In the Parisian suburb of Villejuif, a workshop run by the French NGO Renaissance trains unemployed people – including migrants – to create luxury fashion pieces from castoff clothes and linen. It’s a transformative experience as participants embark on a journey of acquiring professional integration skills in a sustainable, eco-friendly manner.

“My dream is to sew a dress for Zinedine Zidane’s wife,” reveals Ibrahima, a 32-year-old football fan and Guinean refugee who arrived in France just two years ago. Ibrahima may be new to France, but he already has a very precise goal: to make sewing his profession. The workshop is held in Villejuif, a southern suburb of Paris. Here, Ibrahima and his colleagues are in the process of reintegrating into the workforce. Some are long-term unemployed, others are young people without degrees and still others are asylum seekers or refugees.

Founded in 2019, the NGO is subsidised by private enterprises (The Kering Group, Seqens, Apes) and it also has public funding from the French Ministry of Ecological and Solidarity Transition as well as the Ministry of Culture. The goal is to offer professional skills on sustainable, environmentally friendly practices. “The aim of these couturiers is to deconstruct clothes in order to create new models following a zero-waste approach,” says Guilet.

While some of the clothes are donated by the Aéroports de Paris (ADP) group, a majority of the pieces are from private donations. “Women who dress in designer brands give us the pieces they no longer wear,” explains Guilet, who also serves as Renaissance’s artistic director. Coming from major brands such as Sonia Rykiel, Jean-Paul Gaultier and Fendi, the designer castoffs are then used as raw material for future pieces.

For Ibrahima, who has been unemployed for several months, the training has helped to restore his self-confidence. “It was complicated for me when I arrived. But Philippe [Guilet] supported me. He explains what I have to do very well and he speaks to me softly,” says Ibrahima, who already has about a decade of experience in the fashion industry.