Les Sublimes: Two girls changing the world One Piece, One Girl, One Month
Les Sublimes to paryska marka założona przez dwie przedsiębiorczynie, które udowadniają, że nasze codzienne decyzje zakupowe mogą wspierać rozwój kobiet w społecznościach na całym świecie. Zawsze bardzo cieszy mnie kiedy marki decydują się działać odpowiedzialnie. Dziewczyny zrobiły na mnie ogromne wrażenie swoją wiedzą i wrażliwością na globalny problem ubóstwa.
Meet Alexis & Kachen, who have combined their NYC and Paris experiences together to launch Les Sublimes, a brand making basic wardrobe essentials responsibly, while supporting girls’ education with every item you buy. The third girl in the picture is their on-line media menager, who made this talk happen 🙂 Please tell me how Les Sublimes came to life? K: We’ve been friends for more than 10 years. I worked as a sustainability consultant in Paris and Alexis in the fashion industry in NYC. In 2014 we both quit our jobs and decided to go to Nepal. We had a lot of plans and we talked them through during our long trekking trips. During our holiday we encountered many people struggling for better lives & working conditions, and it made us wonder: what can we do for them? A: We didn’t mean just transferring an amount of money. We didn’t consider a one-time financial support, but the question was: how can we combine our passions with the things that customers demand, while creating opportunities for people in need? K: We really started from a dream! Not from discussing our budget, nor from looking for the hot new things that didn’t exist yet. We started with the naïve concept of creating our vision of a perfect brand! And this brand would be the tool to reach our purpose. Then, a process of finding real answers to our dreams started. We began looking for certified fabrics in small quantities and fair production at affordable prices. This took us one and a half years. K: We wanted to challenge everything in the industry. We struggled to find the right solutions so that everything about this project is custom-made to fit our values.
Your business has a strong women empowerment message. Where does it come from? K: It was hard to choose a particular cause that we wanted to support. But the idea was born in Nepal where we encountered a little girl being sold as a slave worker by her family. And we talked about her days and days after: do we even understand the society here? Can we judge anyone? Can you live outside this system? What we knew is that the girl will probably pass this act to her children, and this is something we didn’t want. We’d done a lot of research to understand it better and always education appeared to be a fundamental solution. It seems to be the key element that breaks the cycle of poverty. It is proved that girls staying at school longer have less chance of getting pregnant at an early age and have more chance of getting better jobs in the future, bringing them respect from the family and the community. So, we see girls’ access to education as a crucial tool to empower women. A: One of our big missions is to create good jobs that bring benefits to women. Not only for the girls in Nepal, but for women in general. For all of us. A lot of women I know would say: ‘I want to be a part of something special’, ‘I want to make a difference, but I don’t know how’, ‘where do I start?” ‘I am just one person, what can I do?’ …Well, the solution is to work together and to empower employees, our friends and ourselves. And that’s how our project can really change ‘one girl at a time’. I am not saying we will change the whole world, but giving a month of education to a girl really makes a difference. It’s incredible how far our money can go in developing communities around the world. The same amount we would spend on a take away coffee can have a huge impact!
Who works with you on the ‘one piece-one girl-one month’ project? A: The organization Panauti Community Homestay in Nepal is in the small village where I lived for over one month, and I was blown away by the compassion and strength of the ladies opening up their homes to travelers there. They have decided to start English lessons, classes about sanitation and also a system for lending small amounts of money to modernize local households – to make them more tourist friendly, for example installing non-squat toilets or indoor showers. These women make the whole community more modern, encouraging everyone to live a healthier, more sanitized lifestyle. I was also blown away by their generosity. When PCH receives charitable contributions for the community, not to mention the percentage of income they all give themselves to pay it forward, 100% of the funds go directly to the cause, the ladies themselves taking care of any operational needs on a volunteer basis. So I’ve seen the giving in action and I trust these women 100%. K: The other organization is Zana Africa. Zana was created by Megan White Mukuria who knows the long existing problem in Kenya: girls there miss school during their period because they are worried about staining their uniforms without proper sanitary pads. Around 65% of girls in Kenya don’t have access to sanitary pads. Missing classes every month usually results in dropping out of school within about one year, also dropping out at twice the rate of boys. This was so shocking to us! To miss out on education for the simple reason of getting your period! But, this makes the problem easy to solve. So the founder first started to make pads and underpants herself, and providing them to girls at schools. Her actions are totally in line with our values. For now we are making donations to Zana through their website and hope to develop a more direct partnership in the near future. A: We didn’t visit Zana personally, but after hearing the story of their founder, we were so struck that we just had to cooperate with them. I think this story strikes every woman around the world. We all have our periods every month, and it sounds unbelievable that it could be this thing that determines your future life, or prevents you from continuing education. K: For us it was surprising that there are such simple solutions available. Some people asked us why we don’t do something all by ourselves, but our position is to select the best partners. There are already experienced experts working locally, with years of experience. A: Exactly. We are in Paris, what do we know? We are not going to do it better than Zana, for example, and that’s why we choose to support already existing organizations. We don’t use what they do to sell our products. Instead, we have to reach our clients and sell our products so that we’re able to support them.
From the very beginning, your business has been based on values which seems the opposite of the conventional industry way, where many fashion companies start with products, sales, then later on maybe look to add values as a marketing tactic… K: We feel that this is a debate in the industry at the moment. It must be so hard for big companies to change their model. We have very high production costs while fast fashion brands have them much lower, but they pay the social external costs instead. A: If all the businesses in the world were to be more conscious from the start and not take advantage of the environment and people, what a different world it would be? We think that being responsible is just how business should be done. K: Talking about our values, we are not just a couple of naïve girls who try to solve all of the world’s problems. Alexis and I both have experiences in sales, and we struggled and debated a lot to develop designs that would be desirable to people. After all, we need to earn a profit to maintain our business. Finally, we came up with a creative business model – online sales, erasing the middleman’s costs in order to meet the expectations of the market without letting our values down. Going back to the business then: do you choose only certified fabric suppliers, or do you judge according to your common sense? Would you buy from Polish producers for example? K: We value trust and relationships. That’s why we produced in France to begin with, to be able to meet the makers and to see how it’s done. To us, this speaks louder than a paper proof of certification. But this cannot work for example for cotton suppliers, as we’re not able to track the fabric back to the field. That’s why we choose GOTS cotton. At the same time, for over a year already we’ve been talking with a startup that might provide us cashmere. This startup strives to offer cruelty-free materials promoting sustainable livelihoods, and we are confident that we can trust them even though they are too small to afford a recognized (and expensive!) certification. A: We are on the same side as all the small manufacturers because we are small buyers too. So we’d love to hear about any small manufacturers who would like to work with us. We are open to working with people who share our vision whether it is in France or Poland or anywhere else. K: And we’d love to keep it as local as possible. We hate that most clothes travel all around the world in the production chain, creating huge carbon footprints. Producing locally and launching a brand globally…So did you already figure out where your audience for this kind of products would be? A: Everywhere we see people who are frustrated searching for ethical brands. Based on our research alone, the US is largest ethical fashion market. Around 22% of women between 26-34 are keen to buy this category of product. It is similar in Canada. We also found that German clients supported us a lot during this campaign. K: Also we found an audience in northern Europe. In the beginning, one of our big targets was the UK market, but in fact we didn’t get many contributions from there. Finally: why did you launch though Indiegogo? Would you recommend it to other young entrepreneurs? A: Most of all, the model of crowdfunding gives a sense of urgency to your product launch, as well as unique exposure. It is much more effective than just doing pre-sales on your own website, where you have to drive 100% of the traffic yourself, and it is a great tool for measuring the demand for what we are doing. We’ve already collected 5000 euros in 6 days, that is 50% of our goal! Good luck to the Les Sublimes girls and check out their clothes here!