Feme, French, and… Knitted. What I learned about the independent French brand offering us all everyday elegance.
You may remember my article about knitwear. About the joys I got from the soft Alpaca Wool found near the Equator, and, simultaneously the style I admired from afar as Etik, Paris showcased piece after beautiful piece on their Instagram.
I had the good fortune to speak to Etik, and learned that it was indeed South America, and the soft, fine wool you find there, which formed a catalyst for their story.
It all started with Marine. Marine was a management consultant (was!). Based in Paris. She was working as an expert on user experience for banks online platforms (was!). In 2015, Marine went travelling and in Bolivia and found similar soft alpaca sweaters to the ones I applauded in my previous piece.
The sweaters were warm, the sweaters were good quality, the sweaters lasted well with even regular use. Back in Paris Marine sought something similar quality, perhaps cashmere this time, but something form fitting, feminine, dainty. Something she could wear to work or at formal events, perhaps complementing soft wools with silk and lace. - A criteria sadly not filled by the cosy but casual alpaca sweaters she found in Bolivia.
To recap: Soft, high quality, durable, smart, ladylike, with a lovely aesthetic. Marine wasn’t asking much, was she? This was Paris after all – a place name synonymous with style and high fashion.
Alas, Marine discovered that what she sought was tough to find. The markets responded with a subliminal but resounding message of ‘let them shop high-end, or buy basic high-street brands’. There was very little in-between. If this were me, the story may have ended there. Daydreaming on Pinterest, occasionally rerunning my search, but ultimately shelving my dreams of reasonably priced, high quality, formfitting, long-lasting, feminine knitwear.
Not Marine. This story has a much happier ending for her, and indeed for all of us. It comes in the form of Sebastian the fabricist. It comes in the form of creativity. It comes in the form of hard work towards a daring new venture – Etik.
I had the good fortune to talk Marine and Sebastian – who are a couple - about Etik. I’d love to gush on and on about the elegance of their pieces, but if you’ve seen their photos, you’ll know this for yourself, and we’ll get to that shortly anyway. In a world of fast fashion, and throwaway trends, it was fascinating to hear about their commitment to sourcing the best fabrics, made from the best fibres (long and thin to make it soft and less prone to peel) and finished with the best techniques.
The cashmere itself is sourced from inner Mongolia; the fabrics are then manufactured in Hamgzhou, China where resides the knowledge on the best techniques for washing, finishing, and ironing to ensure softness.
Sebastian knew all about sourcing materials, and how to produce at appropriate prices, having worked for 10 years for bigger fashion houses. He manages the relationships with the suppliers directly: This means no middle-man. It means the ability to specify detailed requirements. It means the reassurance of good working conditions which meet Etik principles. Meanwhile, Marine manages the front end – the online platform. Together they work diligently to produce pieces which match Marine’s original vision.
And so to the design. The designs take inspiration from women in their day-to-day lives. First with the help of a British designers from St Martin’s, and now a French designer for the winter season, Marine and Sebastian introduced a collection of what they describe as ‘every-day elegance’. It’s a feminine brand with a twist. It doesn’t reinvent fashion. It’s not super edgy. But it does offer something a little different, which women can wear (elegantly) in every setting.
The story does not end there. Marine ticked all her own boxes, and my boxes, and I’m sure the boxes of many more women seeking sophistication and durability at a mid-range price. The challenges of independent, online fashion labels have been weathered by Etik: They can't generate the same footfall as a shop-based brand. And yet without a huge budget for marketing, they’ve been surprised at the repeat custom they’ve received, relying solely on the quality and beauty of the product.
It’s still a very young business. They are working towards a more accessible website. The current website, managed by Marine (of course) is in French, but they have plans to make it accessible to a wider, English speaking audience. And the good news, much to my own delight, is that they do ship to the UK. (hand me the google translate, immediately!). They plan to ship further afield as they grow. They've started running pop-ups in France, and would love to attend some in London. – So watch this beautiful, soft space, and in the meantime, join me in daydreams of rediscovering my London life wearing these…