FASHION: GLOBAL NOMADS
Sustainable Couture Studio and Atelier in Paris
Interviewed & written by CW Nolen
Inès Boumiza created Panachèes to provide a zero-waste, sustainable second life to garments already residing in our closets. Through hands-on and personalized sessions she works with her clients to help them re-make and re-design their no longer worn or outdated clothing into new garments. With her keen eye and empathy, she endeavors to help the clients feel gorgeous knowing they’ve co-created a garment to flatter them for the long term—and not just next season. Passionate about zero-waste and innovative design, Inès privileges a pedagogic approach and also offers sewing and design workshops teaching everything from how to make no-sew reusable make-up wipes to how to use a sewing machine.
Tell me about your journey, how did you end up being an entrepreneur? INÉS: Oh that’s a long story. When I was young, I was delighted by a challenge. I even wanted to be an astronaut! So I focused a lot on math and physics and went to engineering schools.
I became a consultant, but I knew that it was not the place for me. I thought I would learn some useful skills for my future, but I wanted to create something for myself — I didn’t know when or how, and I didn’t have an idea. So seven years went by. Then it was — can you say that in English? — visceral. I thought, “It’s not like you don’t have the freedom to do whatever you want, and you aren’t connected to your creativity and your real self.” I was starting to create things like jewelry thinking if I could do that all the time, I would. My god, I was afraid, but I had the right people around me who all said, “If you don’t do it, you will regret it.”
How about Panachées: what are your ambitions and values with it? INÉS: I wanted to create something with zero environmental impact but a positive social impact. I discovered an English language thesis about the fashion industry “Sustainable Fashion and Textiles: Design Journeys” by Kate Fletcher. The more I was reading, the more I thought, I cannot create something new, using raw materials. I knew I had to create secondhand. Then I learned that recycling was worse than the new stuff! When you have a recycled garment, it goes all around the world before coming to your local market.
Huge carbon footprint — INÉS: Yeah! So I said, “No raw materials, no secondhand. Where can I find local parts?” The answer was in people’s wardrobes!
Entrepreneurship is really funny, because you think you are going in one direction, and then it opens up new directions. I found that the real thing was people. If you want to create something sustainable, it’s in the people’s minds. You begin by educating: what makes a good garment sustainable, and how you can create change in the world. It’s about finding what is important for them. Maybe it is zéro déchet (zero waste), maybe it is natural materials.
Inspiring change can be really rewarding, which is important since there are so many challenges. What do you hate and love most about entrepreneurship? INÉS: I hate it — entrepreneurship — but it’s more about my fears. I think the most complicated thing is fighting against my own gendarmes (French military police that protect civilians) saying, “It’s not possible, you cannot do this. Look at these girls and compare yourself. You’re afraid of money because money is important.”
You are both your own best friend and worst enemy. There’s the fear of the unknown and uncertainty. Right now, I can’t imagine the future. COVID-19 is testing my flexibility. You have to have new ideas, but you can’t forget who you are. It’s difficult. For example, it isn’t my job to make masks, but now I have to. I’m pretty sure this is not the only challenge we will have. I’m not sure that the old world will come back. This instability is going to be normal.
The important thing is to focus on the essential and what is important for you. For me, it is freedom and how I can create something that is not negative for people. I think the confinement has emphasized that what’s important is not the material, but people. Because if people are not well, you won’t have anything.
How do you see your business and your work contributing to greater social or environmental challenges right now? INÉS: I am thinking more and more about inclusion, like how to grow a company that allows for trust between me and an employee. If you don’t have trust, you don’t have a safe space where you can learn and fail. You need that to create something good. Do I hire from a business school or from a quartier chaud (underprivileged neighborhood)? It’s an important question: how to include all these different people and their talents. But also, if there is no earth, there are no people. For me, there needs to be zero environmental impact. So I want to reuse as much as possible. For the moment, I have some waste, but I want zero-waste design. I’m not sure how the world will work for big companies, so growing for your local scale is important. I don’t think becoming big is as important as making a good impact in your neighborhood.
The most important thing is education. When I was beginning to learn garment-making, I noticed there was an omerta (code of silence). If you wanted to learn, you had to pay homage and also keep that knowledge away from others. But sewing isn’t the secret to life, it isn’t a COVID-19 cure! I’m pretty sure that even if everyone learned the same thing, they would all create something different! So it’s important to create something new by inspiring and being inspired by others. If you stay isolated, you’ll never grow. We grow from sharing and learning from each other.
But even in spreading awareness, I don’t approve of the message, “Oh the way you consume now, you’re killing the earth — you’re bad,” or the whole green-washing thing. You should understand the background of people and their daily lives. Be empathetic and understanding. I think being slow, rescaling time, and taking time matters. Everything is so fast, and it doesn’t need to be. We need to nurture what we are doing. We need to take time to digerer (digest it).
Being open and collaborative is essential to empowering people to take care of their garments and make everyday change. Beyond that, do you think there is a role for people who are innovating about how we think about what clothing is and how that will change in the future? INÉS: A lot of people are not aware of the new, interesting things currently in experimentation. For instance, you have people who are experimenting with zero-waste design, because when you try to scale production, a tiny bit of waste becomes a mountain. But you also have people who are working on no-sew clothing. Like, you have this form (Inès gesticulates with her hands showing how the fabric is like puzzle pieces) and then you connect it, so it’s interlocking. So you can create modular garments — you can create a jacket from a skirt and you can be creative. It’s the future of garments. There are so many projects and people who are innovating, creating new stuff and ideas; and there are people like me, who are curious and want to spread the knowledge. I think that if you don’t know it can be different, you can’t do things differently. So now I prefer spreading my knowledge. And I don’t say that my knowledge is the best. But if I teach you something, you will take it, process it, and create something your own.
Throughout the pandemic, we have had very strict confinements, where only essential businesses have been open. You need an official document justifying why you are even outside, here in Paris! But we also have periods where nonessential businesses reopen. How have you been adapting to this; not being able to rely on your personalized couture experience as much? You’ve modified your atelier to a boutique-atelier — how is that going? INÉS: The shop is working well, for the moment. I’m really happy about that, because I was not expecting to have people come and buy gifts. Because, you know, when you stop working on some projects and you are waiting for others to start, it’s difficult to project yourself into the future. So I’m glad that the DIY sewing kits are working better and better. I have also created some projects with the help of my apprentice Vanessa. I’ve started some interesting new projects that boost my creativity and this makes me happy. In September, October, when I was here at the new atelier and boutique for the first time, people were looking, but they were not coming inside. Now people are entering the shop and I can create a connection with them. So I hope this trend will continue into the future.
Seeing all the debates and conversations happening locally about which shops are deemed essential, about how culture industries are not being protected enough in lieu of consumerism, do you think there may be a change in how people consume and how they buy given the fallout created by COVID-19? INÉS: Government is more focused on economics and capitalism: if you spend your money, the economy is working and that’s good. I’m thinking about this because here in the shop — are people coming just for gifts — or to create a more substantial connection with me, my business and how they think about garments?
I hope to create deeper links with people and understand what they are trying to learn. I want to spend time with them — creating, discussing … making something interesting. So I am thinking about 2021 for my brand, and I want to focus on this link with people — because I think it’s important. For example, yesterday, I spent three hours with a client who had no previous sewing experience and didn’t know much about how she could consume better. But she was willing and wanted to change her habits. I was so happy to see that she was really interested in the materials and the differences between polyester and cotton. So I think the three hours I spent with her opened something in her mind. Maybe that has a domino effect. It can be frustrating to say, “Okay, I’m too tiny — Who am I to change the world?” But I think that change can happen through the combination of tiny acts.
Workshops and the zine are organized by Slow + Sustain through the volunteer efforts of our contributors. Funding comes from both the contributors and the public.