When Justin Brown escaped to Lewes during the pandemic, he had no intention of permanently leaving New York City. His account executive position at Eileen Fisher had concurrently turned global and remote, allowing him to manage the fashion brand’s luxury sector abroad from the comfort of Delaware’s coast. “I saw it as opportunity to save money,” says Brown, “and to be near my sister for a while.”
While his sibling would soon relocate to Florida, a fortuitous outing in downtown Rehoboth Beach would give Brown reason to put down roots on new soil.
One day while dining out with a friend, Brown noticed the ground-floor space of Hotel Rehoboth that had formerly housed Cleo’s Boutique was empty. “It was an OMG moment,” he says. “Since my early days at Calvin Klein [Collection], I had always wanted to have my own store.”
It took only a bit of cajoling to convince Brown to approach the front desk with his plans. But to his relief and dismay, the space had already been rented out. “I hadn’t even started a business plan and didn’t have financing,” he explains, “but it was a pivotal moment.” The seed had been planted, and Brown began searching elsewhere for retail space while putting his vision to paper. When he was ready, the “for rent” sign suddenly reemerged at the hotel. (The other agreement had fallen through.) “It felt like destiny,” says Brown, who last September opened Cashmere Gardens, a “conscious luxury boutique” specializing in timeless classics for women of all ages.
The name is apropos of Brown’s cashmere obsession. (“I’m a bit of a cashmere junkie,” he notes, even coining the term “glounge wear” while at Eileen Fisher.) The Gardens part pays homage to his late grandfather, a gardener, and how the fruits of his labor came in the form of a gift from Brown’s grandmother to help him open the store. It also alludes to the business’s earthier facets, something Brown came to understand and prioritize over the better part of a decade with Fisher.
“Quality is always at the forefront,” he asserts, “but sustainability is right behind it.”
For Brown, focusing on capsule pieces that women will wear forever (i.e., not toss after one season and then replace with something new) is a form of sustainability itself. It also means partnering with factories that provide a sound workplace and pay a livable wage, as well as those that are conscious of chemical waste and the communities they impact.
He recalls a “joke” in China that one can always predict the color of the season by looking at the color of the river. “The fashion industry is the third-most pollutive in the world,” Brown points out.
For the more fashion-forward, Cashmere Gardens also features sophisticated “of the moment” styles from both established and emerging brands you won’t find anywhere else, and its especially keen on artistic collaborations. (See Australian brand Alémais’ fourth collection.) Supporting change that stitches chic style with environmental responsibility is important to Brown personally, and, as his boutique demonstrates with a beautifully curated collection of apparel and accessories, “It’s less challenging to do when they are now so many high-end brands that are ethically produced,” he says.