Cover Photo: Claude

Claude co-founder Christie Johana shares what it takes to run a trendy fashion brand that’s ethical and eco-friendly

Does the world need another fashion brand? Maybe not, especially when the fashion industry is already crowded with fast fashion labels like Shein that are built on overproduction and unethical labour. But Claude doesn’t want to be just another fashion brand.

The Indonesian label, founded in 2018, aims to offer trendy, everyday clothes for women—without exploiting people or the planet in the process. It’s a big dream, and one that the brand’s co-founders, Christie Johana and Tommy Budihardjo, decided to pursue following the pandemic’s disruption of the global fashion industry.

Claude started out of the couple’s garage in Jakarta, after they both left their high-flying careers in finance. At the beginning, the husband and wife duo only had two tailors to craft their womenswear designs. Today, the Claude family, as Johana calls it, is over 100 employees strong.

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“As long as being naked is not an option, fashion will always be here to stay,” said Johana, who is also Claude’s creative director, in an email interview with Tatler Singapore. She understands that the launch of another fashion brand is inevitable, but that doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Claude is proof: the fashion company comprises a diverse team, doesn’t rely on sweatshops, and produces almost zero fashion waste.

On top of that, Claude creates clothes to fall in love with. The brand’s stylish offerings include pleated dresses, feminine blouses with ruffles and bows, boxy blazers and relaxed, high-waisted pants, all coming in soft pastels and neutrals.  

Following the launch of Claude’s first international store opening in Takashimaya Shopping Centre in Singapore, Johana tells us everything we need to know about Claude, running a business with her husband, and what it takes to truly be a sustainable and socially responsible fashion brand.

Why did you choose the name Claude?

Christie Johana (CJ): From the beginning, [Tommy and I] had a dream to create a globally-minded brand. We tried to find a name that sounds nice anywhere around the world, whether it be in Japan, France, or the US. One night, we had a eureka moment and decided to derive the brand name from something I hold dear, which is my baptismal name, Claudia.

How would you describe the Claude woman?

CJ: Claude women are free-spirited, proud, and dare to dream. They are lifestyle-focused and career-oriented Gen Z-ers and millennials who understand that fashion is a strong way to express themselves.

What were some resources that helped you launch Claude?

CJ: When we started Claude, we did not have any background in fashion. I studied accounting and worked as an auditor, while [Tommy] did economics and finance. We had to figure out all the processes [of running a fashion business] from scratch: designing, sourcing, manufacturing, customer service, logistics, and so much more.

We also had to find a way to start a business. It seems like an impossible task, and it did feel like that at the start. All we had was the vision for Claude to become everyone’s go-to fashion brand. Thankfully, it was a powerful motivation for us.

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How do you and Tommy work as a team? How do your strengths complement his?

CJ: Believe it or not, this is the most asked question by people who know that we started Claude together. Surprisingly, working as a couple has actually brought many benefits that cannot be found elsewhere. We both have different main responsibilities. I am in charge of the creative side of the business, while Tommy is on the operational side.

Given the nature of our work, I am more instinctive while he is more analytical when it comes to decision-making. By respecting each other’s roles and strengths, we rarely butt heads and instead inspire each other with fresh perspectives.

What are some perks of running a company as a couple?

CJ: Starting a company is like starting a family. The founding members need to trust each other without the shadow of a doubt, and who better to trust than someone you chose to be together with ’til death do us part?

There is no need for politics. We have the same goals and vision for the future. We already beat the first hurdle of starting a company with someone else, and now all we have our sights on is how to achieve our vision of Claude together.

Do you and Tommy have a work-life balance?

CJ: Claude is an early start-up company, which unfortunately means that there is no such thing as work-life balance. We find that ideas can come anytime, anywhere, even when you are not at the office. When we go on trips together, we may be inspired by the things we see and end up working on the next big plan. When we go on dinner dates, our team may reach out to us with a problem and it ends up becoming a work-related dinner discussion. Before we go to bed, we always discuss our agenda for the next day.

As co-founders, we must see our business as an extension of ourselves. We have to give our all to ensure the success of our company and hopefully inspire others to do the same. It is difficult, given the lack of a work-life balance, but Tommy and I always look on the bright side: we have each other taking care of a company we built together.

Tell us more about the Claude family. What practices has the brand introduced to create fair and equal opportunities for your employees?

CJ: We are proud to say that 90 per cent of our management team are intelligent, passionate, and brilliant women. Our hiring process does not take sex, race, or background into consideration; instead, we look purely at their personalities and passion for the position that they are applying for. As a result, the whole Claude family consists of people from different backgrounds, ethnicities and genders.

We also want to contribute to improving the human capital here in Indonesia, so we created a free tailoring training school in 2022. Upon graduation, participants have the choice to join our Claude family and be part of the team that serves our amazing customers.

Why do you think it’s important to have a good working environment?

CJ: We are social animals. It is essential to have a good working environment because we want everyone to feel safe and be free of stressful politics that are common in most workplaces.

To ensure a great working environment, we have low bureaucracy within our company structure. There are no walls separating people from different management levels. We commonly party with the team, go for crazy karaoke sessions, and celebrate Claude crew birthdays to bond and understand every individual personally. This way, we can better align our interests, which is to give the very best to our customers, community, and everyone involved.

What are the benefits of having a diverse company?

CJ: Fashion is an industry that celebrates creativity and uniqueness, so no one group or community can accurately predict what the market wants due to the limitless possibilities. I cannot stress enough how diversity plays a huge role in surviving and succeeding in this industry. Diversity allows us to inspire each other with fresh ideas, create non-monotonous designs, and remain relevant in the ever-changing fashion industry.

Claude follows an “adaptive fashion model”. How exactly does that work?

CJ: In the fashion industry, a brand typically produces new designs in bulk to meet the minimum order quantities from manufacturers. However, in many instances, those new designs do not become successful. It’s common for a brand to end up with too much unwanted stock, and then do a sale to reduce its inventory. Some items may still remain unsold, and brands usually resort to throwing them away into landfills or simply burning them.

To reduce the detrimental effects [on the environment] caused by the fashion industry, we introduced the adaptive fashion model. Essentially, we produce new designs in very small quantities and only produce more of our popular items upon demand.

With the adaptive fashion model, Claude has managed to sell 99 per cent of the products that we produce, and we do not need to throw goods into landfills or burn them. It also allows us to remove the uncertainty that every fashion brand faces, which is whether a product will sell or not.

Where are Claude’s clothes manufactured? How do you ensure quality throughout the production process?

CJ: We are proudly made in Indonesia, empowering the talented men and women from all over Indonesia’s archipelago. To ensure we provide products that our customers can be proud of, we have an intense screening process where a tailor is tested to see their capabilities, meticulousness, and initiatives. Once accepted, they will undergo a training program to familiarise themselves with our professionalism and quality expectation.

Those that do not pass the skill test will have the option to join our training mentorship class with several highly experienced tailors; upon graduation, they will be able to be part of the Claude family.

Claude launches new collections every week. How is the business able to keep up with that pace while following the adaptive fashion model?

CJ: Claude is vertically integrated, which means that we have full control of our manufacturing, including the uniqueness of each design, minimum order quantities, and the standard quality of our products. We also analyse what our customers want on a real-time basis. Those insights provide inspiration to our fashion design team, so Claude can remain relevant in the ever-changing fashion industry.

Why did you decide to launch the brand in Singapore?

CJ: From the start, we wanted Claude to be a globally-minded brand. Launching in Singapore has always been on our agenda. Even before opening our brick-and-mortar here, our online platform catered to Singaporean customers. We were surprised that even during the pandemic, the demand from Singapore kept increasing. Now, it makes up the majority of our international revenue.

We are extremely grateful that the Singaporean market is very supportive of our journey. That’s why we finally opened our very first international store in one of the most popular areas for shopping, which is Takashimaya Shopping Centre in Orchard Road.

What is special about the new store in Singapore? What is behind the store design?

CJ: Our customer base is made up of millennials and Gen Zers, and they love things that are special and different. [Tommy and I] personally dislike stores that are too systematic, too logical, and too monotonous. We always try to focus on the experience and emotions a customer will have when shopping with us. Nothing in this world is more beautiful than nature, therefore we incorporated curves, natural greens, and flowers all around our store in Singapore.

Do you intend to host pop-ups or activities at the store in future?

CJ: Community building is one of our main priorities. We see our brick-and-mortar store as a space to meet new people, bond with friends, and of course, shop ’til you drop. We also want people to stay for longer when visiting the store, which is why we have a huge lounge area where people can chill and enjoy themselves.

As part of community building, Claude will be hosting several activities over the next few months. We’re using the store to do more than just selling. We’re strengthening the amazing Claude community, Claude squad, and all stakeholders who are involved. Please stay tuned!

How do you plan to expand Claude next year?

CJ: We have a lot of plans in the pipeline, both online and offline, but we want to keep them a surprise. What we can share is that we are pursuing our dream of turning Claude into everyone’s go-to fashion and lifestyle brand.

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