I need only scroll through my feed to reap the wisdom from women-empowering, sisterhood-celebrating activists and icons author Cleo Wade and stylist Karla Welch. Thanks to the magic of social media, it’s as if Cleo’s poetry can tuck me in at night after a bad day; and I can access Karla’s style authority and glean a little of her know-how right from a post on the ‘gram before I throw together an outfit in the morning. That’s connecting in 2019; but both women are taking their mission a step further and using their platforms to contribute directly to the women who need it most with a new collaboration for Express.
I had the pleasure of speaking to both women about their capsule for Express, which features two t-shirts designed with messages to uplift and unite. Crafted by Karla, with phrases by Cleo, the collection celebrates Express’s commitment to female empowerment with support for The Lower Eastside Girls Club of NY and the Women’s Prison Association and the important work those organizations are doing.
As the conversation turned to the fashion industry and its future and to the pivotal moment women find ourselves in in 2019, there’s another choice phrase that comes to mind: teamwork makes the dream work.
Read on to see how this duo teamed up to do some real good and continues to spread positivity and inspire. Then, shop the tees before they sell out.
POPSUGAR: This is such an important moment for women — you can feel the momentum in politics, fashion, art, music. How do you hope this collection contributes to this conversation?
Karla Welch: I think we are both so sincere in believing and wanting us to unite, and that love and kindness can lead the way! Wear what you believe in! That’s why we decided to partner with Express on this collection — to spread these positive messages in a thoughtful way, to different audiences, using our voice and our areas of self-expression to get these messages across in a simple but highly visual way. And, the Cleo Wade x Karla collaboration with Express resulted in two donations to two very important organizations — The Lower Eastside Girls Club of NY and Women’s Prison Association. That to me is us combining our powers to do good!
Cleo Wade: Every moment is an important moment for women because when moments are connected, they create a movement. The women’s rights movements have been fighting for generations for economic equality, healthcare justice and reproductive freedom, ending violence against women, opposing racism, and fighting discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. I think in America right now, we as women are speaking up and linking up in powerful ways, which is resonating in pop culture and beyond. Our collaboration is a way of taking what we have in our toolboxes (fashion and design for Karla, and the power of words for me) and contributing to this culture of women joining forces for what they believe will make the world around them better for themselves and all women and girls to come.
PS: We love these messages of empowerment. If you had to choose your own 2019 motto to put on a personal t-shirt, what would it be?
KW: I think these slogans could do just fine!!! I love “Herstory” because I really believe we, as powerful women, will continue writing our stories and journeys until our last breaths!
CW: I think mine would be, “it’s all good in the sisterhood.” Because when we are joined as sisters, there’s no wrong we can’t make right and no bad we can’t make good. We are so powerful when we are together.
PS: Who are the women you admire and the women you hope to see wearing your shirts?
KW: I hope to someday see the first female POTUS wearing our shirts! Honestly, it’s a list that’s too long — or actually not long enough! I firmly believe in the more the merrier, and I love seeing women succeed! We need to keep empowering each other, and I’m all for women from all walks of life wearing our collection proudly.
CW: I am so proud these tees were shot on the girls from the Lower Eastside Girls Club of NY. I admire them beyond words, and to see these t-shirts on them smiling and laughing while they hang out with each other means the world to me.
PS: At its best, fashion can help unify and connect women; at its worst, it divides and magnifies differences. What do you love about the industry RIGHT NOW, and what do you see as some of the places we have to work on?
CW: I am going to let Karla answer this one!
KW: I think we need to keep pushing on sustainability and inclusion. I make sure all my collabs are kept small in quantity because I don’t want to over produce. It’s an uphill battle, but working with partners who can see that’s part of my mission might help them adjust how they look forward. I also make sure all of my projects have a social justice connection. Conscious commerce is incredibly important, and we can leverage our partners to be a part of it! This is why I decided to partner with Express — I loved their willingness to collaborate during the design process and their commitment to female empowerment, which I’ve seen through their partnerships and campaigns (i.e. Women Together) before.
PS: You both have a wonderful way of keeping it real on Instagram. What women in fashion do you look to for inspiration on social media?
KW: I love Jen Atkin, Leandra Medine, [and] Cleo Wade of course! They’re all trailblazers and continue to create paths for women everywhere through their inspirational content.
CW: [Stevie Elem] @stevie_elem, [Sade Lythcott] @sade1111, [Symone D. Sanders] @symonesanders, [Brittany Packnett] @mspacknetti, [Aminatou Sow] @aminatou, [and] [Zara Rahim] @zararahim are some of my very favorite people to follow. They always have an interesting take on what’s happening in our world. They are so confident and such amazing role models for the next generation of girls.