Paris - At 19, from her bedroom workshop in the Paris suburbs, she is giving old football shirts a second life by transforming them into corsets, a colourful, ethical and eco-friendly concept that has caught the eye of a Parisian fashion mogul in the run-up to the World Cup.
"I do everything myself, from collecting the jerseys to designing and sewing them," smiles Maï Jarach as she pulls her favourite design out of the wardrobe, one cut from a Barcelona shirt, whose crimson and blue colours she says she loves.
"I don't want to create new shirts, the idea is to transform them using upcycling techniques, i.e. without chemical intervention, it's not recycling," this daughter of an Argentine father and a Breton mother explains to AFP. It was "not out of environmental conviction at first, but rather born of indignation about the mistreatment of labour in certain countries. I reduced my consumption of new products to move towards ethical brands," she continues.
Originally, she developed this project to be accepted into her fashion school of choice, Studio Berçot in Paris. Then Maï was spotted by Youssouf Fofana, the artistic director of the Parisian brand Maison Château Rouge (MCR), who saw her one day wearing one of her own corsets.
He offered to sell them when MCR, in association with other designers, took over the former Tati shop in Barbès next month, in the middle of the football World Cup, which is set to take place between 20 November and 18 December.
“In my grandmother's cellar”
"I was lucky enough to meet someone nice, who respects my values, named Youssouf Fofana", the young designer said. "I worked all summer in my grandmother's cellar, in Finistère, with her sewing machine, asking my relatives for jerseys I could use.
It's a good thing, because football runs in the family's veins. As a good Argentinean, her father is a fan of football club CA River Plate, one of the giants of Buenos Aires. Maï's little sister, Luz, plays for the Paris Saint-Germain under-15s. The young seamstress made eleven corsets during her busy summer, but as a young entrepreneur she also had to "create a brand in three months, it was all done very quickly".
She found a logo, "mai:", set up an Instagram account, "madeinmai". "My friends pose for the pictures, both girls and boys, because the corsets I make are for everyone, and my boyfriend takes the photographs," she explains. But the heart of the job remains the making of the corsets. Working at her machine, Maï Jarach sews the little tubes to slide the stays in, made of "very flexible and not at all restrictive" cable ties, another ‘upcycled’ material.
In her designs, she also places the eyelets to insert the ribbon that allows one to lace the garment in the back, taking up one of the colours of the jersey, yellow for the corset in the colours of Boca Juniors, River Plate's great rival. Fortunately Maï has a white jersey with a red cartridge belt of the "Millonarios" (nickname of River Plate) that is ready for a second life. "Otherwise my father will be pissed off," she laughs.
She prefers to work with children's sizes, because "it fits my pattern better, with an adult jersey I’m left with more excess fabric". And then they are easier to sell, when they are too small for the kids, and the parents don’t use them anymore. In her collection, the young girl, who lives in Les Lilas (Seine-Saint-Denis), also has corsets in the colours of the neighbouring club Red Star, as well as those of Lyon, France, Brazil and Mexico, all of whom are competing in the upcoming World Cup. This very young designer still lives with her parents, in a former workshop converted into a very bright loft in a discreet cul-de-sac in Les Lilas, in the inner suburbs of Paris.
"It's the first time I've made money of my own," says Maï, who sells the corsets for 120 euros each. "The collaboration with Maison Château Rouge takes the pressure off me to find a point of sale," she continues, but in the future she will have to think about how to market her work, "probably through pre-orders, since my designs are unique pieces". "I don't want to be part of a mass production system," concludes Mai, remaining faithful to her ethics (AFP).
This article was originally published on FashionUnited.FR, and has been translated and edited into English by Veerle Versteeg.