The Golden Drops of Fashion and Design (Les Gouttes d’or de la mode et du design) is a project that seeks to structure the garment and fashion industries of the historic immigrant neighbourhood of la Goutte d’or (Golden Drops). It aims at to promoting a positive image and identity of the area. It consists in arranging the already existing businesses – including a lot of small craft and informal activities – in the neighbourhood into a coherent and successful cluster around the garment and fashion industries. The neighbourhood already counts: 63 fabric stores (36 of them sell wax fabric from Sub-Saharan Africa), 33 sewing workshops, 5 haberdasheries and 20 fashion designers (including furniture designers). The initiative puts all these professionals in contact with one another, provides them with skill development (e.g. training in cutting and sewing) and shared space, and helps them to promote their productions outside the neighbourhood. Its main focus is on economic performance, but it does have a secondary goal of social mobility, with the organisation of training classes for sewers and cutters, and social cohesion, with the idea that these different businesses should constitute a network in the neighbourhood and contribute to give a positive image of the area.
The project started in 2011 and is only half way in its realization. In 2011 the non-governmental organisation for the Promotion of the Fashion and Design Industry was created under the investigation of the Neighbourhood Project Manager from the Paris Department for City Policy (DPVI). It follows a top-down process, but it was only initiated after an audit on the economic potential of the neighbourhood was conducted in 2009. A fashion street had already existed since 2000 (Rue des Gardes), but the 2011 project aims at reaching a wider range of businesses in the fashion and garment industries: not only fashion designers, but also tailors and in particular craftsmen. The target audience of the initiative therefore comprises: tailors working in sewing workshops, shopkeepers of the neighbourhood and fashion designers. The president of the association is a shopkeeper of the neighbourhood and all its members are business owners (25 are officially registered, but only 12 are active, according to the interviewee and participating to association meetings, 4 of them are tailors).
Since 2012, a business developer specialised in social and solidarity-based economy was appointed to identify the needs of the business owners and offer a model for their structuring into a cluster. At the time of the interview, in April 2014, she had mainly identified the following needs:
– A shared showroom for designers;
– Specific tools for sewing and pattern drafting;
– Training in pattern drafting (most tailors custom-design and need to learn how to design standardised clothes);
– Administrative support in accounting and client outreach (some business owners are not familiar with French language and administrative processes, while some other business owners are more in need of help in finding clients outside the neighbourhood).
She was contemplating the creation of a cooperative that would work as a platform to offer these types of services. In addition to this, she had already organised some exchanges with the fashion museum Carnavalet that showcases theatre costumes in downtown Paris with a visit of Goutte d’or inhabitants to the museum, and a visit of Carnavalet curators of the Goutte d’or neighbourhood. The aim is to develop the creation of theatre costumes by Goutte d’or tailors.
The total budget of the project amounts to € 750,000 for three years and aims at 68% of self-financing in three years. It benefits from the financial support of the city of Paris and the Paris region as part of their support to economic development. In 2013 it received a starting grant from the Paris region as part of the programme supporting the development of social and solidarity-based economy.
Perception and use of the concept of diversity
During the interview with the person in charge of the project, she mainly mentioned the diversity of business owners in terms of their activity. According to her, shopkeepers, tailors and fashion designers have very contrasting needs and, in this sense, the diversity of their field of activity is a challenge to the implementation of the project. Moreover, the neighbourhood displays a high rate of foreign-born (30%) and it is likely that some of the tailors and shopkeepers who are taking part in the initiative have an African background. However, there are no figures available for the number of business owners who are foreign-born and are taking part in the association. Diversity in terms of immigrant origin was not formally addressed during the interview. Yet, considering the concentration of immigrant population in the neighbourhood, it is possible to assess that, in this project, diversity is utilised as an asset, to improve the economic development of a deprived area and to promote the social mobility of newcomers.
Main factors influencing success or failure
An internal success factors influencing the project is the already existing network of shopkeepers in the Goutte d’or and the fact that they are in need of more space, more machines and more training. Although only 12 were described as active in the association (as opposed to 24 who registered at first), it is clear that the economic interest they might find in the initiative operates as an important driving force to the development of the process.
An external success factor is the fact that Paris, as a whole, has a world-renowned savoir-faire in fashion and design. This allows the business developer in linking the business owners of the Goutte d’or neighbourhood to the fashion museum of Carnavalet, for instance. This initiative is not just a neighbourhood development but offers opportunities to integrate the mainstream economic business.
The limit identified by the business developer lies in the constraints of this sector of the economy. In terms of schedule: business owners need assistance, but are not always available to come to meetings to define their needs, because of their tight schedule and necessity to pull long hours of work. In terms of workforce: tailors and sewers are rapidly changing. A more economically interesting position might open in a restaurant and a sewer will move to this other job. The training he or she received, provided by the association, will be lost. Finally, in terms of business culture: some of these business owners do not necessarily want to establish themselves and find it more useful to remain small, crafty, temporary structures.
The business developer identified another limit in the diversity of the profile of each business owner and the heterogeneity of their attempts and needs. Some may need French classes and some are native French speakers, for instance. This obstacle was countered by setting up a platform that offers a wide range of services. However, it might also be the case that some business owners think they do not have as much to get from the existence of this cooperative as some other.
The initiative appears as a good answer to the diversity of business activity in the neighbourhood in link with the in-put of migrant population, but not only. One of the assets of the project is to bring together more established business owners with newcomers and have them share their needs and their skills.