A few weeks ago, in a small Swiss town of Rolle on Lake Geneva, I found a charming high street boutique whose window display advertised clothes ‘made in respectful traditions’. Needless to say, I went straight in. The boutique’s owner turned out to be a fellow Australian Theresa Hamilton who has been running her boutique A ma fille since 2011. Intrigued, it was only a matter of days before I sat her down for an interview. If you’ve ever toyed with the idea of setting up a sustainable fashion shop, read on!
Green stilettos: Theresa, first of all, how did you end up here in Switzerland all the way from Sydney, Australia?
TH: Oh, that’s a long story! We left Sydney in 1999. Our first port of call was Singapore where Emily (my daughter) was born a year later. Then we were off to Florida, USA where my son Thomas was born in 2004. All this time I was following the career of my husband.
And it was when I was living in the US and having just had two children that I experienced the mass consumption of the Western culture – how much we consume and how disposable everything was — and I was deeply affected by this. So I started using biodegradable nappies, making my own food, and so on…
And then we landed in Geneva in 2008 and I just fell in love with Switzerland. I felt that, of all places, people here can really have a nice, local-based lifestyle, and I’ve embraced their philosophy towards the environment. I also went back to school, earning a degree in Environmental Sciences.
Having lived in Asia and the US and having seen both sides of the consumption coin, it just all came together. I had this idea over dinner one night: I’d like to go back to work and make use of my environmental studies, but I’d like to work for myself — and I’ve always loved fashion!
This is how the idea of a sustainable fashion shop came about, and it remains a living and breathing thing. It is a place where people come to talk about the designs, the news, the environment, not only fashion. That having said, you can, of course, get the latest sustainable fashions here!
Why did you call your boutique ‘A ma fille‘, which means ‘To my daughter‘ in French?
I was explaining my boutique concept to the design team, talking about becoming a mother and how it changes your relationship with the environment. I am very grateful for my children because they have given me this gift to see the world in a different way. I want to grow old knowing that I’ve done something to change the world for them. As we were brainstorming with the team about the name for my future shop, I’ve written a letter addressed to my daughter about my feelings and my objectives and from there A ma fille was born.
And was the shop itself designed with environment and sustainability in mind?
Yes, the designers really took the whole concept to heart in creating the shop. We bought a lot of pieces second-hand and we’ve reworked them with the help of local artisans. It was very much a family-and-friends project: we had children painting the cupboards, friends helping us with different tasks…
The result certainly looks amazing! And how do you choose the brands for your boutique?
It was two years’ worth of research! I visited ethical fashion shows, I also did a lot of research online via the Ethical Fashion Forum. During this time, I had plenty of opportunities to see which designers had some continuity, and which ones unfortunately didn’t last. So I picked the ones who had been around for some time and who were already well-established.
Also very important is to have originality. I didn’t want to have designers which were too close in style or already available in other boutiques in the (Lake Geneva) region. Since I’ve opened the shop I also had designers contacting me – mainly thanks to social media as I don’t do paid advertising!
And of course the aesthetics are hugely important. I wanted to like what I saw, to feel comfortable, to want to wear it. But first and foremost I only ever looked at eco and ethical brands; that was my number one requirement.
Do you feel that there is a particular gap in the sustainable fashion market at the moment that has yet to be filled?
That’s an interesting question! I haven’t found one because I’ve been lucky enough to find brands that cater to a very classic and subdued look that women like around here.
For example, BackLEBAL and Les Racines du Ciel – very classic brands, very nice cuts, very sombre. But we also have Les Fées de Bengale and Beautiful Soul which are moving into luxurious, feminine patterns, and then Valentine Gauthier who is very creative and original. And Stewart+Brown is great for basics.
So I would say there is a very broad range available – from very classic to very creative. Sustainable fashion has also become very diverse – the range of colours, the range of fabrics, and increasingly the range of styles.
Let’s talk about your clientele. How would you describe your customer and, more generally, Swiss fashion sense?
Actually, I would say there are extremes of fashion here in Switzerland, but for my shop I wanted a classic, elegant image. I believe that my clientele is you and I: it is women who want something elegant and comfortable to wear as a basic but is not just a plain old t-shirt.
Here in the Lake Geneva region you have a very diverse demographic, which is reflected in street fashion. You do see some flamboyant dressers, some rather basic looks, but you also see a very elegant woman on the Rolle high street! This is casual elegance – when she throws something together and it just looks amazing.
When customers come into your shop, what do they say surprises them most?
I think it’s the fact that you can have these beautiful clothes and that they are made according to ethical and environmental principles. And their affordability! It seems to me there are two points of view on this fashion: it’s either ‘eco-luxe’ and no-one can afford it or it’s Switcher. So I think they are pleasantly surprised that it’s a beautiful cut, beautiful material, and that it has the sustainability bonus. I find that people are now coming for this particular purpose.
What is your next big project?
Thinking big for me is opening up a second boutique ‘A mon fils‘ (‘To my son’)!
I love that idea! It’s true that boys seem to have been left behind in the sustainable fashion movement and it is time to rectify that! Final question: your fashion tip?
Don’t buy a $10 t-shirt every week. Save up and buy something that will last you a long time and something that you will really treasure.
Thank you, Theresa, it’s been a pleasure talking to you!
A ma fille boutique: Grand Rue 33, Rolle, Vaud 1180, Switzerland, www.amafille.com