As sisters Erin Breen and Katie McClure say, their story starts in India. Or at least, the story of their shared brand, Mirth, starts in India.
For those of us immersed in the travel and creative spaces, theirs is a familiar trajectory: The Texas natives traveled to the subcontinent and felt a pull from the sights, sounds, and smells of what they perceived to be a space completely foreign to their home in the southern United States. It’s after this point that the story gets interesting. Upon return, they felt compelled to start a small business centered around the caftan—a loose, comfortable garment ideal for everything from long-haul flights to busy days of walking around a new city. The prints and colors that inform each collection reflect a different trip to north, south, and central India—all of which are locales where Breen and McClure regularly return in an effort to maintain close relationships with artisans. But, of course, doing business in two disparate parts of the world has its own unique set of challenges. Noting that the journey from Dallas to Delhi, for example, is nearly 24 hours long, careful preparation is required before hopping aboard the flight. Here’s how the Mirth sisters pack for their trips from Texas to India.
Tell me more about the business and your connection to India.
Katie: Mirth unfolded over the course of several years, when my sister and I were both at a point in life when we were searching to find what we were meant to do. It was after traveling together in India that we decided to join forces and combine our skills to form Mirth. We’ve always loved textiles and I started discovering heritage craft and the rich traditions of handmade fabrics when traveling in Southeast Asia. We fell in love with India during our visit and saw an opportunity to provide ethical employment for artisans while working creatively on a product we can really get behind—caftans. Mirth launched officially, after a long startup process, in early 2016 as a line of caftans and has since expanded to a full line of resort wear. Our pieces are a modern take on ancient traditions and are designed to be worn from the beach to dinner and everywhere in between.
What do you most look forward to on your trips to India?
We both get anxious-but-excited jitters before going—because you know there will be adventure in store during all the long days but you don’t know what. We both agree the interactions with the people there are the most special and are a welcome change from American tendencies. They’re authentic and genuine and full of laughs, and you make forever friends so quickly (especially now with the ease of What’s App). And of course, the food.
Katie: I dream about the guest house in Jaipur—47 Jobner Bagh. The entire place smells like roses, the gardens are sunny and full of vintage Indian beds with pillows (and resident parrot), and it’s fun to catch up with the Indian-Italian owner, Shiva, always so chic clad in breezy all white.
Erin: The organized chaos that can only be seen in India. The insane driving, massive amounts of people everywhere, and although there seems to be no real system in place for anything, it actually works together flawlessly. It’s fascinating to see how it all flows. I learn so much about myself being in this environment—it allows me to stay present, get out of my comfort zone and let go of control. And a visit with KK, the palm reader at the Rambagh Palace in Jaipur is my absolute essential. I read over my notes from the year prior so I can ask him all my questions!
What are you looking for most on these trips? Connecting with artisans, sourcing new fabrics, seeing new sights and experiencing new places? All of the above?
The agenda is packed on these trips: we get down to business with our production team and two factories when in Delhi. We have four collections going at once and each is in various stages of the process, so there is a ton of work for each, whether it’s sampling embroideries, inspecting and measuring pieces coming off the line, pattern reviews with the pattern master, meeting with fabric suppliers and handling challenges.
Then we travel around for a variety of reasons: meeting with new artisan groups or checking in with existing partners, sampling new fabrics, prints and colors or visiting a new project in a new village. It’s important to spend time with the artisans and groups we work with to understand and appreciate what they do, and to develop more connection with them and their work.
We’re always looking for inspiration and taking photos—you never know what you’ll find or where you’ll find it. A piece of paper from a receipt served as a color standard for a Spring 2019 fabric. A visit to Ganesh in Udaipur proved to be a haveli full of inspiration from their massive antique textile collections, especially old fans that we think will make brilliant clutch shapes. Just looking out the window on a drive can fill a sketchbook. And it’s a constant gathering of content for social media and the website.
This past trip, we met with a new organization that we now donate to—Taabar, a project in Jaipur that helps children in unfortunate circumstances. It was centering and powerful, and an important part of the trip. We’re excited to be partnering with them.
Do you have any packing or travel rituals?
Katie: I got Erin hooked on showering and hair-washing just before leaving for the airport. Feeling clean and fresh somehow makes you feel a little better during a long trip. I also always put in headphones just before landing until I get my bags. It makes the whole landing and deplaning experience so much more pleasant. I start downing lots of green juices a day or two before, and often bake these chocolate-quinoa-banana muffins as a healthy-ish plane snack. I find a new show to binge-watch on Netflix. (What did we do before Netflix allowed downloads?!) This last trip was the British crime show Broadchurch. So good. We try to do a good cardio workout before a long trip—makes a big difference in how you feel.
Erin: Katie and I have the most ridiculous ritual when we get on an international flight. I come equipped with a “bed in a bag” that fits perfectly in the large carry-on by Away: a large pillow, super soft large blanket, foot sling (the best), eye pillow and lavender oil. Right when we get on the plane we cover the seat with the airplane blanket (buying this next time), then unpack the suitcase and set up shop while others stare and laugh. Very worth it if flying more than 10 hours.
What do you never leave home without?
Erin: Katie gives me a hard time in India because we end up paying for extra weight on interior flights—thanks to my arsenal of beauty and wellness products. Always with me are: Herbivore lip polish and conditioner. And vitamins: Herbalore catalyst gold, magnesium, probiotics, and activated charcoal. Charcoal is a must to soak up toxins–I swear it can stave off food poisoning. Or a hangover.
To stay present and centered I also meditate and journal before I get the day started, so I be sure to have my phone and a blank journal. Lately when traveling I’ve tried to get in 10,000 steps each day since I usually don’t have time to do a workout. I’m obsessed with tracking my steps.
What are you sure to bring back to the States after each trip?
Katie: It changes every time. Tons of textiles, usually vintage, a rug or two, and market finds– we both bought giant hand carved wooden spoons for cooking and little handmade heart-shaped clay pumice stones. I sneak in a bag of Masala Much – like Indian spiced hot cheetos. I’m shouldn’t admit it, but when there’s no food in an airport, it hits the spot.
Erin: Vintage rugs and blankets. I’m renovating my home right now and form a lot of the aesthetic around the special textiles I’ve found over the years. So far my favorite is a vintage blue and pink prayer rug I found in a little shop in Udaipur.
Our mission is to help sustain and celebrate craft and provide ethical employment for artisans in developing countries. About 70 percent of the fabrics we use are handmade in some way, and all made ethically. It is our hope that each Mirth piece tells this story through the craftsmanship and intricacies of the fabric. We also hope our collections give women an easy way to bring effortless style to their wardrobe and inspire a sense of freedom, wanderlust and mindfulness—and, of course, mirth.
What’s your favorite piece in your closet right now?
Katie: The Lagos long block printed dress.
Erin: Our new striped handloomed Ojai mini dress.
How have your travels changed since starting your business?
Katie: Leisure travel as I used to know it no longer really exists—there’s always an opportunity for a photoshoot, vintage shopping, and social media content. And with a small business, there are no vacation days. But we wouldn’t trade it for anything. I do travel to fewer places now because four to five in India each year is a lot. At least packing light is easy with a suitcase full of Mirth, ha! But each trip always includes something new because there’s so much to see in India. Business reasons still bring me to new places—I’m planning on Peru next month to start checking out some Peruvian handloom sources.