In partnership with Les Sublimes Paris
Written by Mia Windisch-Graetz.
During my studies, I did an internship at the Paris womenswear brand Les Sublimes, which offers eco-friendly and responsibly-made French wardrobe essentials. This was two and a half years ago. I’ve been following Les Sublimes ever since and they are doing amazing.
Mochni-founder Antonia Böhlke and I visited the founders Alexis Assoignon and Kachen Hong in their home office near the charming Montmartre district to ask them some questions about their success, followed by an editorial shoot. Read on and get some tips from Paris fashion brand Les Sublimes on how to start your own business and how to best face challenges in the sustainable fashion industry.
Paris is a city that offers great opportunity in sustainability.
Paris is a natural choice when it comes to fashion. But is it a good idea to start your fashion brand in the global capital of fashion? “Paris is a city that offers great opportunity in sustainability,” explains co-founder Kachen. “In North America the supply of ethical products is growing rapidly, and so is the demand. We wanted to replicate this trend in France.” Looking back at 2016, when they launched Les Sublimes, “there were still very few sustainable ladies wear brands in the city, and even fewer if you focus on brands with a strong sense of style,” remembers co-founder Alexis. “Yet the consumers here were ready and waiting.” Which is why the Les Sublimes founders saw the chance to create a cool Parisian clothing line that embodies French style and universally sustainable values. But what should be the first steps when starting your business? And what do they recommend to other young labels?
“We recommend networking with as many young brands as possible to get advice and tips that could save you time later on.”
Living in France means dealing with heavy amounts of administration. Getting set up and navigating the administration are thus among the greatest challenges for a French company, especially in the beginning. At first, you should research the different business structures available and choose the best option for you. “Then getting the process started…because it will take time! We recommend networking with as many young brands as possible to get advice and tips that could save you time later on, whether in marketing, production, legal or accounting.” The two founders also attach great importance to register your brand name right away to make sure you don’t encounter any conflicts down the line when you’re already in production. Tip: Have a look if there are any fashion incubators available in your city and join them! It can be super supportive throughout your launch.
“To grow your brand, having enough cash upfront to fund production is an absolute must.”
In the very beginning, the two founders were self-funded, which was enough to get the business off the ground. “To grow your brand, having enough cash upfront to fund production is an absolute must. There are many ways this can be done. You can save the money yourself before starting your business so that you can fund production yourself. Some people are fortunate to have a network of family and friends who can invest or lend them money to grow.” They also suggest fundraising and grants as a great way to raise money in the early stages of your business. “Within a year and a half, we had run a successful crowdfunding campaign, raised money through investors and also received a loan for startups from the city of Paris.” And what about bank loans? “Most banks are nervous to lend to small fashion businesses, and they don’t want to fund inventory, but with the right business plan and vision, it’s definitely possible. We visited a dozen banks and found a few who were willing to take a chance on us, so we know that it is possible.”
“Spending can be scary, but sometimes it’s the best thing you can do for your business.”
Are there any little tips and tricks to save money and to move forward as a startup? “If you want to save money, you will need to do as much as possible in the business yourself.” Time is valuable though, which is why the Les Sublimes founders point out that it makes financial sense to outsource things that others can do better and faster than you. “As a small team, there is only so much you can realistically do yourselves. It’s worth investing in people that you can trust will do high-quality work. Spending can be scary, but sometimes it’s the best thing you can do for your business.” We should keep in mind that spending is a risk that naturally comes along with running your own business. For this reason, Alexis and Kachen highly recommend creating a solid and detailed budget for the year. You should then decide which items on your to-do list you can efficiently do yourself and for which it makes more sense for you to outsource and spend money on.
“You have to be really organized and give yourself extra time to get things done, because they will inevitably take longer than expected.”
We are wondering what the biggest challenges are when starting your own business. And how we can best overcome them. First, you have to be aware that people go on holidays and that most suppliers are closed most of the month of August. “You have to be really organized and give yourself extra time to get things done because they will inevitably take longer than expected.”
“Think progress, not perfection. Do the best you can, strive to continuously improve, and be honest and transparent about what you are doing.”
Design-wise, ethical brands face the same challenges as regular brands, just a few more. “Ethical brands have the added challenges that come with having sustainable values. There are still limited fabric and factory options available in the industry. If you want to use eco-friendly fibers, support living wages, be zero waste, and so on, while also producing smaller quantities as a startup, you have to work with what is available to you.” This sometimes means making sacrifices. Not being able to offer a certain style as it doesn’t match your values, is one obstacle you might face as a sustainable brand. “Think progress, not perfection. Do the best you can, strive to continuously improve, and be honest and transparent about what you are doing. In the end, you will get there.”
“You have to be prepared for things to go wrong from time to time.”
Manufacturing clothes is hard work and human errors happen. “It takes patience to create the final product that you envision, and you have to be prepared for things to go wrong from time to time.” Whether it is the fabric that doesn’t wear the way you expected or the factory that sews a style incorrectly. According to Alexis and Kachen, as a brand, you should always have creative solutions to the problems.
“You should build a network not just in ethical fashion but in conventional fashion as well.”
A good network is essential when you set up your brand. “You should build a network not just in ethical fashion but in conventional fashion as well. There’s so much cross-over between the industries, especially in production, so you will need all the contacts and support you can get.” The Les Sublimes founders explain that the fashion industry is still very closed when it comes to sharing suppliers. “If your network is willing to help you out by sharing some of their top-guarded secrets, you’ll be ahead already. A strong network is also important for finding photographers, models, pattern makers, venues and retail spaces, lawyers, accountants – all of the collaborators you will need to run your brand.” As it is not easy to find good people at a reasonable price, the founders believe that recommendations from friends are the best way to get started.
“Start small, keep things as simple as possible, stay impeccably organized, always be on top of your financial situation
Some more inspiring thoughts the two businesswomen would like to share with us: “Start small, keep things as simple as possible, stay impeccably organized, always be on top of your financial situation and cash flow, be transparent about your products, trust your gut and share your journey with others in the ethical fashion world. There IS always room for another ethical fashion brand. We are all on the same mission to make the world a better place, so let’s support one another by sharing our respective experiences, and help the sustainable fashion industry be the only fashion industry.”
Text by Mia Windisch-Graetz, photos by MOCHNI shot on Mia.
Mia is a Paris-based freelance writer from Vienna. When she was a little girl, she dreamed of living in the Amazon jungle, where she would protect the rain forest and animal life. Now living in the city jungle of the French capital (things sometimes turn out differently than expected), she found her calling in raising awareness about pretty much everything sustainable, vegan, organic and ethical. The trained copywriter received her MA in Global Communications in Fashion at the American University of Paris. miawindischgraetz.com