What has been your journey until now?
From 2018 spring to 2020 spring, I attended l’École de la Chambre Syndicale de la Couture Parisienne which was known to cultivate the best craftsmanship in France. IFM at the time was only for Masters degrees. I was in a bachelor modélisme –pattern making programme and also learned draping and CAO [computer aided optimization]. But then the school closed so I joined IFM. I was in this apprenticeship program, we call it ‘alternance’, because you go to work 3 days and school 2 days a week. It’s basically a scholarship program for private schools where you earn a minimum wage salary and the company pays your school for doing work that’s related to what you’re learning.
Which company did you work at?
I worked at 3 companies in total. At the 1st company, I was a slave. [laughs] I have no idea how I found it, probably online. It was a startup in fashion and they never did the paperwork correctly; my school messed up my paperwork too. I didn’t have the right to work for three days a week, but as long as the company asked me to come to work, I did. They wouldn’t pay me for my first month but I kept going. At some point, I thought “are they ever gonna pay me?” I had no idea. I was there for two months and eventually never got paid, which implied I couldn’t go to school anymore. I think they just decided to hire me as an illegal worker because they didn’t give a shit. So for that semester, I paid the school out of my pocket.
The 2nd company I worked for was a secret job the school didn’t want to tell me about. My school knew that I was desperate but they were so reluctant to recommend me. Not because of any other reason, simply because it was the worst job ever.
Worse than the first company?
The first company was horrible because they tricked me. My second boss bullied me severely. People before me had quit after two months but quitting for me was not an option. He threw a plate of food at another employee; he tried to punch one of my coworkers as well… I was even a bit afraid of being alone with him.
I was an ‘assistant pattern maker’ on paper, but in real life, I would be a ‘pattern maker.’ I would do 2-3 times more work than my boss.
How much is the minimum wage in France?
The minimum wage for an internship is 500 euros per month but I would cost them 3 times more than that. When my school got integrated into IFM, they raised the tuition fee by 800 euros but my second company didn’t want to pay the difference. I had to renew my contract for another 6 months at this point and the company didn’t want to. I asked both the company and the school if I could pay the difference out of my pocket, but nobody would accept this. I got kicked out again and had to pay for the last semester.
After, I spent 1 month at Paco Rabanne as an intern, which is what I liked the most. They know how to remain creative and happy. I would do manual work like doing the metal mesh by hand for their iconic metal dresses or their plastic paillettes. When I stopped working for them, I started to prepare for EnsAD.
“I felt less confident in Paris. It was harder because I didn’t know anyone. I was really on my own, with nobody to go to if I had a problem. I felt like I was a student again. I cried almost every night.”
I feel like immigrant students’ work doesn’t get acknowledged as much.
Immigrants progress much more in life than people born in that country. People usually don’t have any idea who they were back in their country. Maybe in China, this student was the best in the country and you just have no idea. Especially in France, I feel like they don’t understand there’s a learning curve, a period needed to adapt. On paper, immigrants don’t perform as well, but after just a couple of months to adapt, once you get that, you can easily perform as much or even better. Immigrants take risks; they have experience in adapting to a difficult environment.
“I don’t expect to be recognized more because I am an immigrant, but I felt like people didn’t expect me to be professional on a high level because I was an immigrant.”
Do you personally feel like you don’t get as much recognition at EnsAD?
No, I don’t, though other people from other countries don’t get recognition as much because they’re not as social. People don’t realize how hard they worked to get to France, to EnsAD. I’ve spent for 4 years already in France, but for 1-2 years, I didn’t get enough recognition. I don’t expect to be recognized more because I am an immigrant, but I felt like people didn’t expect me to be professional on a high level because I was an immigrant.
“EnsAD has a very classic approach to clothing and fashion unlike Duperré or Central Saint Martins. At Duperré, extravagance is applauded; at EnsAD, not really. I got into EnsAD because they cared more about my story.”
Tell us about EnsAD. How is it different from other schools in Paris (IFM, Duperré, etc.) or other parts of the world?
IFM, as my understanding goes, it’s less hard to get in but much harder to graduate. Their teachers are not easy and it’s technically very strict. EnsAD is very independent and you can pretty much work as you want. It’s extremely likely that you will graduate, once you get in. For me, this works great: give me a topic and I’ll just do what I want. As long as the teachers like it, it’s ok. EnsAD has a very classic approach to clothing and fashion unlike Duperré or Central Saint Martins. At Duperré, extravagance is applauded; at EnsAD, not really. I was surer that I’d get into EnsAD than Duperré, only because Duperre doesn’t really consider your parcours –your life, resumé. I got into EnsAD because they cared more about my story.
How would you describe your style in fashion? Does it match with EnsAD’s?
I recently started to focus on research and innovation in techniques. Something clicked in my mind and I changed the way I do clothes. I kind of put aside what I learned in school and decided to make my construction. For example, there are a lot of things to study in 3D printing alone. 3D printing is a more viable way to upcycle clothes than, say, patchwork.
I made a 3D-printed top this semester. I made a structure and stretched a fabric over to pin it down. I brushed over 3D print paint until it dried; I had to practice quite a bit. Everything was handmade.
This semester I worked on two looks for an imaginary collection called “Mythic Flying Athlete”. It’s a fantasy about a character who lives in a world where flying is a sport. I intended to bring a certain “video game” aesthetic into this project, which is something the nerd inside me likes. I didn’t want to do something too serious or wearable, I wanted to do something fun and light for myself.