“I wanted to make something different that I hadn’t already seen places,” says Kelcie Schofield, 26-year old founder of CIE denim. She only launched CIE (pronounced “see”) earlier this year, but already the brand, which plays upon the second syllable of her name and the details of a classic denim silhouette, has blown up. Pieced apart and patched together, with the belt loops and pockets wrapped around the thighs and the waistline left open with a raw hem, the unconventional, wearable illusion has been dubbed “The Upside Down Jeans.”
Following a yearlong series of offbeat denim iterations, which have included everything from detachable pant legs and PVC paneled-covered kneecaps, CIE’s twist on the classic clothing staple surprisingly doesn’t feel that random. The first collection officially launched in February with several variations of the inverted silhouette, and every pair was named after a character from the TV series, Stranger Things. “I am a self-professed closet geek,” Schofield reveals, but she quickly explains that it wasn’t the show that inspired her collection. “I just thought it was kind of cheeky so I named them that.”
Impressively, CIE has made its mark on the saturated denim market all the while remaining sustainable too. “It’s important for me to work with sustainable materials not only creatively but because of the lasting impact sustainable fashion will have on the planet,” Schofield says. “If I can have even a tiny impact on the reduction of waste I want to do it.”
After finalizing a design, she sources the raw material from vintage shops in the area. “I definitely rack up the Uber charges with my giant bags of denim,” she laughs. From there, it takes a full day of work to process and sort the denim into the styles and sizes she wants to construct. Schofield sews each prototype herself before sending it to a New York-based factory for the final steps of production. “I do small production runs of 25 to 50 pairs, with each pair being made one at a time,” she says.
With the tie-dyed paneled styles, the production process gets a little trickier. Once the factory has cut the fabric, Schofield takes the denim home, hand dyes each pair individually and then brings them back to the factory to be sewn into their final configuration. “The labor of cutting and dying each jean individually is high and the price reflects that,” Schofield says. Shorts are priced at $385, with pants running closer to $500.
As Schofield maneuvers the logistics of running her own brand, she relies on a strong support system of people she can vent to, which is also her advice to anyone wanting to launch a business of their own. “Fashion is a tough industry,” she says. “You’ve gotta have a tough backbone and you can’t read the comments [section].” cut her teeth on the shop floor.
Originally from Atlanta, Kelcie studied fashion design at Syracuse University and interned at a number of clothing brands throughout college including Jill Stuart and Morgan Lane. After graduation, she moved to the city full time. “I moved to New York with no job, no nothing,” she says. “I just knew that I wanted to live here.”
“No one knows who you are when you first start. You go from literally nothing to slowly, slowly building.”
Schofield cut her teeth on the shop floor, working in retail for the next 4 years while developing CIE on the side. This experience is where she came into contact with mostly denim and saw a potential gap in the market. “Denim was just kind of calling to me,” Schofield says. “Working in retail, I worked with a lot of jeans, and I started accumulating them…like a lot of them,” she laughs.
Frequenting vintage stores and flea markets during her time off became a source of inspiration for Kelcie. There, she was able to find alternative styles of denim that weren’t available on the high street or online. “When I found a new shape that was old and that I hadn’t seen done modern, I was like this is awesome.”
She refers to creating CIE’s signature upside down style as “a happy accident.” After experimenting with cutting up vintage denim and reworking it into new shapes, one of her results finally clicked. “I kind of just went for it.”
CIE’s big break came this past summer when Schofield photographed Alyssa Coscarelli, a personal friend, and fashion editor, wearing the “Nancy” shorts. When Coscarelli, who has over 160k engaged followers on Instagram, posted the photos everyone was suddenly intrigued by the upside-down shorts. “I’ve had other influencers wear the jeans before, but they didn’t get a whole article picking them up,” Schofield says.
Other news sites were quick to jump on CIE’s innovative denim, and the upside down shorts even spawned some viral memes. “I had friends who were like, ‘Oh I was out at a bar the other day and I saw your jeans on the TV,’” she says. “It was a very interesting experience.” Schofield suddenly found herself bombarded with orders. And though it may seem like her brand took off overnight, it was the years she put in work alongside working retail that finally paid off. “No one knows who you are when you first start. You go from literally nothing to slowly, slowly building.”
Earlier this month, CIE released its first fall collection. Further variations on the upside-down pants have been introduced in slouchier, boyfriend styles as well as in ankle grazing, high waisted shapes. Tie-dyed jeans are also a new addition, and this time all the jeans bear the names of X-MEN characters (Schofield made me figure the pop culture reference out on my own.)
But just as important as the innovative denim is the collective of New York-based artists that have been photographed for CIE’s latest lookbook. “I’ve been collaborating with photographer Roeg Cohen for a while and we’ve found our most successful shoots are with people we find interesting both visually and personally,” Schofield says. The black and white imagery, which is on both CIE’s website and Instagram account, features a range of creative professionals wearing the fall collection. Writer Jo Rosenthal, photographer Emily Jane Davis, and filmmaker Zoe Bullock are among the artists featured. “The majority of people I’ve worked with are cast because they have a persona… I want the audience to wonder about the models,” Schofield says. For her, the women wearing her designs tell just as much of a story as the sourcing of the denim itself.
When asked what the future looks like for CIE, Schofield explains that she would like to have the brand branch into other clothing categories and materials, while still staying eco-friendly. “I think staying sustainable is at the heart of the brand,” Schofield says. “Does that necessarily mean using only recycled items? I’m not totally sure yet, but being sustainable and ethically producing everything is our ethos.”