In our new series called ‘Revolution Talk’, we talk with industry leaders and change makers about the revolution in fashion. For us, the revolution in fashion means that the industry is already changing into a better direction, towards a fairer and cleaner industry. Scroll further to read our first Revolution Talk with Priscilla Debar, founder of responsible online destination and shop FAUBOURG.
Can you speak a bit about your path to FAUBOURG—where you’re from, what led you to fashion, how that evolved into what you’re doing today?
I was born and raised in Paris, France, where I lived until I moved to New York 13 years ago. My family is originally from Togo and Ghana and I used to spend my summers there, so I also have a deep cultural connection with West Africa. There, I was around my great-grandmother, one of the first successful women entrepreneurs in Africa. She designed and traded wax fabric on the Continent and was the embodiment of feminism. With little ready-to-wear available, the market there was, and still is to some extent, all about custom-made garments, so fabric selection is how women approach style. With that influence, I developed very early on a passion for fashion and entrepreneurship.
How do those early influences affect your philosophy as an entrepreneur now?
Growing up in Paris and West Africa, one of my favorite things was to ‘design’ my outfits. I loved being an active part in the making of my clothes. I would pick out a fabric, sketch a dress and take it to the tailor or seamstress for custom-making, in true slow-fashion mode. That made me understand at a young age what it took to make a piece of clothing—the time and the skills. I think we’ve become disconnected from that and are pushed to consume senselessly cheap, low-quality products in the name of trends. And we want it all “right now!” But this unconsidered consumption hurts us all, starting with the underpaid, exploited workers who make the $10 shirt and the toll unfettered consumption is taking on the planet. FAUBOURG was created to help style-conscious women find well-made and beautifully designed clothing that doesn’t collide with their values and ethics. It should be exciting to dress more consciously.
How do you see yourself as a change maker within the industry? And what inspires and motivates you in your everyday life to work for the „fashion revolution“?
It’s very motivating to be the bridge or connector between shoppers and brands and see that the work you do is having a direct impact. People are always shocked when you tell them fashion is the most polluting industry after oil—I was, when I first heard that. But I’m not interested in making anyone feel guilty for buying from fast-fashion brands—we have all done it. Rather, it’s about sharing the information and better equipping people to make their decision. For example, brands are making a lot of positive changes at the moment. They are quickly understanding that they can produce more responsibly and strengthen their position on the market. I’m already seeing further efforts from designers we work with to make their next collection even more sustainable, and this makes me very excited about the future.
You will launch your own sustainable fashion online destination FAUBOURG in a few weeks. Tell us about the philosophy at FAUBOURG and what we should expect.
What we set out to do at FAUBOURG is simple: make sustainable and ethical fashion desirable for style-conscious women. You’ll find everyday essentials, like super-soft tees and flattering jeans, but also more elevated items, like tailored pants and jackets, as well as luxurious knits and dresses. When we decide to offer a garment on our site, aesthetics always come first. We’re making sure every item on the shop has both design and ethical qualities. We believe in quality over quantity and style over trends, and we support brands who produce responsibly. That could mean using organic fabrics, eco-friendly processes, or recycled materials. It can also mean producing locally, making products by hand, or ensuring safety and living wages for workers. We can’t demand that all those boxes be checked at once. What matters to us is that a genuine effort is made in the direction of responsibility.
To me, the FAUBOURG Insta-feed looks very stylish and inspiring. I love your selection of minimal, timeless, natural, yet contemporary mood images which makes me super excited for your store launch. How would you describe the style on FAUBOURG?
We curate with the “city girl” in mind. Actually, she’s not a girl but a woman. She’s smart and creative. She doesn’t have a lot of time but will slow down to smell the flowers. She’s developed her own personal style, always on point but never dictated by trends. And she loves to travel, is eager to connect with other cultures. She needs to keep life interesting. So of course she demands a lot from her clothes—sophisticated design, comfort, and durability. And she want to see her values reflected in her wardrobe, as well.
Which ethical criteria are the most important for you and which facts are those you would never accept in your store?
We can’t stand social injustice. People should make a living wage, at the very least, and no one should have their health and safety compromised. Most of the workers in the global garment industry are women, specifically women of color. We won’t work with brands who exploit their workers or employ children. On the other hand, we’re fans of labels who produce ethically and locally to the designer. Keeping production local means less transport in the supply chain, so less carbon dioxide pollution. It also allows for better quality control, with the designer being close to the workshops, so consumers end up with a better product. The recent massive floods in India and right here in the U.S. with Hurricane Harvey are a reminder that climate change is very real. We support brands that go out of their way to preserve natural resources and minimize their impact, even if it doesn’t make the most sense for their bottom line.
For all sustainable fashion labels out there: where do you source and buy your selection? Where should sustainable brands display and present their new collection to be seen by you?
We travel as much as we can to find new brands. While shows are great because you get to see a lot of brands at once, they can also be overwhelming for the same reason, so we prefer one-on-one appointments where we can take the time to really see the collection and speak with the designer. We also have friends in the industry who share their discoveries with us. Social media is undeniably a great resource as well. Brands should definitely connect with us on Instagram or email us with their lookbooks!
What kind of segments and prices are we going to expect at FAUBOURG?
We’re offering designer and luxury pieces from brands like Behno, Ohlin/D, Margaux Lonnberg, Kowtow and Parme Marin, with a selection of blouses, denim, dresses, jackets, jewelry, and knitwear, among other wardrobe essentials. One piece we’re especially excited about for fall is a hand-knit ethical, Mongolian cashmere sweater from New York label Cienne. They collaborated with Mongolian artisans to create gorgeous, one-of-a-kind garments that retail for a little under $500. We’ll also have some very accessible items like perfectly cut jeans starting at just above $100.
How do you wish to see the fashion industry in the next 5 years?
First, I really would love to see sustainability become the new standard. That’s what we’re working for at FAUBOURG and I believe it will happen, if only because we’re not going to have a choice. Resources are finite and the problems the fast-fashion industry is causing can no longer be ignored. Then, I’d like to see a new global paradigm emerge, one where fashion is a real platform for global connections and cultural exchange. Today we’re still operating in a system where the design typically comes from the Northern or Western hemisphere and the manufacturing is done in emerging or developing countries with no creative input. Some brands we carry, like the New York-based label Parme Marin who partnered with artisans in Morocco, allow the creative process to happen from both sides. I’d love to see more creative talents being recognized from places that play a large role in the apparel industry but have been traditionally limited to manufacturing.
What can consumers do to change the industry?
As consumers, we can ask questions. Brands should be able to tell us who makes their products, how they’re made, and what initiatives are taken to minimize the impact on the environment. We can also decide to shop less often, but to purchase better quality clothing. We can prioritize timeless or investment pieces that will be relevant season after season, relying on accessories to update our style, which actually saves a lot of time and money over time. And we should remember that any industry will give the market what it wants. If we spend more consciously, the fashion industry will get the message.
Thank you for the Revolution Talk Priscilla!