Tuesday, 6 June 2017

La French Cut: Handcrafted Elegance, from Strap to Heel

Alice Sachot is an interesting lady. She is both athletic and artistically inclined, fascinated since a young age with sports and Japanese aesthetics. The young Sachot’s idea of ‘fun’ was to stay home and knit while her friends preferred, naturally, to spend time in the playground. Upon graduation from university, she packed her suitcase and went to Japan, where she found work in a traditional Japanese setting, learning the social etiquettes and language from the locals she worked with. For a long time she thought she was going to marry a Japanese man. Yet as life’s twists and turns would have it, she met a fellow French hailing from not far away from her hometown, and the knot was tied. 

After spending two years in Hong Kong making everything from her own dress to decorative items for her wedding, Sachot thought it was an auspicious moment to start her own business in hand-crafted shoes - her way of eschewing the wasteful and characterless fast fashion. 

Four years on, she is still very much in love with Hong Kong, the birthplace of her business Le French Cut. “Being an entrepreneur is not easy - you need a motivation. My motivation is doing what I like, and to see people happy with the results.” 

How was Alice Sachot like as a child? 
I was energetic, I loved sports and arts, I was always day-dreaming, making things. Provence, in the south of France, where I came from, is very rich in terms of arts and culture, which has always offered me sources of inspiration. 

I’m interested in gymnastics, and for six years now I have been practising aerial silk, a circus art; I’ve done a few competitions in Hong Kong. I learnt the art of aerial silk in Japan. I’m glad I got to train with the locals here at the aerial silk studios in Hong Kong, people from all walks of life and yet we share the same passion. 

Tell me the story of, when you were seven years old, that your mother introduced you to sewing and knitting? 
In France - and I believe in many other places as well - people from my mum’s generation were taught and used to serving their own needs by making things. By my generation, the tradition began to disappear because people don’t find making your own things useful anymore. My mother taught me how to sew and knit when I was seven years old, and I loved it. All my friends then were wondering why I would prefer to sit still and sew and knit, like a grandmother, while the rest of them were out playing, but I’ve always felt a misfit with strange interests. I later learnt to make patterns, and so I was able to make a dress from scratch. I also learnt to work with leather and to make shoes. I have always wanted to make that my career, but my parents didn’t want me to go to fashion schools, so I had to make it happen in my own ways. My parents said, “Art is not a job.” When I said I would study business, they were okay with it. I believe that if your’e meant to do something, you’ll end up doing it anyway. 

When I was in Japan, I knew that if the opportunity arose for me to create my own business, I would take it. It wasn’t so easy to start your own business in Japan, so I picked up experiences in business as much as I could. When we moved to Hong Kong, I felt that I was ready to start my business; the timing was perfect. When I discovered the places that sell fabrics and materials in Sham Shui Po, I was very excited. I’ve spent so much time in the area that I now know it by heart.

What is the appeal of making things by hand? 
It’s relaxing, and it gives me peace of mind. There’s something calming about being able to focus on the one, single task on hand. 

Why do you think slow fashion is necessary in this day and age? 
It is necessary because the fashion industry has gone too far - too far in terms of mass production and mass consumption, and now there is the huge problem of waste all over the world. I think people are increasingly realising that we need to go back to the root of fashion, which is making clothes for needs and style, but not for cheap production costs. People sometimes buy 10 pieces of clothes without even trying them on, and if they don’t like the clothes, they’ll just throw them away. 

Making clothes for needs is a no-brainer for me. If a woman wants her clothes and shoes handmade, I can discuss with her, understand her needs and preferences, and then I can come up with something that is unique for her. It means a lot to me to have customers coming to me, finally having a pair of shoes that fit her size or preference or style that which, for some reasons, she wasn’t able to find before. That’s what keeps me going, because being an entrepreneur is not easy - you need a motivation. My motivation is doing what I like, and to see people happy with the results. 

Things that are handmade are unique and different, yet, unfortunately, many people find it difficult to go back to the good old way of thinking that values craftsmanship. For me, it takes two to three weeks to make a pair of shoes, because my maker makes it one by one, but some people think the whole process should be faster - but hand-making a pair of shoes in two to three weeks is fast! I like to think that what I’m doing is a bit of consumer education on slow fashion.

What are the challenges of making shoes by hand? 
It’s a long process, with a lot of materials involved. I’m constantly looking for good makers, because the handcraft industry is shrinking - not just in Hong Kong, but elsewhere in the world too. And then there’s the sourcing of materials, which I usually do by myself. Every time I travel, I make sure to look up places that sell materials and fabrics. I would pick a small quantity, and try it myself, so that I can check the quality of every different piece of material. 

I try to make my designs elegant and timeless, with a hint of originality, so that my customers can wear them with a dress or jeans or whatever that suit the occasion. 

Were you originally from Hong Kong, or did you come to Hong Kong as an expat? 
I left France 10 years ago. I first went to Japan. I was living in Tokyo for six years, and after that I came to Hong Kong. I travelled to Hong Kong a few times while I was living in Tokyo, and I loved it here - the energy, the mix of cultures, which I found very interesting. 

I met my husband in Tokyo. Strangely enough, he is French. I wasn’t expecting that, because I was so into the Japanese culture that I thought I would marry a Japanese man one day and live in the country. (laughs) Turns out my husband is from not very far away from where I came from - sometimes you just have to go to the other side of the planet to meet somewhere who lived so close by! We had the opportunity to come to Hong Kong, I was very happy. When we left Tokyo, he proposed to me. The first two years I was in Hong Kong, I was making things for our wedding - I made my dress, my mother’s dress, my shoes, all the decorations…everything was handcrafted. I spent two years completing everything, and I felt that it was an accomplishment of something that I have always wanted to do before. 

Once the wedding was over, I sat down and thought, maybe it’s time that I started my own company. Having made everything for my wedding by hand, I realised that I didn’t really like the idea of hand-making over 100 pieces of the same item. So I decided that I would do the design, and to have makers doing the repetitive production work for me. I have been living in Hong Kong for four years now. The first two years were spent preparing for my wedding, for a year and a half, I did custom-made shoes - I took measurements and did fittings all by myself. Back then, it took me two months to make a pair of shoes. In the end I decided to make shoes with the same pricing, but also to keep the whole process simpler for my customers and myself. Now, I produce shoes in a range of sizes, and adjustments can be made according to the customers’ needs and preferences. 

Why the move to Japan? 
I have been a big fan of Japan since I was a kid, watching anime, and fascinated by the Japanese aesthetics, culture and history. Once I got my college degree in France, I packed my suitcase and moved to Tokyo! When you’re young you don’t think much about the future. I didn’t know how long I was going to stay there, but if everything failed, I could always come back to France; I thought I just had to give it a try. I got a student visa, applied to a Japanese language school to learn the language and the culture, found my first job at an entirely Japanese company. 

Your first impressions of Hong Kong? 
The Japanese culture is very specific, and I knew that as a foreigner, I had to conform to their culture. And I wanted to learn more about the culture, as I didn’t want to stand out as a foreigner. But sometimes that could be a bit too much, so coming to Hong Kong was very relieving. I know there are certain codes of behaviour here, but I didn’t feel such a big need to conform. I definitely felt that Hong Kong is more cosmopolitan, that I’m more at ease, not so afraid of doing something ‘wrong’. I also love the mix of city life and nature. In Tokyo, if you want to see the nature, you’d have to drive quite a distance, so it is quite a trip if you want to go hiking somewhere. But in Hong Kong, you can be at the Peak, the beach, the hiking trails in 10 minutes to half an hour. Hong Kong is one of my favourite cities, I’m so happy here. But it would be difficult to choose between Japan and Hong Kong, because there are things that I love and love less in both places. 

What’s the best thing about being Alice right now? 
That I’m able to do what I love, while making people happy. 

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