MARIE DOUAT AND THE ART OF SHIRT MAKING
I met Marie Douat by accident. One day I received an email from her, asking me about my work on a magazine, and it was clear that she got the wrong Patricia (I’ve had many jobs, but magazines are not in my resume). It turns out that we were fellow members of The Wing, a women only co-working space in NYC, and she inadvertently got my info from their directory. But are there really any accidents in life? I wrote her back and told her that, even thought I wasn’t the person she was looking for, I really liked how she described her business, and told her about Matriark. She immediately wrote back, and we’ve been championing each other ever since – two women supporting each other, each building a community of women our our own complimentary ways. I scheduled the interview at The Wing (naturally) and we had a great time. Before meeting her, it never crossed my mind to do a custom made shirt. I learned so much about the made-to-order business, and I realized how male-centric this industry has been. Why wouldn’t women want – and deserve – to have made-to-order shirts just like their male friends? It looks like Marie takes after her grandmother, who was the first female professor in France, and she is breaking the glass ceiling with craftsmanship and elegance. I am excited to share her story with you, and hope you too get your own custom made shirt. When you book your appointment on doukstudio.com, just mention MATRIARK in the message and she will treat you to a 10% discount on your first order, and exclusive perk for Matriarks only. Go ahead, you deserve it! 🙂 PS: Interview has been edited to fit format and length.
Patricia Assui Reed | Founder
Can you tell us a little bit about your background and how you started a Made-to-Measure brand?
I studied art and I was working with galleries in Paris, London and Brussels. I worked at Re.S.Artes as an art appraiser, and one of my customers was the fashion designer Bruno Rubinski. Bruno invited me to work with him as his assistant, and I didn’t know anything about fashion. But Bruno said “you will be great for this job, I will teach you”. I thought it would be a new adventure, and decided to try and see. Bruno was an amazing person, and taught me everything about shirts, measurements etc. His brand was very exclusive, it was an appointment-only private showroom and I loved that.
When I worked in the art business, I did an MBA program, and Bruno was an artist, so I helped him with the business side too. I worked with him for more than 2 years, and after my 1st year with him I asked him: why were we only making shirts for men and not for women? I wanted to wear the same shirts with the same fabrics, and we decided to give it a try. I started by making a shirt for myself using my own measurements. Then I met my husband, who is American and living in NYC, so I decided to move. I told Bruno that we would bring his label to New York. We started looking for investors to build the company and after eight months of trying we realized it wouldn’t work the way we planned, and sadly Bruno passed away soon after. I started consulting for a start up and then worked in production for a French brand in NY. It was a great experience because it was a big production. This was my first time getting involved with a brand this large. But I realized it was not for me, and I decided to start Dou.K.
When did you officially start?
In October of 2017.
Tell me about Dou K. What makes it unique?
We are the first sustainable label of made-to-measure shirts for men and women, and we’re trying to combine the tradition of tailoring while respecting our workers and the environment. I decided to source the most eco-friendly fabrics and produce our pieces sustainably.
I love that you are using sustainable fabrics. I saw a picture of your label that says “our planet says Merci keep taking care of her”. it’s nice that you refer to the planet as a woman.
Yes! In French, Earth is a feminine word so I wanted to keep it like that.
Where are your fabrics from? Where do you source your sustainable fabrics?
I work with several mills from Italy like Albini and Thomas Masson, which are probably the two biggest shirting mills in the world. They started to make sustainable fabrics such as organic cotton. All my fabrics are really high quality and everything I make is sure to last for years, so that’s another sustainable thing in itself. My favorite one is Alumo from Switzerland. It is a mill where they control everything: from the thread to the dyes, and they certify OEKO Tex. OEKO Tex means they have organic cotton, and they are able to tell you where the cotton was grown and that’s very important. They can control the sourcing. It is very important for me to not use cotton from Uzbekistan and Syria, so I always work with Mills that know exactly where the cotton comes from. At the moment I’m doing a project with India, and that is also organic cotton (this interview was done in the summer of 2018, when Marie was producing a limited edition dress in India).
You mentioned about OEKO Tex certified, what does it mean?
The fabric from Alumo is OEKO Tex certified, which means that there is no harmful chemicals use during the fabrication process so it’s not only safe for the workers, but also safe for the end customer. The OEKO Tex label was created in the 90s and has a great track record and reputation. That is why chose them.
Please explain the difference, in practical terms, between 100’s 2 ply to 300’s 2 ply fabric?
2 ply means that the thread is made of 2 yarns instead of one. 2 ply is finer and better quality. The fabric is softer and made with thinner thread. The number on shirt fabrics show the size of the thread and how many threads per sq inch, and the higher the number, the better the quality. Shirts in ready-to-wear collections are usually in the 40’s, but for my shirts I use a least 100 thread count fabrics.
You have an atelier in New York, you do house visits, and you go wherever people are. How big is your staff?
At the moment I work alone. I do visits in New York and Paris, and always bring my samples of colors, cuff etc with me. I am in Paris every three months because I have my old customers and, since Bruno passed, his old customers contact me to make shirts for them as well. Bruno had a very strong relationship with his customers, like 20 plus year relationships, so I started the brand in Paris because I had my old contacts there. I still don’t have a showroom there since I am based in New York City, but I plan to have a private showroom in Paris in 2019.
When people place orders with you, how many shirts do they usually get?
It really depends; I would say the average is five.
That’s a pretty high number. How long does it take for shirts to be ready on average?
Yes, my customers want to have as many shirts done at once so they can solve their wardrobe needs. It takes an average of four weeks to get everything done.
Do you find it hard to juggle the creative side to the business side of Dou K?
I like having both. I get bored very quickly, so I don’t like to be focused on just one thing. I only and always worked in smaller companies and, at those, you have to multitask. Sometimes you have to be an accountant, the day after you have to be on the creative side, marketing etc. So I know what I’m good at, but I also know what I’m not good at, and if I ever need help I know how ask. That is one of the reasons why I decided to start my company, to be able to work on different areas of the business.
Most people have never gotten a custom, made- to- order shirt, especially women. It’s something some people might think it’s too far from their reality. They might think: “Oh this is not for me, it’s too luxurious”. What would you say to somebody that is not familiar with the process?
I completely understand that, I was not used to that myself when I started in the business, and yes it’s more expensive. But to me, it is like an investment and about the pleasure you will have to wear your made-to-measure shirt. When you look at yourself in the mirror with a shirt that fits you perfectly and it was made just for you, you will feel more confident. It’s like your best friend for that day. Yes, it’s an investment but you are going to keep it for years. Some customers ask me to embroider the date the shirt was made on their shirts, sometimes they come back with their shirts many years later and ask for changes and they replace a collar or the cuff. Sometimes they want to keep a shirt that they’ve had for years and just want to get updated. I remember a client that came back with a 15 year old shirt! All my shirts from cotton to cashmere can be washed in the washing machine, which also make them more sustainable because you can avoid the dry-cleaning process.
You mentioned you have 80 collars in 30 cuffs and that’s a lot of options, how do you help the customer choose the right one for them? What’s your process for recommending these details?
I start by taking their measurements and, by doing that, I can determine the body of the shirt (depending on the length of your neck, if your shoulders are wide etc). And during the process I asked you a lot of questions like: what’s your job, when will you be wearing this shirt? and those questions help me pick the fabric. For men it is a little bit easier: they tend to know what they are looking for, and I usually give them fewer options as a result.
For the women, what is your most popular collar and what’s your most popular style?
For women is a little bit different, and you have shirts or you can do blouses, which is something very new to us. We have 10 collars and five cuffs for women. I have some samples so they can see try on. My favorite is the Italian collar, which is the most popular as well.
And how about the buttons and what they’re made of – how do you chose them?
All my buttons are made of mother-of-pearl and we have 2 different types: a flat button and a high button. It depends on what the customer prefers. It’s beautiful and at the same time fragile. In the US for example, the customers take their shirts for dry cleaning more often, and sometimes the buttons break as the shirts are not ironed by hand but with a machine.
And usually where do you embroider your monograms?
In the classic shirt it would be on the left side of the shirt or on the cuff, sometimes on the pockets or sometimes in secret places that only the client can see.
What’s your best-selling type of monogram? Both font and color?
Usually the classic fonts. Colors are usually navy or gray, black, white and mostly neutrals. A lot of customers like to do tone on tone. But some people like different combinations like a light blue shirt with an orange monogram etc., you can be very creative and make it fun.
What’s your best selling fabric?
The most popular would be a poplin in France, and in New York it would be something like a twill. Americans prefer something thicker.
What do you think is the biggest different between your French customers and your American customers?
For men I have a very European fitting, which means it is narrower. I really try to bring this Italian/ European / Parisian aesthetic, so we can present a different vision of how shirts can be. In Paris my clients like a different type of fabric and they are very knowledgeable about the fabric. Here the customers have a lot more questions about the fabric.
What are your price points? On average, I know it varies a lot but for example a poplin Cotton shirt?
It depends on the fabric. We start at $300, and a cashmere shirt starts at about $490.
What’s your favorite shirt other than white?
I’m very classic, so I have a lot of white shirts. I like navy stripes, light blue, I really like yellow too. (Marie was wearing a beautiful yellow shirt with white stripes when we met).
In your opinion, what’s the most important part of your customization process? When you meet a customer what do you think is the most crucial information that they can give you?
Their lifestyle. I don’t need them to tell me about their bodies because I see it and take measurements. I learned that with Bruno: in the end, he was not able to move his hands, so I learned what was suitable for the client through Bruno’s eyes and for how he would describe his clients – their lifestyle, personalities and habits.
What percentage of your customers are women now?
Not enough yet. In Paris, I would say 90% are men and in New York I would love the contrary, so I’m trying to push more for the women’s shirts. For now, in New York it’s 60/40, so I am happy it’s getting higher every day. I think made-t-order shirts are not something that comes to women’s mind. Women don’t usually get their clothes tailored made, and it’s what I wanted to change too. When it comes to suits, shirts, shoes etc., tailored made clothes are perceived as a men only option. Even the tailor is usually a man as well. We need to change that!
Have you ever received an odd or eccentric order request? Does that happen?
Yes it happens. But it is confidential. For instance, many of my customers in France are CEOs of very big companies and that’s why they like us, we keep it confidential. So yes I have stories, but I can’t tell (laughter). Sometimes I refuse to do some stuff, because I don’t think it would look good, and I think it’s also my job to be honest.
So if you have to name someone that would be your dream client, a woman, who would that be?
I would say Michelle Obama, Lupita N’gnyo she’s so beautiful, I love her energy. And I also like one that is not alive anymore, Gerda Taro, she was a German Jewish war reporter and photographer in the 1940s, and she is a source of inspiration to me.
Photo via Time Magazine
Would you ever like to have your own stand-alone store ?
I want to have a showroom but not like a store, but in a more private setting. I have this project to open the showroom in Paris in 2019; it’s going to be something private and confidential, by appointment only on private apartment. It’s a cozy space, more like a home, and I would like to do the same in New York for 2019 or 2020.
So what’s been difficult and what’s been amazing about building your business?
Being alone, if I don’t do anything, nothing is going to happen and every decision that I make has an impact and sometimes it’s hard. Sometimes I want to be able to share, to have a team so I think that’s hard. But it is also great because if I want to do something, I just do it. But I am happy with what I have been able to do so far. We had our first anniversary on October 1st, and I made more than 300 shirts between Paris and New.
Would you ever want to make shirts that are not customizable, like your own ready-to-wear line?
Yes that’s in the works. For the Hanna dress project I designed a dress that was made in India and it’s a ready-to-wear piece that I made for the first time. When I open the showroom, I want to have two classic ready-to-wear white shirts for men and for women as a service that I want to offer to my clients. For example, if they are in a business dinner and they spill wine on it, I can have another shirt delivered to them right away. And it will have a better price point too. But I still want to keep the made-to-measure shirts as my main business.
And what you think would be different about your experience if you were a man?
Oh, so many things. People think I’m a tailor, they don’t see the business side of what I do, and they think it’s weird that I’m a woman. They ask me how I learned my job, they ask me if I am good, if I know what I do and they test me. In Paris, I had another tailor come to the showroom and he makes suits, which is a very different process, and they never asked him if he was good at this job and so forth. They just assume that. And sometimes the say ”Oh, it’s your own company so that means you don’t want to have kids.” And they always ask me: “ Oh, so you’re married, what does your husband do?” And that happens almost all the time and I remember asking my husband: “Do your coworkers ask you what your wife does?”, and he said: “Never”.
So what would be your ultimate professional ambition? What’s your big dream for Dou.K?
Of course I want to have a team but I don’t want to create a big company. If there is something I dislike in life is status titles like CEO, Boss +1, Boss +2. I would like to have a team that shares the same values, we are all working together to make something better. I want to have more projects like the one I did in India, with kids and the environment. Also having my New York and Paris showrooms and maybe one day in South America.
I was born in Brazil, and I think people there are starting to take more notice of the made-to-measure business. And I don’t think there is anything for women!
I have to go to Brazil then!
Tell us about this project you’ve done in India.
My husband is from India and I went to India in December last year. I went to visit his family and to Rajasthan because it’s a very famous area for embroidery, and I wanted to develop this dress that used embroidery. I had this guide taking me to really touristic places, and it was almost like a secret, they didn’t want to show me exactly where to go. Slowly I started meeting different people and I arrived in this town named Bagru 20 miles from Jaipur, where they specialize in working with block prints for over 300 years. I got there and met an American guy who lives there as he fell in love with India’s artisanal tradition.
Block print is a piece of sculpted wood that works as a stamp to imprint the fabric. They dye the fabric by hand. I told him I wanted to make a dress with fabrics from India because I wanted to give back to the girls orphanage VIKAS VIDHAYALAYA, in the city of Morbi, Gujarat state, where my husband is from. There, they take girls in need and it’s amazing to see what they’re doing for them, because the relationship with women in India is rather complicated. In India if you are a woman and you don’t have access to education or if you are not married, you don’t have a future. So these little girls don’t have parents, they have access to school through the orphanage. If they want to have a better future they need education. The woman that’s behind the orphanage is amazing and she is very strong.
So I wanted to raise some money for the orphanage by making this dress, to provide them an English teacher. 10% of the proceeds of the sale of my dress went towards the orphanage. The dress was made in small quantities, so I put together this event that happened in the summer to sell these dresses in one night. This was the first time I worked with India, so I learned a lot
Details of the Hannah Dress
How was the Hannah Dress event?
It was nice, we did an event in NYC and we sold 50% of our stock. And now I am working on a new project for the summer of 2019, related to the environment. Stay tuned for that!
OK, so let’s talk about your personality a little bit. How would you describe your professional work style? Are you very organized, procrastinator, analytical?
Well it depends on the day (laughs). Generally I’m very organized.
What kind of tips would you give to women launching their own businesses now? Something you wish you’d knew you before you started?
Stay focused on what drives you, what is important for you and why you do it. What’s your WHY? And stay focused on that. You will meet so many people that are giving you advice, and they don’t know what they’re saying, and sometimes you don’t even ask for their opinion but they give it to you anyways. Be surrounded by good people and people that you trust.
You are from France, but where were you born?
I’m from the south west of France from a very small town close to Bordeaux that is one hour away from Spain. I went to school in Bordeaux and moved to Paris when I was about 20 or 21. I live in New York now.
How were you was a child?
I was very independent. I have one older brother. I used to like painting; I was the creative child that wanted to be a painter.
What would be your ultimate personal ambition?
To have kids and travel with them and my husband. We are a mixed couple and want to expose the children to different cultures. I recently went to Africa and Myanmar, and I want to keep doing that with my family.
So when you’re not working where would we most likely find you?
Right now I work a lot, but most likely at a photo exhibition or having a glass of red wine.
Speaking of which, what’s your restaurant or cafe in NY, Paris anywhere?
Now we live in Brooklyn, but in the East Village (which is my favorite part of New York), there is this small restaurant/bar there called Wayland. It’s on Avenue C on the corner of 9th street.
Photo via Wayland
How did you meet your husband?
On Tinder in Paris. I used the app for 24 hours when we were matched. It’s sort of unbelievable but he’s the only person I actually met through Tinder.
What do you think your secret weapon in life is? Do you have one?
The strongest thing that I have in my life is my family, which drives me to do what I do.
Do you remember what was your last great cultural experience? Can be a museum or travel or whatever?
India, it was a family trip so we traveled with my husband and his mom. We arrived there after 40 hours, it was his cousins wedding and he hadn’t seen his family in 8 years, so they were all very happy to see him. The wedding had 3,000 people with a celebration that lasted three days. It was so beautiful to experience all that and to see where he was born, it was amazing. And the art and architecture are gorgeous.
Is there a specific thing that you are obsessed with right now like an object or a technique?
I love diving, we do free diving and scuba diving and my big dream is to dive with whales. Right now I’m obsessed about articles and documentaries about it. I was in the Caribbean this past February and I met this person and the name of his nonprofit organization Shelltone Whale Project. He is a scientist and he studies the behavior of the whales. It is just incredible, we went on his boat and saw dolphins, so beautiful! That’s what I’m obsessing over right now.
Photo by Wilderness Travel
Where’s your favorite place to shop?
I think most of the time I like to shop online. I hate big stores and having someone behind me asking “try this try that”. I don’t have a favorite brand, but I like to find small independent brands.
Is there any creative woman in the world that you most admire?
I think I say Lupita again, just a beautiful actress and she has wonderful side projects. Emma Watson as well.
Do you have any personal heroin besides your mom?
My grandmother. I like the strong women in my family. My parents are divorced and they come from different sides, my dad is from a very educated family and my grandmother was the first woman professor in France. My other grandmother was a seamstress, she started working when she was 16 and she used to show me beautiful books. They’re very independent women and my mom is also a very independent and strong woman.
So we spoke about the orphanage as a cause these support is there anything about you that not everyone knows and gets to see?
I’m very, very clumsy, but you can’t really see it because I try to hide it. (laughs)
What’s your idea of a perfect date?
I love going to Wayland with my husband.
Do you cook?
Yes. My husband is vegetarian and I’m not, so I really had to learn how to cook differently and we cook a lot.
If you had a super power what would it be?
To breathe underwater.
And if you could travel anywhere right now where would you go?
I want to go to Tonga and dive with whales there.
If there was the movie about your life which celebrity would you choose to play you?
Do you have any secret talents or any skill that you have but don’t use?
I’m pretty good at photography when I travel. I will never travel without my camera.
Thank you Marie, what a treat to get to know you, and to learn from your amazing business!
Thank you, Patricia. It’s nice to have support from women like you, and to know you are building a platform for women like me.