An Hour With ...
If you want to live your passion, create your own brand. The history of Pascale Cornu, ready-to-wear brand based in Lausanne, perfectly illustrates this thought. Pascale welcomed me in her co-working space and with no rush, despite her busy schedule, took the time to explain how it all started and what her secrets are for a happy life - #slowlife.
Pascale, who are you? How did you start your label?
Being a designer is a second career, I originally worked in finance. I quickly realized that it was not for me. Sewing and tailoring however have always been my highlight. For three years, I attended a part-time sewing course. The issue is that in the French-speaking part of Switzerland, you do not have muany options with such a diploma. As a result I quickly decided to launch my own brand to be able to keep on living my passion. This was in 2012. At the beginning, I was still working 100%. I was not a mother yet and I could find enough time to start the brand on the side. In 2015, my son was born. It pushed me to take a salutary break. At the end of my maternity leave, I went back to work. Unfortunately or fortunately my employer would not reduce my working hours. I had to take a drastic decision: either stopping my brand or quitting my job. And guess what was my decision? For the first time, I was able to launch my summer collection (2016) in a professional way, 6 months ahead of the season, while working on the winter collection.
Now I am finally in the rythm, production and suppliers are totally under control...the show can start! (laugh)
Last but not least I am extremely lucky with the people that surround me: my family and friends but also profesional people like photographers, graphists and other Swiss pret-à-porter brands. I am getting a lot of support and encouragement. I feel blessed.
Would you say that the Swiss community of designers help each other?
There is a real network and we exchange a lot of tips, would it be regarding the experience with certain shops or events. Reality is that it is tough for everybody and the only way to survive is to team up. I have no secret and share easily my contacts of production sites. It is true though that sharing your suppliers of fabrics is a better kept secret. But at the end of the day, we are judged by our clients on the design, on the finished product. Since it is difficult for all designers, we help each other. Maybe the day there will be many known Swiss brands, it will be a different story.
What was your distribution strategy ?
At the start, I did not have an e-shop but only a portfolio website. I was selling my designs only through stockists. Now, I keep some stock for myself and also have a webshop. This enables me to give my clients a full description of my products. It is also a real and direct source of information. I can find out which of my products get the most clicks or are my best-sellers.
Have you ever thought of opening your own boutique ?
First of all, financially speaking it is not an option. Also to run a physical shop you need time. It is a full time job and I need time to create and time for my family.
What is your main source of inspiration ?
“ If we want slow fashion to become the new normal, we all need to take a step back and adopt a slow living lifestyle.”
In 2012, I had time to go to exhibitions and museums so my first collection was inspired by art and more precisely by the regional and late version of art nouveau: Le Style Spain de la Chaux-de-Fonds. Since 2016, I am back to basics. The last collections are based on the principle of a wardrobe of basics so that every piece goes together. A few pieces resulting in multiple possible combinations. Now, I focus on designing clothes that are comfortable and practical, highlighting a small amount of details, which became my signature. I have also always designed the pattern on the fabric, either on my own or through collaboration with Jenay, graphic designer who shares my office, or my sister Emilie Cornu. I love this part of my art, it enables me to work with people I love and to fully assert my personality and my style through my design. My inspiration is much more organic, it is derived from nature.
What is your favorite material?
I am constantly on a restless search for fabrics. The skin is the largest organ of our body and it is high time that people start paying attention to what they wear. I favour organic material such as organic cotton. For coats, I use 100% recycled wool. The issue we are facing with fabrics is the chemical treatment that is being used once woven. I found a fabric producer that is using a weaving technic to keep the after treatment to a minimum.
In your opinion, who should lead the change in fashion : the providers or the consumers?
One should never hold the others responsible. If we want to experience a radical change in the way fashion is being conducted, every single person involved should feel accountable. The fabric producers should find new technics to refrain from using chemicals, clothes producers should ensure working conditions are respected and fashion designers should ensure the supply chain is ethical. When I decided to become a fashion designer, I could not tackle all issues at the same time. I started with ensuring the production was ethical and as a vegetarian the respect of animal rights was close to my heart.
Finally, consumers also have a big role to play. They should realize that a T-shirt cannot cost 5 CHF and they should be willing to pay more for their clothes.
More and more consumers are now adhering to the slow food movement? Where do we stand with the slow fashion movement?
The world got a wake up call on April 24th 2013, when the Rana Plaza factory collapsed. 1138 people were killed and many more were injured.
Unfortunately, I think it happened too far away to really strike us as consumers and induce a real change of mind and consumption. Multinational brands have not really changed either. They do a lot of marketing around ecology, but let's be honest it is pure “greenwashing".
At this stage, it is difficult to say whether fashion is going into the right direction. What is clear is that we cannot drop the ball. We need to continue explaining that if we pay more for our clothes, it does not mean that the independent designer is keeping a higher margin. It simply means that every single person involved in the production chain is being paid a fair price.
To be honest, the designer is the lowest paid in the whole chain.
I specified "Independent designers" because there are also luxury brands that do charge high prices but do produce at really low cost in Bangladesh or China.
You mentioned that you focused on partnering with an ethical production site. How do you ensure that the working conditions are up to your standards?
I found a family owned atelier - brother and sister- in Bosnia. The brother is actually located in Zurich and communication is inevitably easy. He is fully aware of the high expectations would it be in terms of quality or timing.
All their employees have a fixed contract, they do not work extra hours. This really imposes a slow fashion attitude onto me as I cannot turn to them and demand an additional 50 sweaters in 3 days.
My whole collection needs to be ready 6 months in advance. I actually keep it secret during all this time, otherwise people would not be interested in the old collection anymore.
It relates back to what we are discussing before. If we want slow fashion to become the new normal, we all need to take a step back and adopt a slow living lifestyle.
Have you always wanted to be an entrepreuner ?
No. I became one because I really wanted to be a designer. If I had an opportunity to work in this field as an employee, I would have done it. You also need to find the right fit. I could not imagine working for someone who does not share my values.
Would you have a word of wisdom for fellow entrepreneurs?
It is rare that a business becomes successful quickly. You need to start a business because you are passionate about it and not because you think you will make quick money. As an entrepreneur you need to have stamina and you can only keep up the pace if you love what you are doing.
What keeps you motivated on a daily basis ?
The support of people who surround me is key. If my family had not been here to encourage me, I would have stopped a long time ago.
I also realize that if my brand does not work out, I will probably have to go back and work in an office. I need to stay motivated, believe in myself and do my utmost to make it work.
How was it to see your first design come to life?
I was 15. I was designing my own clothes and my friends' clothes. We were not too picky back then even when the zip was not sewed really straight. Later on, I took sewing lessons and a new world opened to me.
What is the best piece of advice you have ever been given?
My aunt gave it to me at a time of life when I was a bit lost, I was 18. I did not know what to do with my life and I was constantly complaining. She said to me "you are the only one responsible for your own happiness and should not leave it in someone else's hands." It had a true impact and still has today.
Favourite online shop? Caillou
Favourite App? Vogue Runway
Favorite Instagram? Make Space Journal
Where is your favourite spot ? I went to the Tribeka district in Zürich last summer, I love it – there are so many nice shops and restaurants in a small area.
Favourite Quote? “Never give up on a dream just because of the time it will take to accomplish it, the time will pass anyway” – Earl Nightingale