Introducing cleo wade x karla

For some people, a t-shirt is just a t-shirt. Celebrity stylist Karla Welch is not one of those people. Among her many accomplishments, one could say Welch is most renowned for styling her longtime friend and client Justin Bieber in long, tunic-like white tees that she had custom made. “Then it became, well, I want my own perfect t-shirt. But I wanted one that was basic and wasn’t 100 dollars. I had a very specific cut in mind.”

The result? The perfect little tee that you see on this page, which Welch calls the French girl cut– although of course, anyone can wear it. It has a high, tight crew neck, fitted sleeves, and a streamlined body, and it’s ideal tucked into high-waisted pants, layered under slip dresses, or under a blazer.

 

But the perfect tee wasn’t the end of Welch’s vision. She also wanted to make a statement, and who better to entrust with that mission than her friend, poet and storyteller Cleo Wade? The two had met a decade before when Wade was an intern for Halston; their birthdays (Virgos) are two days apart. “Cleo stands for positivity, knowing and loving yourself, and loving your neighbor,” Welch says. “She’s this really strong, engaging voice of a generation in a way that’s incredibly positive and inclusionary.” Welch trusted Wade so much, in fact, that when she called and asked her about joining the project, she gave her no guidance whatsoever. “I said, ‘Write whatever you want.’”

Wade, who is the author of Heart Talk: Poetic Wisdom for a Better Life and the leader of a community of more than half a million Instagram followers, was more than happy to oblige: “That’s the spirit of sisterhood. What better way to support each other than to collaborate?” she said. It didn’t hurt that she herself was an established white tee devotee. “I am someone who probably wears a white t-shirt five or six days a week,” she laughs. “They go with everything.” (She’s right.)

And so Wade got to work, drawing inspiration in this case from her work with The Lower Eastside Girls Club (LESGC) , a nonprofit organization that connects girls and young women to healthy and successful futures; Wade is a member of their board. “It’s hard to be at every march, or donate to everything,” she says. “We all get fatigued. But everyone can look on the map and start in their own neighborhood. The Girls Club is three blocks from my apartment.”

For Wade, this sort of local activism has been a personal revelation. Founded in 1996, The Lower Eastside Girls Club is a 35,000 square foot community center adjacent to the housing projects one of the city’s most economically depressed zones. Each week, at no-cost to the community of 300 young girls , more than 50 classes are offered in arts, sciences, leadership, entrepreneurship, and wellness. By providing academic enrichment and modeling softer skills like curiosity, poise, happiness, and resilience, girls are boosted up to become more fully realized, empowered women. “I’ve seen the girls’ lives change,” Wade says. “When you talk with the girls, every single one of them is like, ‘This is a place that you can sit and have someone just listen. This is a place where they just feel safe.’”

Wade wanted to create messages that spoke to the community at the LESGC, but that also felt stylish and cool: “Everything I make is fueled by the person who’s going to enjoy it. I thought, ‘What would make them feel powerful? What would make them feel confident?’”

And so it was that the resulting two missives combined many of Wade’s passions: fashion, friendship, activism and community. “We are our sister’s keeper,” Wade says. “I’m so happy that this collaboration brought us all together.” An added bonus? It also resulted in some pretty killer tees.

In celebration of the brand’s commitment to female empowerment and the launch of cleo wade x karla collection, Express has donated $25,000 to The Lower Eastside Girls Club.

cleo wade x karla is available now online at express.com and in all stores.