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After working in locations around the globe as a model, Angela O’Brien found that creating was more to her liking than wearing the work of others. In 2006, during a year of travels with her husband Jim, O’Brien began laying the groundwork for what, today, is Cleobella—an ethical, handcrafted line of clothing and accessories.
Taking to heart the beauty and culture experienced during time spent in Bali and across India, O’Brien began Cleobella with a series of wrap skirts made from upcycled vintage saris. Over the last several years, the brand has evolved to employ an all-women team of artisans in Indonesia, creating everything in-house, with a focus on eco-friendly production and livable wages. The ready-to-wear, childrenswear, and accessory offerings are feature elegant silhouettes, earthy colors (made using Balinese techniques from natural matter like mugwort, banana leaves, and indigo), and the brand’s signature, hand-pressed patterns.
Now living with her family in Los Angeles, O’Brien has infused her home with the same ethos and aesthetic by which Cleobella was founded—careful, intentional design that imbues a natural elegance and leaves a positive footprint on the world. To learn more about her domicile oasis and the development of the brand, Whitewall spoke with the designer.
WHITEWALL: Can you tell us about the inspiration behind the Summer 2021 collection, which was recently launched?
ANGELA O’BRIEN: Summer 2021 was inspired by elements of Nature. Living in Southern California we have the rich landscapes of mountains, the beach, and the desert. The shapes of native vegetation, textures of rock minerals, and curves of landscape are truly art made by Mother Earth. We have all been craving the outdoors, feeling the sunshine and all the elements that warm our bodies, minds, and souls. This collection was deeply rooted in the practice of being present and appreciating the simple abundance of nature.
WW: The collection is full of natural colors and woodblock prints. Can you tell us about how central woodblock prints are to your designs?
AO: I’ve had a love affair with woodblock prints since my first trip to India 15 years ago. My design aesthetic has always been inspired by faraway places and block printing is an ancient tradition that has been woven into foreign cultures for generations. What I love about Woodblock techniques is that they are always perfectly imperfect. When you experience the process first-hand you can't help but cherish them as heirloom treasures.
WW: Since its founding in 2006, Cleobella has been committed to sustainability—from the materials you use to the wages you pay your collaborators. What does sustainability mean for you as a designer?
AO: Designing a sustainable collection and paying fair wages is at the core of Cleobella’s mission. My goal has always been to live in harmony with people and our planet for future generations. Over 70% of sustainability starts with design. It’s all about choices and understanding the effects of our decisions. I intuitively chose natural fibers that will decompose back into the earth rather than ending up in landfills. Plus they are better for your skin which is the largest organ on our bodies.
WW: Why has it been important for you to employ and work with all-female teams and artisans?
AO: A majority of our factories are owned and operated by women. However, we do work with men and we have built meaningful relationships with all our partners. Throughout my travels I have experienced women working tirelessly for their families and as a female founder I’ve felt a responsibility to elevate any female founded factory [that] has the ability to grow with us.
For example, I have been working with Yanti since our first trip to Indonesia in 2006. She is a master tailor and she has been a valuable partner since our journey began. We continue to prioritize segments of our collection each season with families like Yanti’s because economic stability is the key to a successful business for everyone.
WW: Can you tell us about your home in Los Angeles? How would you describe the kind of atmosphere you've wanted to create?
AO: Our home is our sanctuary, there is a peace I feel when I walk through my doors. It’s a mixture of old and new. It’s a collection of finds from around the world, nothing is too precious as we have young children and we love to entertain. We incorporate elements of nature like limestone floor throughout the first floor, marble countertops that crawl up the wall look like clear quartz crystal. Everything feels timeless and tells a story of where we’ve been.
WW: How does your commitment to sustainability and support for female makers carry over into the objects you've chosen to fill your home?
AO: Just like Cleobella, everything we do is intentional and meaningful. We chose to renovate our 1960’s home, rather than rebuild it because it’s less wasteful. Most of the items in our home are repurposed vintage or found items from our travels. We worked with Design 4 Corners—who are dear friends and sisters we met in Bali over a decade ago—and they have incredible sources from around the world that brought our vision to life.
WW: At home, where do you go you feel the most grounded? The most ready to create?
AO: I feel most grounded in my kitchen. It's the heart of our home and we have a large island with drawers full of crafts for our children and we create together. My husband and I chose the slab stone because it has a large rose quartz love vein in the middle, it's a beautiful shade of pink and we love it. We have an open floor plan and this is where we spend the most time as a family together making memories.