3 Questions for Myriam Chikh-Mentfakh
Founder of LeLabPlus
The founder of LeLabPlus is a pioneer in eco-responsible fashion. Her structure, which encompasses a design office and an on-site production facility, works with a network of 35 partner-factories. LeLabPlus helps brands form strategies for sustainable practices and the Made in France movement. We recently met and talked.
How did LeLabPlus begin?
LeLabPlus is the result of ongoing experience, creating businesses, and making observations. For 25 years I’ve worked and evolved in the textile world. I started out in production, and I’ve been a buyer and product manager. In 2012 I created the green-friendly brand Baby’s Secret, and then co-founded Jiuly, a plus-size specialist. In 2018 I launched Leena Paris, a label with the same positioning.
When COVID happened, all our business development plans were no longer valid, which was true for everyone in the industry. A group of textile professionals was created to rethink working methods, and, of course, I wanted to be part of it. Since I was very familiar with the sector, I organised mask production with French factories. We worked with several factories, and through the project we helped them improve performance. After the lockdowns, I felt it was important to not ignore the factories and to continue collaborating with them. They formed a network that could be made available to fashion brands. And that’s how LeLabPlus came to be: it was built around those 35 factories and on our upcycling expertise.
Companies come to us requesting audits, especially concerning traceability, and we suggest solutions and introduce them to partners. Our success has been so encouraging that in December 2021 we established our own production facility. Our team, which began as six collaborators, today has a workforce of 17 people. Our client portfolio includes Le Slip Français, Biocoop, and even Le Bon Marché.
What are the key points for strengthening environmentally correct practices?
Eco-responsibility in fashion is based on several foundations. We talk about sustainability, and the AGEC Law for climate and resilience now requires such information to be displayed. This means brands have to test their fabrics to guarantee they’re long-lasting. But that shouldn’t be enough. We need to push our reflection even further. I strongly believe in repairing. Brands should set up services to repair clothing and make sure that a product that can still be used isn’t thrown away. I’m a champion for after-sales services, like for electrical appliances.
This initiative could also support the Made in France label. Making clothing in France costs more than making it in Asia, and there are good reasons – social, for example – for that. Local production makes it easy to organise tools for repairing clothes, which means they’re kept longer. And since that’s a real added value, it’s also a plus for growth. I’m also a fervent disciple of upcycling. I was a pioneer in using dead stock to create my collections. We have access to a lot of raw materials that are already on the market. In the past, we burned them; from now on, let’s transform them!
From 10 to 13 November, LeLabPlus was at the Made in France trade fair, where Le Slip Français, in conjunction with other partners, presented L’Usine du Futur (the Factory of the Future). The exhibit was an opportunity for us to show concrete examples of these values, especially with the installation of a repair workshop.
What advice would you give entrepreneurs who want to launch their own brand or move in an environmentally responsible direction?
I’d say to always plan ahead for traceability and social and environmental impacts. That requires removing divisions between departments and inversing ways of thinking. Start with fabric choices: it’s important to know their provenance and composition as well as their manufacturing processes and working conditions and to use those fabrics to create a collection. From the very beginning of a product’s conception, it’s key to focus not just on designing and selling, but also on its end-of-life. How can we (re)think repairability before even considering recycling, and what services does that require? And finally, we must make a complete review of how we work. That’s an even more creative exercise that LeLabPlus and its committed partners can help put in place. Designers and buyers should start with materials that already exist, not just those they imagine as ideal.
I really believe that these changes will come from ready-to-wear brands; they’re the ones giving the needed impetus for onshoring in our sector. Afterwards, the luxury industry will help make the movement more accessible and widespread.