Setting up a fashion brand in Paris?
What is your name and where are you from ?
Alexis Assoignon. I grew up in Vancouver, Canada.
What and where did you study? For how long?
I did a Bachelor of Commerce at the UBC Vancouver Campus, where I also did a study abroad year at Sciences Po Paris. Following my studies in Vancouver, I did a second degree in Fashion Marketing in New York, at Parsons The New School for Design.
How did you hear about the possibility to study in France?
I always wanted to do a year abroad in Paris and found the opportunity through the student exchange department at UBC.
Why did you decide to go to France?
I’ve been in love with Paris since I was a little girl and it was always my dream to live there eventually. So the decision was very easy.
How did you prepare, what were your holdbacks and who did you talk to before going?
I needed to get the appropriate documents from the school, as well as a translated copy of my birth certificate in order to apply for my Carte de Séjour, which would allow me to live in France as a student. The process was quite straight forward, especially since we have a French Consulate located in Vancouver. I had been to Paris many times before so I felt quite comfortable moving there. I didn’t specifically seek out any advice, aside from consulting with my university on what they required of students going abroad.
What is easy to get your visa papers?
Yes it was quite straightforward. I went one day to the Consulate to drop off my paperwork and then returned to pick up my approved documents a few days later.
How would you describe the studying system in France, what are the main differences with Canada / the most valuable thing?
Well, the post-secondary system there is actually completely different – from the types of schools, to the admission process, to the French style of doing presentations and essays, to the grading system. My professors developed closer relationships with their students, since we had a combination of larger lectures and smaller group classes of about 15-20 students, to discuss the course material in depth. The students and professors would have a “diner de conference” at the end of semester, a dinner in a restaurant as a group, which was also a special experience.
Can you tell us about the student support programs which are specific to France?
At UBC they offer the opportunity for local students and exchange students to meet – via exchange fairs and other events. So it was nice to meet the French students studying in Vancouver the year I returned from Paris.
What was the most difficult thing to adapt to and how did you come around it, both in terms of schooling and everyday life?
Although I’ve always felt very at home in Paris, it did take some time to build up a nice group of close friends in the city. It can be challenging to make friends with French people, so most of my friends ended up being other expats and study-abroad students. It was also difficult for me studying in French because I was not completely fluent, nor had I ever learned the vocabulary to study Political Science in French. But this got easier over time as the school year went on.
Why would you recommend it to a friend?
What would you do differently if you were to do it again?
There really isn’t much I would change. However I do wish I had taken the opportunity of being in a major world centre to intern and gain some unique work experience. I went on after university to work in the fashion industry - this had always been my plan. But there are few opportunities in Vancouver. I wish I had taken advantage of my time in Paris to intern for one of the luxury houses based in the city and jump-start my industry experience. It would also have looked great on my CV.
What would be an example of how this experience has helped you in your life back to Canada?
Honestly, it was really hard to adjust to living back in Canada when I returned. I think I would have preferred to stay in Europe. I had such a wonderful time living in Paris that I knew I would want to move back permanently some day.
How and why did you decide to set up a business in France?
Setting up a sustainable fashion brand in France seemed like a great opportunity for us. I think it’s the right time given this global shift towards sustainability, and there are still a lot fewer competitors in the French market. Paris is known for it’s traditional fashion houses, not for fashion innovation. So we felt that we could fill this gap with Les Sublimes.
Where did you find the information?
We found a lot of our information online, but we also did have to go to some government offices in person, and make some calls. The setup process itself isn’t super difficult, but finding the information to get it done can be challenging. The business environment in France isn’t as online and streamlined as it is in Canada, and there is still more bureaucracy. But for a small business, it was definitely manageable. We are still continuously looking for information however, such as how to complete our accounting according to French laws or how to financially report on our crowdfunding campaign. We hope that as the startup culture continues to grow in France, and with it, the availability of information.
How often did you travel, which is your most memorable one and why?
With my school schedule during my study-abroad year, I could mostly get away for long weekends, and took advantage of discount airlines and the excellent train networks to get around Europe. I went to Rome for a weekend, on a sky trip with my school to the French Alps (amazing!), and on a week-long holiday to Croatia – which also allowed me to visit Montenegro and Bosnia. My mom came to visit me twice and together we went to Ireland, Scotland and Austria - where she is originally from.
Of the foods you have tried, which is your most memorable one and why?
When it comes to eating in France, I prefer to keep it simple most of the time. I adore French breads and pastries. They are my little treat. And there’s something about the way that they are made that makes it almost impossible to find the same quality of baked goods abroad. When I studied abroad I bought myself a little patisserie dessert every single day for an entire year. My guilty pleasure in France. Does that make me an expert in gateaux?
What is your favourite French expression/word?
“Coucou!” It’s a really cute and friendly way of saying hello.
Studying in France:
- France’s Higher Education agency which provides information about University majors, accommodation, etc: Campus France.
In Western Canada, three universities offer exchange programs:
- Sciences Po - UBC Dual Degree.
- Sciences Po - SFU exchange program.
- Sciences Po - Uvic exchange program.
Please note that the Canadian Representative for Campus France will be in Vancouver February 28-March 1st, 2017 to meet with students wishing to study in France. Read more on our website.
Investing in France:
- Business France: the national agency supporting the international development of the French economy, responsible for fostering export growth by French businesses, as well as promoting and facilitating international investment in France.