Unbeknownst to many, among the century-old luxury shops, exclusive boutiques, and chain stores, there is a small but growing movement in Geneva, of retailers offering fashion items made with special attention to social and environmental causes.
The aim of our Connect & Explore afternoon, two weeks ago in Geneva, was primarily to provide an opportunity to connect and exchange among fashion professionals with an interest in sustainability. The city tour we put together for the occasion provided an opportunity for the participants to see, learn and fuel conversations. It was a pleasure to discover new stores and brands, meet and talk to some of the inspiring founders or employee ambassadors. Hereby a snapshot of some of the stores we visited and brands we discovered.
With its almost 70 year history, Wolford is already a brand respected for its high-quality bodysuits, tights and underwear. Commanding even more respect is the fact that the company has decided to invest in developing products that fit into a circular economic system including biodegradable t-shirts, ‘Catch of the day’ fishnet tights made from reclaimed ocean fishnets and socks that, instead of being discarded at end of life, can be returned to be recycled.
You would enter the little Benjie store, nestled among the luxury stores between the Rue du Rhone, and the Rue Neuve du Molard, for the attractive selection of kids shoes you see in the display. The story behind the shoes, however, will convince you that the next pair of shoes you buy for your kids will have to be these. The co-founder shared with us how he decided to launch this brand after having spent all of his career working for a global fast-fashion powerhouse and seeing the need to do things differently. His products, designed in Switzerland, and following feet specialist guidelines, are hand-made in collaboration with artisans in Portugal using premium leathers sourced in Europe.
On the Rue des Etuves – a tiny street packed with characterful boutiques and cafés – the first store we walked into was l’Asticot. At first sight, you would think it is probably a store that is part of a French chain: a playful selection of apparel, professionally presented with a hidden play area for children. The founder, in the store herself, explained how ten years ago she embarked on a journey to develop a company selling ethically made, high-quality clothes with a Scandi-French twist. She personally designs the clothes then ensures they are made using organic cotton or wool, certified dyes and fair business practices in a family-owned factory.
Next door to l’Asticot, you will find a tiny hole-in-the-wall that had opened just a few days before our visit. Archipel sells creams, soaps, shampoo, deodorants and other cosmetics for men and women. To feature in her store, the products have to be made with more than 95% natural ingredients and without the use of animal testing. What we especially liked was the feel and experience her store provided, with a sink allowing you to test all the products, clear communication about all the products and employees knowledgeable about every brand and product.
We entered the second-hand luxury store, Les Toutes Belles, in the hope of hearing that the owner had seen sales rise with people being more conscious about fashion waste. However, standing among the Louboutins, Dior bags, Kenzo dresses, we quickly realised that the people who shop stores like these are more after owning luxury brands for lower prices than lessening their ecological footprint. Having said that, the owner of Les Toutes Belles was clearly environmentally conscious herself and keen to see change happen in the industry. So, we are happy to highlight the store and second-hand stores in general, as buying second-hand is both advantageous for the environment and your wallet.
LL Swiss Design, further up the Rue des Etuves and equally small, is a boutique set up by two local designers collaborating together to present their own products and provide a platform for other Swiss brands. Mademoiselle L is a Geneva prêt-a-porter brand carrying urban, minimalist capsule collections. The designer personally sources all the materials in Europe and produces under fair working conditions at a factory in Bosnia and Herzegovina. T’as pas l’heure designer, Laure Gaury, makes jewellery out of parts from inoperative watches, reusing timepieces to make beautiful timeless pieces.
La Collective in the Paquis area describes itself as an eco-luxury concept boutique with female-owned Swiss brands. Launched in March of this year, the store offers a selection of gorgeous products from different brands. Tallis makes clothes and accessories from reclaimed materials, such as cashmere, fish leather and sheepskin. Atelier 1202 is a brand of bikinis and lingerie, designed in Switzerland and produced in Brazil using biodegradable materials, under fair work conditions in a facility running on renewable energy. Rue Vautier presents a delicate collection of prêt-a-porter and bridal wear made out of exclusive Italian deadstock fabrics. And last but definitely not least, you couldn’t miss the impressive series of fragrances from Caliq. Hand-made in Switzerland using all-natural sustainable ingredients, the range provides an impressive array of candles, diffusers and perfumes inspired by influences from east and west.
It is not always easy for conscious and sustainable brands to succeed in a world where competition is fierce, and consumers are largely still unaware of the harmful social and environmental footprint of mainstream fashion. To develop better products, increase reach and grow their businesses, most of these brands have realised the value of collaboration – be it with suppliers or other brands. Through their openness, and their willingness to do good through their businesses, they are bringing about positive change in the industry.
If you are in the area, I invite you to explore and support the stores mentioned above, and if you are not in the area, I encourage you to visit their websites.
If you are a professional from the textile or fashion retail world and would like to be kept up to date, or take part in our next events in Geneva or elsewhere in Switzerland, please get in touch via our contact sheet or visit our website www.goodbrand.guru for more information.