Student Spotlight: Darrel & Dominique Schreiner
Align is Helping These Sisters Level Up Their Business
by Marcelle Santos
When the Schreiner sisters decided to start a different type of jeans company, they faced challenges right off the bat.
“We had the idea of making jeans more adjustable to the fact that women fluctuate in our sizes from day to day,” Darrel explained. “And that was difficult! Our contractors were fighting us on things they felt weren’t going to work.”
It wasn’t just that they wanted to produce comfortable jeans for women of all body types. They also wanted their denim to be manufactured locally, from ethical sources, and in small batches.
A career pivot
To complicate things, they had no background, experience, or contacts in fashion. Darrel had studied biochemistry and microbiology in college; Dominique had graduated in chemistry.
What led them into fashion? “It started as an investigation as to why women hated the process of buying jeans. I know that, for me, it had always been kind of a struggle, that love-hate relationship,” Darrel said.
To figure out a solution to the problem of having to “go through pairs and pairs” of denim to find the right one, they did what they were used to doing in research labs. They experimented—using multiple fit models, better fabric, and different designs. Soon, they were able to design a better experience for women shopping for jeans.
Building a company based on values
Incorporating sustainability—one of their company’s core values—was their next challenge. “We were butting up against a lot of industry people who have been around forever and said, This is the way it’s always been done,” Darrel said.
They kept pushing, and through research and networking, they eventually found collaborators to help them bring their sustainable vision to life.
Six years later, CAKE ⊽ DENIM has an impressive selection of local, ethically-sourced denim products. And although the sisters are proud of what they have achieved, they still have problems they want to solve.
Upskilling to integrate AI and future trends
A big one is incorporating new technology into their business to make their processes more efficient and even more sustainable. They had a vision for the way they could improve things with new systems, but they couldn’t get their two worlds to meet.
“[People in the fashion industry] would say, ‘I’ve had a brand for years, and this is how it’s done,'” Darrel explained. “And then when we talked to somebody else in tech, they’re coming from a completely different side [and didn’t understand]. It was important to us to bridge the gap between the two.”
At first, they tried doing this on their own, but quickly became overwhelmed.
“We realized that it would be really beneficial if we had a formal education. I remember I was trying to teach myself how to code, and there’s just so much information out there. We needed direction,” she said.
When they discovered Align, a master’s program open to students of all backgrounds, they saw an opportunity to specialize in artificial intelligence and robotics, the two major tech trends impacting the fashion industry today. In particular, they’re excited about opportunities they see to relieve pressure on the manufacturing process to improve working conditions in the fashion industry.
Following the vision
What are their plans moving forward? They want to keep working toward a sustainable future while designing great products and delivering an exceptional customer experience. To that end, they will continue to stay true to themselves and what they believe in—even if that means swimming against the current.
“When you stay true to yourself, that passion and energy will keep driving you forward. You’ll remember, this is why I started it. And when you get nos, you’ll overcome them and think, I am exactly where I’m supposed to be. I’m going to stick with it,” says Dominique.