecular level, with tiny fibers that prevent water- and oil-based liquid spills from even seeping into the garment — without losing the softness you want out of your go-to basics. The technology has been tested and approved. Now, it's making its way into the rest of your workwear. Following a buzzy inaugural crowdfunding effort last year, Elizabeth & Clarke is back with another Kickstarter and a whole new range of clothing made with its signature (and trademarked) stain-repellent fabric. Dubbed the Unstainable Workwear Collection, the brand is zeroing in on the common yet often hard-to-navigate category: professional clothing. "We first had a hunch that our customers might want workwear because so many of them were wearing our shirts to work already," Melanie Moore, Elizabeth & Clarke's founder and CEO, told Refinery29. Moore started her career as an investment banker, eventually making the transition from finance to fashion, and experienced firsthand how tricky it can be to find clothes that are sleek and stylish but also professional. "There are so many rules when dressing for work, especially in a male-dominated environment like finance, and none of them are written down," she explains.
Moore saw a void in the market, and Elizabeth & Clarke's first collection of cubicle-oriented designs came about. There are four pieces, all black: a dress, a blazer, a pencil skirt, and a pair of trousers. Not only is black popular with consumers, but since not all stains are dark, the brand's specialty fabric and its stain-quelling properties come in handy, Moore says of the monochromatic palette. On top of shielding you from water- and oil-based liquid stains, the garments are equipped with another patented technology called Sweat-Proof, which absorbs moisture (i.e., your perspiration) into a hidden, odor-proof middle layer between the outside of the garment and the inner lining, where it'll eventually evaporate, so it doesn't stain or stink. (See a demo, below.)
Looking at the market, "I see that many brands are moving in a more casual direction," Moore notes. Aside from a few brands that specialize in work-centric clothes — such as Banana Republic, Theory, Akris, and Donna Karan — Moore thought there weren't enough workwear options out there, especially at a more affordable price point. Elizabeth & Clarke is one of the few brands doing polished apparel cool enough to wear beyond the office with a streamlined, direct-to-consumer shopping process (MM. LaFleur has been doing this for a while).
When the brand launched its campaign for its Unstainable White Shirt last year, it met its $30,000 goal in four days. (Elizabeth & Clarke would go on to raise $221,159 during that run.) Its workwear collection Kickstarter, which launched on May 3, reached its initial target of $40,000 within one day. With a few weeks to go, Elizabeth & Clarke announced a series of "stretch goals" it hopes to meet during the remainder of the campaign, including additional colorways and sizing that goes up to a U.S. 22. The initial offering is small, but it's well-thought-out. Moore says she spent a few years ideating and editing her designs, drawing on her own experience (and frustrations) with workwear. She explains, "Instead of creating a standard women's blazer shape, which is really just a smaller version of a men's blazer, I used the silhouette of a classic motorcycle jacket and gave it a professional twist by using suiting fabric and hiding the zippers." Also, a chemist worked on refining Elizabeth & Clarke's fabric technology, and a marketing manager spoke to customers about what they wanted and needed out of their workwear. The brand also aims to solve multiple gripes about 9-to-5 clothes: pockets that aren't spacious enough (or having no pockets at all), button-downs with awkwardly large gaps between buttons, materials that stain easily but are hard to wash (or, worse, are dry-clean-only). The collection aimed to fix all of those frustrations: Trouser length is adjustable, every piece has pockets, and it's all machine-washable. "I thought that this line would be successful — but I didn't quite realize how many women have all of these issues and problems," Moore said of how quickly the Kickstarter was funded. "It's pretty universal if you're a woman who works in an office."
Another big draw about this collection is the accessible price point: The dress and blazer are both expected to retail for $100, while the pants and skirt will each be $80. (You can also buy the pieces in special, discounted bundles via Kickstarter.) Workwear, often seen as a wardrobe investment, tends to add up — plus, despite being necessary, oftentimes it's not stuff you want to wear. Moore crunched the numbers to figure out price points, taking into account the Elizabeth & Clarke customer's median income and what financial planners typically recommend you spend on clothing (5% of your take-home pay, according to Pete Dunn). "We wanted to appeal to the average lady — not just the affluent [customer]," Moore said. Elizabeth & Clarke operates as a subscription-based service, so you get a quarterly box with the brand's shirts, though customers can buy items from the Unstainable collection as one-offs. For workwear, the goal is to introduce a similar biannual plan, where new designs are sent out to subscribers twice a year. (MM. LaFleur offers a similar curated merch offering, called the Bento.) For now, though, Elizabeth & Clarke's full Unstainable range is only available for preorder on Kickstarter, with an expected delivery date of November 2016. After the campaign wraps up, the preorder will move over to Unstainable's dedicated website. The crowdfunding run isn't just to generate buzz, fulfill initial orders, and recoup R&D expenses. It's also to feel out the space — talk to customers, examine buying patterns, and see what this new category could be in the grand scheme of the (still relatively small) business. But for those with buttoned-up dress codes, this could make getting dressed for that big meeting (when you also have post-work drinks on the books the same day) a bit easier.