Global Observer

Young entrepreneurs bring responsible fashion to French market

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PARIS -- Recent business school graduates mix microcredit and socially-responsible fashion to create new online boutique, offering the French a different kind of shopping experience.

PARIS – Fashion meets social responsibility as a team of young French entrepreneurs launch an online store that donates money to support microcredit projects overseas.  The store, called Ben & Fakto, sells environmentally and socially conscious clothing and accessories by a variety of designers.

Paris immediately evokes images of Karl Lagerfeld and Chanel runway shows or shopping trips down the rue Saint-Honoré.  Rarely do ethical questions clutter visits to brand name designers or independent boutiques.  Tristan Nicolas, Kevin Straszburger, and Harold Pognonec, the founders of Ben & Fakto, are hoping to change this neglect.

The team of three French business students who studied in Lille hopes to fuse their business education with the fashion market.  According to Nicolas, the idea is to "Buy Happy," based off other models like Jimmy Fairly in France who offers a pair of glasses to those in need for each pair purchased.  Similarly, Ben & Fakto aims to offer various designers’ products while sending 10% of each purchase to microcredit projects overseas, hence the name which puns the Latin benefacto. “In lots of countries being an entrepreneur is the only way to work,” Nicolas said.

Already, just two months after launching their business, the team has successfully financed a Cambodian man’s project to open a grocery store.  “We were really happy.  It shows that it works,” Nicolas said.

More than just supporting microcredit projects, Ben & Fakto seeks to create a buying community around socially and environmentally responsible brands.  Organic and low-carbon products, socially-conscious brands, and locally-created designs are all available on their site.  Straszburger wants customers to ask who made their clothing and how it got there. “We live in a world where everything is premade, so we are re-humanizing clothing,” he said.

Orders have been rolling in from all around France, not just from Paris.  The question of how to address a global market with their model remains to be answered.  Delivery materials are made of natural materials and recyclable, but reducing carbon emissions due to shipping, for example, remains a concern.  “We’re going to do it step by step,” Straszburger said.

The three founders, at 24 years old, recognize that their youth, while many consider it a setback, is their biggest asset.  Nicolas said that those who have mentored along the way have helped the team realize that this is the moment in their lives to try such an endeavor.  “We are young, we can take risks,” he said.

“Experience is what we’re missing and that’s the easiest thing for us to search for,” Straszburger said.  Experience has already found Ben & Fakto.  A business incubator from their school, EDHEC in Lille, recently recognized Ben & Fakto, agreeing to help support the project.

Down the line, the founders hope to create unique designs by Ben & Fakto and to sell to an international market.  With the new incubator and a hunt for permanent offices, Straszburger might not be getting much sleep anytime soon.  “We’re at a pivotal moment,” he said, but he remains optimistic about the site’s ability to finance microcredit projects.  “Potentially we can support a lot of people,” he said.

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Bryan Pirolli

Correspondent (Paris)

Bryan Pirolli has worked for Conde Nast and Travel+Leisure and has written for EuroCheapo.com and Concierge.com. He holds a degree from New York University and is currently studying at the Sorbonne. He is based in Paris, France. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure