L’Herbe Afrique

I had the opportunity to meet one of the founders of Paris-based label, L’Herbe Rouge. Thibaud Decroo started the label together with business partner, Arielle Levy in 2008 with a mindset of intellectual and curious attributes to placing value on design, not fashion. L’Herbe Rouge is a believer in the philosophy behind Slow Fashion, and finds its challenges in not upscaling the price in its active efforts in minimising carbon footprint. This is a company that wants to design for people in ‘real life’. According to Thibaud, only an estimate of 20% of the people in France are interested in this kind of philosophy and its proven difficult to change this mind set. The label’s priorities lie in revitalising the local manufacturing in France, by reverting to production solutions that have been declining or completely lost. A dismal example of this lost expertise is that of Raymonde Pouzieux, the woman who produced the virtuous braidings for Chanel, never having shared the techniques until she passed away in 2011 (Medjadj 2011).

On the other hand, L’Herbe Rouge has also placed its focus on Africa, namely creating local working opportunities by setting up cotton farms that generate textile production. Because of the long relationship France has with African continent, and the French culture being one of the remains of colonialism, it led to a gateway for the French label to invest in production there. African countries are becoming more competitively appealing in relation to China, not only in their prices but also because it is not always clear how fair the Fair Trade is implemented in Asia. This new focus on Africa is an important mark in the continent’s economic growth, and its progression towards becoming a global player in the Fashion area. On the downside, a lot of companies seem to see Africa as a challenging place to do business due its corruption, systems of regulations in diverse markets, and lack of logistics infrastructure (Barrie 2015). However, this perception is changing as a lot of countries in Africa are realising the importance of outside investment. Governments are more willing to facilitate companies interested in contributing to local production. The growing interest in Africa comes along with benefits, as long as companies focus on generating a local continuity in their investments.“Building strong domestic businesses can provide local people with a creative, rewarding vocation” (Kebede 2015). This is a chance for fashion companies interested in Africa to implement more sustainable and ethically responsible actions in their efforts. By learning from the downfall of mass-consumption, particularly in Asia, the fashion industry has the opportunity to implement a system of carbon offsetting in production processes in Africa.

Photograph by Viviane Sassen

Photograph by Viviane Sassen

From another perspective, it is vital to consider the growing middle-class in African countries. A surge of local designers is apparent who dignify themselves on African pride. There are talents worth investing in, and local brands that are growing internationally. Partnerships are becoming more important, and L’Herbe Rouge recognises this as they too depend on subsidies to remain independent. The clothing company has built partnerships that make part of the rapprochement between Europe and Africa. A vital component of these collaborations is the emphasis on high environmental and ethical standards, and on their human values. Decroo is part of the many companies that are contributing to moving Africa up the value chain. However, it is also necessary for designers and brands within the continent to have the opportunity to expand and contribute to Africa’s rise within the fashion industry. Woodin, a sister brand of the Dutch Vlisco Group, is an example of a local brand that operates in the Ivory Coast, a key player in the affluent urban localities in Western and Central Africa. “Many African fashion businesses, large and small, are both innovative and profitable — but most will continue to underperform if they remain unplugged from the global fashion grid” (Young 2015).

Now that Africa is in the focus, perhaps the Fashion Industry can learn from its mistakes on unsustainable actions and ethical breaches that have been ongoing. If companies such as L’Herbe Rouge are in fact interested in designing for real life and real situations, they need to set an example for others to confront reality and implement change for the better.