Shopping for ethical fashion in Paris need not be a chore. At a pretty boutique in Montmartre, I talked to the delightful owner about responsible shopping and sought her tips to how to shop for ethical fashion in Paris and abroad.
Mademoiselle Bambû resides on the cobblestone lane of charming Paris street, Rue de la Vieuville, a lovely Montmartre backstreet that few tourists seem to find. Laidback mid-week, the lane comes alive on weekends when locals fill the terrace tables of the surrounding cafés, and shopkeepers share bottles of wine in the late afternoon sunshine.
One of those shopkeepers is delightful Paris fashionista, 33-year-old former advertising executive, Christelle Bonnivard. Montmartre-born (slap-bang on Place de Clichy), Christelle studied foreign languages with the idea of working for an international firm, ending up in exporting for a year, before moving into advertising for six years.
That was until 2008, when Christelle decided she was well overdue for a change and began to explore other options — more ethical options. Christelle adored shopping and fashion and ethical fashion at that, so she decided to establish an ethical fashion shopping destination.
Christelle opened the doors to her pretty boutique Mademoiselle Bambû just a few months before I met her, with the goal of introducing locals and travellers to ethical clothing and accessories.
I chatted to the Paris fashionista about everything from her favourite ethical fashion labels to her tips to shopping for ethical fashion in Paris.
Q. What motivated you to open Mademoiselle Bambû?
A. I was bored working in advertising and I wanted to find something that matched my personal convictions and commitment to ecology. I also wanted to work for myself, as I’m very independent. We used to live above my parents’ restaurant, so I was born with business sense, so I thought a shop would be perfect.
Q. Why did you get into ethical fashion?
A. I went to the Ethical Fashion Show in Paris and it was a pleasure to see these kind of clothes. I was so inspired. Before that, when I thought of ethical fashion, I thought of big, baggy, ugly clothes, so I was pleased to see these pretty clothes. I said to myself “I want to try this. I don’t want to have regrets.” So I tried.
Q. How did you start out in ethical fashion?
A. I did a lot of Internet research and discovered there was a place in the market for another ethical fashion boutique in Paris. I saw a lot of great designers at the Ethical Fashion Show, so I approached them. I found 10 ethical stores in Paris and I went to visit them and learned from them.
Q. What makes your shop ethical?
A. We pay producers a fair price and we pay them up front for their work and their products, so they don’t have to go into debt, which is rare in business. We only sell fair trade or ethical products made by small producers who we know and who are using materials whose origin we know.
Q. What makes a piece of fashion ethical?
A. It must respect the environment and respect human beings, although sometimes unfortunately it’s not always possible for a product to do both. It should be 100% biologique (organic) because the chemicals from normal cotton cause pollution and is dangerous to farmers.
Q. What are some great ethical fashion labels that you love and sell here?
A. Pampa & Pop are two Argentine women who design leather handbags that are handmade by women who were prisoners or worked as prostitutes. I have handmade Mori woollen-wear made from Bolivian alpacas. The Chik Ethic bags are made from recycled billboard advertising and each one is unique, and Zaza Factory’s bags are made by poor women from villages in Burkina Faso.
Q. Other ethical fashion boutiques you recommend?
A. I really like Dupleks on Canal San Martin. It’s a nice store with beautiful clothes and accessories.
Q. Is shopping for ethical fashion in Paris difficult?
Q. Your best tip for shopping for ethical fashion in Paris?
A. When people are shopping for ethical fashion in Paris it’s important to read the information on the labels and tags. There is a strict certification and standards system so look for labels of ethical quality. The tags should say where the product was made, and what it’s made from, whether it is ‘organic cotton’ or ‘100% biologique’.
A. I had to be discrete with my street signage. Not everyone approves of ethical fashion. I also want to encourage everyone to come in and look, not only those who are eco-minded. This eco-friendly way of thinking is developing, but maybe only three out of ten women shop with this in mind.
Q. Goals? Dreams?
A. In the future I would like to visit some of the workshops, although that’s impossible for now, as it’s a new business and it’s just me here. My main goal is to make women discover that there are nice clothes that are also eco-friendly.
Q. Do you have greater job satisfaction now?
A. When women come to the counter to pay and I tell them what they have bought is ecologique, some say “okay” but it makes me really pleased when they say “Oh, that’s great. I didn’t realise.” That makes me happy!
Q. Best ethical fashion souvenir from Paris?
A. A cute dress from Celine Faizant. I love her clothes; they are typically Parisian, with small interesting details. She’s also a small designer, so you won’t find her clothes in other countries, which makes her extra special. They are very Parisian! Very Frenchie!
Paris Mini Guides publishes a handy, free, fold-out shopping map to Montmartre/Saint Georges which you can pick up in the boutiques around the neighbourhood such as Mademoiselle Bambû.
UPDATE: Sadly, Mademoiselle Bambû has closed, but these are still helpful tips to shopping for ethical fashion in Paris.