By Holly J. Coley
Photographed by Karen Pearson
Sustainable fashion isn’t all hemp skirts and burlap bags. In fact, it can be positively en vogue when shopping at Haldora in Rhinebeck, NY. You’ll find well-crafted garments, each thoughtfully created to meet the ever-changing needs of the modern woman.
And we’re not talking about boring staples, either, but unique statement pieces capable of transitioning from season to season, year to year.Picture cropped polka-dot blouses in silk charmeuse and A-line garden dresses that can be paired with a blazer for the office or worn solo to brunch with the girls. Each are one-of-a-kind or part of a limited collection, ranging from structured to romantic and giving a relaxed sophistication to its wearer.
In many ways the store (located on 28 East Market Street) reflects the designer herself. Haldora has the elegance that people often attribute to the likes of Audrey Hepburn and Grace Kelly. For someone who is almost exclusively known by her first name, she’s refreshingly easy-going and warm. Sitting with me on the large white couch at the back of her boutique, she radiates a kindness that one doesn’t often feel from people busy running a small enterprise. She has a hands-on way with customers, politely pausing our chat to speak to one admiring her line’s signature piece, the Orchard Shirt (more on this in a moment).
Although the shop’s been a community staple for more than 20 years, it still has the energy of a newly opened space. Light streams in from the front windows, bouncing off the hardwood floors and making the room as inviting as its owner.
The sustainability of Haldora’s collections come not only from the production process (everything is hand-cut in-house and sewn upstate) but also from her commitment to making timeless items—which, she points out, is not to be mistaken for classic. “Classic is a little bit of an old-fashioned word,” she says, noting the word’s connection to old or vintage things. In contrast, a timeless piece of clothing feels ageless, so by default it’s always in style and feels modern no matter how long you’ve owned it.
The Orchard Shirt, which she’s been crafting versions of for almost as long as she’s been in business, is a great example of this. The collection was originally inspired by a customer who wore Haldora’s clothing to survey her apple farm. To hear her described, she was an effortlessly stylish woman; the type who was always put-together, even when at home.
Much like its name sake, the Orchard Shirt brings a touch of urbane polish to every wearer, making her feel beautiful regardless of what she’s doing. The one-size-fits-all garment comes in different cuts, styles and details. It’s sculpted without being constricting and can be worn as a stand-alone piece or as outerwear. It lays well and features natural fibers like cotton, silk, wool and linen. “I used to do shirts in sizes, but this one shirt was so strong,” Haldora muses of the design’s evolution. People kept popping into the shop, requesting it to be altered in some way so they could wear it. “Somehow I developed a fit that could work for almost anyone.”
Growing up, Haldora didn’t have fantasies of dressing red-carpet celebrities or seeing her work in huge fashion spreads. Designing was simply something she did, like breathing. “I just really wanted to create,” she explains. “I dream of patterns. I’d wake up and sketch a [design], or in my mind, I’d figure out how it could be put together.”
Born upstate, she spent the beginnings of her life traveling along the East Coast. Many years later, when she had already gone into business, she would learn that her grandfather on her mother’s side was a tailor in Austria. It’s a fact she now finds interesting in a poetic sense, but it was her grandmother who served as her introduction to clothes making. “I used to watch [her] sew all the time when she was staying with us,” she says. “She made all her dresses.”
Like all artists, Haldora’s talent is innate. When I ask her where she studied design, she shrugs humbly. “I’m self-taught.”
For a long time, she was able to create her clothing free-formed, intuitively sensing where the fabric needed to be cut in order to make what she wanted. But as her business grew and local sewers were enlisted, she began sketching patterns for them to follow. Still, she hasn’t lost the skill, and sometimes her employees hear her cutting in the studio below the store, only to emerge a moment later with a prototype. Much like her creative style, her career as a designer has been built organically. “My mother gave me a chunk of linen fabric. She said to me, ‘Do something with this.’”
She hung on to the material for a while, not sure exactly what it would become. “One day I said, ‘Whoa, the coloring on this fabric is perfect for a trend right now!’” She made four tops and skirts and put them out for sale in an artisan gallery. Soon she was building a line of beautiful separates like the Orchard Shirt.
She has a from-scratch approach to creating, which can be seen when studying the details of her pieces. Collars and trims are made in-house before being incorporated into the final look. And she always designs with her customers in mind, which explains the deep pockets of the Orchard Shirt. “Women always want pockets,” she says thoughtfully. “I want [them] to be comfortable. When you’re comfortable in your skin, you’re comfortable out there in the world.”
Creativity has always been second nature to Haldora. It was the other stuff, like bookkeeping and payroll, that made being a business owner difficult at times. “I learned, but I like creating.”
She’s always had a roll-up-your-sleeves-and-figure-it-out attitude when it came to running her shop and line. After all, sustainable fashion wasn’t always the buzz term that it is today. Although an increasing number of consumers are demanding ethical clothing (enough that the store H&M announced last year that it would be transitioning to 100 percent eco-friendly material by 2030), it wasn’t always so. I ask how she’s managed to make it in a time of disposable or “fast” fashion, especially when it would be easier producing her work overseas. “That would just compromise who I am,” she responds. “What I produce is very important for me.”
Even when the economy fell in the mid-2000s, she wasn’t open to altering how she created, though she did attempt to reduce the material she used to lessen costs. The solution really wasn’t her, though. As soon as one of her customers would arrive requesting a look in silk or another fiber, she just couldn’t bring herself to refuse them. As it turned out, maintaining her artistic vision was the recipe to maintaining her business. It’s what her customers responded to and was just as important as the clothing she produced. “[This] is a creative outlet for my soul,” she says.
Along with clothing, Haldora makes home goods (carried in the store), draws, writes and enjoys the culinary arts. “I like the domestics.”
Currently, she’s working on her fall collection. “There’s a whole new color palette,” she says. She’s planning to incorporate raw silk—a beautiful but difficult material to work with, though that’s not a deterrent. “It’s the creative stuff that I really love to do, and that’s the challenge to keep going. You don’t let anything knock you down. You just keep going.”
Haldora is open Sunday, Monday and Tuesday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.; and Sunday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. You can also shop online at haldora.com. █