Houston’s veteran fashion designer, Chloe Dao, has been doing much more than surviving the pandemic, she has been thriving. Although many know her as the winner of Project Runway Season 2, Dao has been in the fashion world for nearly 30 years. After graduating from the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City, she settled back into Houston to run her boutique Dao Chloe Dao (formerly known as Lot 8). The Houston fashion darling has kept her successful boutique going in the same Rice Village building for 20 years - a feat many national chains haven’t accomplished.
Before the shutdown began or there was a surge in Houston, Dao saw the path ahead was going to be face masks. After witnessing the spike in cases in the northeast and worries about PPE shortages during the early days of the pandemic, she quickly emerged as one of the first designers to see face masks as both a necessity and a colorful accessory. “We have been fortunate because we started giving masks away really early in the pandemic. At first, I was just giving them away, but then I realized that I couldn’t give masks away forever, with payroll and trying to keep my employees on the schedule,” said the business owner. “So, I began selling the masks and since then, we have been doing ok.”
The self-proclaimed problem solver scours the internet at night, looking for different ways to improve face masks. One of her early iterations was the antibacterial mask that is quick-drying, has UV protection, and is waterproof. “I had to search all over the country for that material because no one had it,” she says. “I have experimented with every shape and size there is. I only sell things that function well and that people will use.”
Next up in Dao’s face mask designs was the best-selling Safely Sip mask with an unexposed slot that keeps its wearers protected while drinking from a straw. “For the past few months, I have turned into a mask designer versus a clothing designer,” laughs Dao.
However, clothing design is never far from her mind and she is looking forward to creating a line of matching clothing and masks. Dao has also spent a lot of time thinking about her next collection of leisurewear. It will be in the same vein as Juicy Couture, but “much more updated,” stresses Dao. She is attracted to the simplicity of dressing well with fewer pieces and effortlessly combining fashion and comfort. Her goal is to focus on three pieces that will work together in the office and a night out on the town.
When asked how she stays inspired season after season, Dao credits being her own boss and not answering to shareholders or a corporation. She has turned her boutique into a creative studio where she designs everything from the chandeliers to the decorative flowers when she is not working on a collection. “I take inspiration from everything,” said Dao. “For example, during Christmas, we built a 10-foot-high Santa Claus dressing room that people could step into.”
It is so endearing to see someone who loves their job entirely, and as Houstonians, we are lucky not only to be able to wear what inspires her, but also to be on the front lines of what comes next for Chloe Dao.