Chatting to Alexis Assoignon on Skype one Friday evening, it feels like I’m chatting to an old friend from university. Except she’s not. Alexis is in fact the co-founder of French eco fashion label Les Sublimes who I became recently acquainted with through the Facebook group I administer called Mindful Boss Ladies.
Alexis has a sweet sounding voice, and she giggles frequently which makes her extremely endearing. Her Canadian accent initially throws me off. I expected to hear a thick French accent but I quickly surmise that Alexis must be French Canadian. I ask her how she feels about Justin Trudeau, the yoga-practicing gorgeous Canadian prime minister who’s universally liked by millennials.
“As far as politicians go, he’s amazing,” enthuses Alexis. Upon hearing this, I know Alexis and I will get along just fine. Politics is a sensitive topic and broaching it with someone I hardly know and a client no less, seems like business suicide. Thankfully Alexis isn’t a usual ad client. We have a bond that only comes from having shared values: sustainability, ethics and business transparency.
Alexis started Les Sublimes with close friend and business partner Kachen Hong, whom she met in Paris some 12 years ago when they were both studying abroad. The girls maintained a long-distance friendship, with Kachen visiting Alexis in Montreal and New York City, and Alexis travelling to attend Kachen’s wedding, but in 2014, both women simultaneously found themselves at the typical career crossroads: unfulfilled and unhappy.
So the women quit their jobs, and – rather than dive straight into new jobs – decided to embark on a travel adventure instead. They weren’t initially thinking about travelling together, but when Alexis shared with Kachen that her dream was to travel to Nepal, Kachen agreed to go with her.
Since leaving New York City and the luxury fashion industry behind to work for a travel company in Canada, Alexis’s love of fashion never left her. Working in the travel industry she was inspired by how the business helped to change people’s lives. Alexis felt strongly that she wanted to change people’s lives with fashion – but she wasn’t entirely sure how. Now free from the constraints of this day job, Alexis had time to map out her next career move. She was increasingly convinced that she should start a fashion label.
Then it came time for the pair to set off for their journey to Asia. Travelling with a friend can have dire consequences, but fortunately the experience only served to strengthen their friendship.
Whilst trekking through the Himalayas, Alexis soon realised that Kachen would make the ideal business partner. She shared with Kachen her idea about launching a conscious fashion brand and won her over. And there in the majestic snowy alps of Nepal, Les Sublimes “a lifestyle brand for worldly women with big hearts” was born.
“As we traveled around the country, experiencing the local culture and making new friends, we were so incredibly touched by the kindness of the people we were meeting along the way. Our warm interactions stood as a reminder that those who have the least are often the most generous…”
Positive social impact.
Together these women make a formidable team. Alexis’s corporate background in luxury fashion (think Michael Kors and Dior) and Kachen’s Masters degree in Sustainability coupled with her experience as a sustainability consultant provide solid foundations to start an eco fashion brand.
From the outset though, it was clear that the women wanted to do more than just create ‘pretty’ sustainable fashion for women. They wanted their brand to make a real difference in the lives of the people involved.
“When you travel, you start to meet people in interesting communities, but also very poor communities and you want to know how you can help without just cutting a cheque,” explains Alexis. Believing in the “teaching a man to fish” maxim, they felt that the best way to empower people is provide well-paying jobs and opportunities.
We discovered that by marrying our professional backgrounds in fashion and sustainability, we could leverage responsible business to preserve nature and empower people living in underprivileged communities.”
Vive la France.
French women are said to have impeccable taste in fashion and Les Sublimes’s latest collection confirms this.
The brand’s French aesthetic is evident in the way its contemporary minimalist pieces possess a distinctive luxurious quality. It’s so French in fact, that the garments are actually designed in Paris and meticulously developed in skilled French ateliers using high quality fabrics.
What I also like is that each Les Sublimes piece can be integrated into your existing wardrobe without fuss. Perfect for capsule wardrobe and minimalist living enthusiasts (like myself), the collection of ‘essential basics’ is functional and stylish, and will remain a staple part of your closet no matter the season or year.
I was excited to receive my Les Sublimes package because I had frequently seen the beautiful Instagram images and wanted to see what the items physically looked like. When I open the package, I can see the team had taken great care to ensure that my first reaction was a positive one. It was. Beautifully wrapped in white tissue paper and gold ribbon, the package screamed French luxury. I refused to tear open the package until the team and I had taken heaps of photos of it. It would be days later before I would have the opportunity to see what was inside. But the wait was well worth it.
I received the black Tokyo tank in XS, the London dress in XS and a bonus tote bag. Now I’m accustomed to feeling and inspecting fabrics since I prioritise well-made items, but I’m especially impressed with the soft quality and the stitching of the Les Sublimes garments. It’s clear that the brand have chosen superior materials which means that achieving the sustainable fashion pinnacle of ‘wearing a garment 30 times or more’ is 100 percent likely.
That evening, long after the team had gone home for the day, I decided to take a break from work to try on the dress and the top.
Both garments were extremely soft to the touch, and particularly the top. It’s made from Lenzing Micro-Modal© and feels so luxurious, softer than bamboo fabric it seems. I try the top on first and inspect my A-cup size boobs. The top doesn’t make me look like a surf board so I’m happy. Its a piece I can dress up and down, but since it’s now autumn in Australia and I pretty much live in skinny jeans, I know that’s what I’ll be wearing the top with. Most likely under cardigans, jackets and knitted jumpers.
I try the London dress and find it extremely comfortable too. I try it on with a bra and without a bra and decide that it looks good enough to wear without – I’m thrilled. I just don’t enjoy wearing bras.
Due to its colour and classic cut, I know that the dress will play a starring role in my wardrobe – for this year anyway. Given its versatility, I will be able to wear it to client meetings, to work, on date nights with Ben, and even on weekends whilst running errands.
But what I like most about it is that I look effortlessly chic.
Sustainable fashion in France.
While it’s common for eco fashion brands to focus heavily on sourcing sustainable fabrics – in Les Sublimes’s case their eco-friendly materials of choice are Lenzing MicroModal® and GOTS certified organic cotton – what’s less common is the attention given to seemingly ‘unimportant’ details like the distance a product has travelled.
On their website, Les Sublimes provides customers with approximations to its product’s environmental footprint:
“A Les Sublimes product currently travels just 1200 km from start to finish, compared to a cotton t-shirt, which travels in average 35,000 km across several continents from raw fiber to warehouse.”
In addition, the brand also uses a carbon-neutral delivery service called “Colissimo” that offsets all of its emissions. On top of that, to avoid carbon emissions altogether, deliveries in and around Paris are made by bike-courier. The attention to detail and the level of sustainability transparency is what makes this eco fashion brand standout from its contemporaries.
I think if France had its own version of the Ethical Fashion Report – an annual report card published by Baptist World Aid that grades apparel companies that sell their products in Australia – Les Sublimes would probably score an A+ quite easily.
But then again, in a nation that regards its fashion industry highly (fashion is still one of France’s largest exports), I wonder: Aren’t all fashion brands in France ethical and conscious?
Not so, Alexis tells me. She tells me of her research prior to launching the brand:
“There weren’t a lot of brands offering garments that were produced in a fully ethical – or as ethical as you can be, as there’s no such thing as fully ethical – or fully sustainable way. There was this huge gap in the market, especially in France. France is super behind on this stuff.”
Alexis’s admission floors me. I appreciate fashion history and how French designers such as Coco Chanel influenced Western fashion. I admire the skill involved in haute couture, a fashion concept that originated in France. I have immense respect for French ateliers and design houses such as Dior, Givenchy and Yves Saint Laurent. How could the French have lost their way with such fine pedigree in their fashion history?
Alexis agrees globalisation has also impacted the French fashion industry. “Here [in France] they’re really into healthy eating and they protect the farms and the animals a lot more than in North America, but [sustainability] hasn’t trickled down to home goods and clothes as much [except for] the high high end product; a true luxury product does have sustainable values incorporated into it – to a certain extent.”
I’m disappointed to learn that fast fashion has also gripped France. “So many brands are cutting corners,” Alexis confides. “Now you pay an arm and a leg for a product that looks nice but isn’t made properly.”
So what are some of the drawbacks of running a conscious label? “The biggest challenge has been sourcing; it’s been almost impossible,” admits Alexis. “Going to big shows and finding almost zero organic options or sustainable fabrics, even at the biggest fabric show in Europe.”
Our business model supports non-exploitative and gainful employment throughout our supply chain. Every piece we sell directly supports garment workers, artisans, farmers, working mamas and families with a healthy wage and the freedom that comes with it
The other challenge Alexis tells me, is that others businesses still seem unwilling to share resources. “People aren’t sharing yet and I’m like, Instead of going through the struggle separately, why can’t we give each other this information and make it easier for everyone to succeed because there’s room for all of us?”
You work with this group of women in India that are marginalised and you’re giving them opportunities but god forbid you share the name of the organisation. I think, Don’t you want to bring them more work?”
This is the huge downside of free market capitalism – extreme competition; businesses not wanting to share resources so they can hold on to ‘competitive advantage’ even at the cost of the greater good. Capitalism and the business environment really need to evolve if it is to serve more people.
Les Sublimes is not content to just leave it there. Rather than accept the current state of business, they’re looking to change it by openly disclosing the names of their production partners. On April 24 I created an Instagram post as part of Fashion Revolution Week; a social campaign demanding supply chain transparency from fashion brands. I wore the Les Sublimes dress inside out, with tags showing and asked “Who Made My Clothes?”. I tagged them in the post.
FASHION REVOLUTION // Today marks the 4th anniversary of the Rana Plaza building collapse, which killed 1134 people in Bangladesh and injured approx 2,500 more – most were garment workers, killed for the sake of unethical fast fashion. Today is also the start of a week long campaign called Fashion Revolution Week to demand transparency from the fashion brands we wear. Earlier when I got up for the day, I shared an Insta Stories video and asked @luvbamboomonkey "who made my clothes?" (I wore their singlet to sleep and no undies lol!) and after getting my head shaved an hour ago, I'm now wearing this dress from French brand @lessublimes tags showing and I ask them as well, #whomademyclothes ??#qotd #fairtrade #ecofriendly #style #fashion #fashionblogger #sustainable #sustainability #gogreen #greenliving #vegan #greenbeauty #ecobeauty #styleblogger #ootd #outfit #stylediary #mindful #conscious #sustainable #ethicalfashion #fashionblogger #sustainability #sustainablefashion #ecofashion #fblogger #instafashion #ecobeauty #greenbeauty #fashrev #whomadeyourclothes #blogger #instablogger #ecowarriorprincess @fash_rev @fash_rev_ausnz
Les Sublimes responded with full transparency:
I didn’t know what to expect really when I asked the question, but I’m thrilled to get so much detail. I began publishing Transparency Reports and many bloggers have told me they feel encouraged to do the same. Les Sublimes being fully transparent encourages other brands towards positive behaviour as well. Yay!
Being conscious is cool.
Les Sublimes is not for the militant eco girl who will wear something unappealing just because it’s organic. It’s for the worldly girl who loves to travel, and see things, and experience things. “Our brand is for the cool girl who cares. She proudly wears a reusable tote bag instead of a leather bag. She wears a vintage piece with a pair of [sneakers]. She’s modern, she’s educated, she’s aware. You can see her worldliness in the way she dresses. She’s ready to do more but nothing too extreme… just yet.”
The brand has all the great qualities of a luxury French brand without the luxury price tag. But it’s also eco-friendly and socially-friendly. Basically, it ticks all the relevant buckets.
On Skype, Alexis described Les Sublimes as “the love child of Patagonia and trend driven brands.” I smiled when I heard her say that. It’s the perfect analogy for their brand.
Les Sublimes has also generously offered EWP readers 20% off order. If there’s something you like, make sure to use the code ECOWARRIOR20 at checkout and get a further discount. I think the clothing is super affordable already, but with the discount, it’s an absolute steal!
To shop the Les Sublimes website, click here.
Disclosure: This post was sponsored by Les Sublimes. The items were gifted as part of this collaboration. Specific product information is checked with the company. Opinions are that of the writer’s only. Eco Warrior Princess strives to only work with brands that meet our high ethical standards. For more information about our ad policies, click here.
The brand’s images were supplied as part of this paid collaboration but we wanted to acknowledge Louise Kragh for the incredible job she did to help capture the essence of Les Sublimes. For more info about this London-based photographer, visit www.louisekragh.com