La Draft's "Kings & Queens" collection is 90 percent upcycled

As avid fashion fans, Smith Boulet-Tongier, Ousmane Ndour and Ab Phetmanivong were faced with a major problem: Their wardrobes were bursting with clothes, some of them left unworn for several months. It turned out to be a common issue. “In France, six out of 10 people own clothes that they never actually wear,” Boulet-Tongier said. The trio started customizing clothes they had gotten tired off — cutting off a coat collar, adding a zip pocket — gathering attention from their friends and family. Despite having no formal fashion training, the three friends took the plunge and created their unisex fashion line La Draft in December 2017.

Key sustainability achievement of 2018: The business model quickly evolved. At first, La Draft started sourcing clothes from local thrift stores — the brand’s studio is based in the 18th arrondissement — which were then reworked by ateliers in La Goutte d’Or, an area in the north of Paris known for its African community. Ninety percent of the line is made of upcycled fabric. But after a successful pop-up store named Upcycling Experience last January, where the three business associates invited customers to bring their unwanted clothes to be customized on the spot, La Draft decided to launch its own upcycling service. “We want to get customers to reuse things rather than overconsume,” Boulet-Tongier said. “So we came up with a subscription service: For 100 euros per month, customers can ‘draft’ two items from their wardrobe, giving them a second life rather than hitting the shops to buy more clothes.” Individual pieces can also be upcycled for a fee.

Sustainability target for 2019: For the moment, the business is limited by the fact that customers need to physically bring clothes to the atelier and get measured by the team. “We’d love to be able to open all around Paris, to become a local service,” Boulet-Tongier wished. The lawyer-turned-designer is still amazed by the scope of people showing up at the studio. “We have 16-year-olds wanting to tweak their denim jackets, but also grannies bringing their Armani suits or Max Mara coats to get freshened up.” The three associates have now stopped buying new clothes for themselves. “Except for sneakers,” Boulet-Tongier said, “but we’re working on that.”

Biggest challenge: “People need to realize just how much they are buying. Secondhand web sites are booming, but no one is actually giving the clothes they are getting rid of a second chance. People don’t know they have an actual goldmine in their closet.”

If you could wave a magic wand: “I would want artisans, tailors and dressmakers to all be paid a decent salary.”