Meet Emilie the berlin-based designer behind PAPESSE APPAREL, a brand of vibrant & genderless clothing with a focus on leggings. Using her skills as a graphic designer to create her collections, Emilie imagines each piece with a mood and state of mind, always operating sustainably. Dedicated to dressing up in joyful & comfortable clothes, Emilie wants people to feel empowered while wearing her pieces. It’s her own way to fight against gender stereotypes, and while doing so she also supports charities helping womxn victims of abuse. We spoke with Emilie to know more about her inspiring brand. Immerse yourself into the colorful world of PAPESSE APPAREL.
Hi Emilie! You recently launched your own clothing brand PAPESSE APPAREL with a focus on leggings. Tell us who and for whom is PAPESSE ? Hi Lætitia! Thank you for offering me this space to talk about my project! PAPESSE APPAREL is a Berlin-based brand dedicated to fun and comfort. I create bold and colourful genderless pieces with a focus on leggings. I see each of my designs as having a character, a story. I put a lot of love in the whole process, from the design to the production to the packaging. Papesse is, in French, the feminine form of the word pape (pope). It is now used in a secular way to refer to a womxn leader. It was created for a woman of legend born in the 9th century in Mainz. She didn’t want to bear the weight of patriarchy and wanted access to education, so she took on a male identity, in order to escape a bleak destiny. According to the legend, this woman’s path eventually led her all the way to the Vatican, where she became the first (secretly) female pope. Papesse is a word which encompasses determination, strength, confidence and audacity, as well as fighting against gender roles. PAPESSE APPAREL is for everyone who wishes to embody these qualities, be playful with their outfits, show their creative sides and consume ethically made products.
You told me that initially you were a graphic designer. Can you tell us a bit more about your journey in the fashion industry and how you decided to start a leggings brand? It all came up very naturally. I’ve been wearing almost exclusively leggings for a few years now, and at some point I wanted to find and wear specific designs which I had in mind and which didn’t exist. So I started to make them for myself. It happened that I had a lot of enjoyment doing this and then I started getting positive feedback from my surroundings, as well as people I was just crossing in the street. This was the spark that made me think that I should give it a go. I don’t see the creation of this business as a shift away from my graphic design path, it’s more like an evolution. I use my knowledge acquired as a graphic designer, as well as continually developing new skills. It’s a great feeling to keep learning and be able to adjust your activity according to new desires.
I love your motto “Dress comfy, YES. Dress boring, NO.”. Your clothes are quite colourful, not exactly the typical Berlin style which is usually…quite dark & uniform. What inspires you for your designs? Yeah it’s true that Berlin is infamous for its dark outfits, but believe it or not, I got into Berghain (which is known to be the temple of black clothing) whilst wearing one of my leggings! (It was HAPPY). Jokes aside, you see a lot of people wearing bold patterns and bright colours, there’s space for this kind of alternative. I find the « where does one’s inspiration come from » question quite tricky to answer in just a few sentences as it is a very complex process. I can’t answer in an absolute way, but about the designs I’ve released so far, I’ve created them thinking of moods and states of mind. Like when I am in this particular state of mind, what do I feel like surrounding myself with? And this is how I combine shapes and colours resulting in a range of combinations which go from something very soft and diffused to a more stiff and rigid image. It was like if I was creating a pop band with each member having a very defined personality. For the 2 designs I’ll be releasing next, I’ve chosen to pay homage to dating apps for which I have a big passion and fascination. But even with this topic which highlights many serious aspects of how our society is evolving, I’ve still chosen to tackle it from a playful angle.
I just find it weird to label a piece of garment as « made for women » or « made for men ». If you wear something and feel good in it, that’s it, it’s for you.
The clothes you create are genderless, why was that essential for you? Beyond fun and comfortable, it is very important to me to create genderless items. For me, making clothes which are not assigned to any specific gender is part of the fight against patriarchy, toxic-masculinity and is a tool to bend and question gender-roles. And on a personal level, I just find it weird to label a piece of garment as « made for women » or « made for men ». If you wear something and feel good in it, that’s it, it’s for you.
I want my business relationships to be as strong and trustworthy as my personal ones, otherwise I just wouldn’t go for it.
You put a lot of importance on where your products come from and where your clothes are produced. In an industry that is in many aspects unethical, how do you manage to pursue sustainable values and techniques? Yes it was indeed important to me to create sweatshop-free products. Also, I’ve been able to find a fabric which is composed of 85% recycled material. I spent a lot of time researching the best partners for me. I have done many tests all across Europe in order to source my partners. My conditions were: to produce in the EU and to reach a great level of quality. I use a lot of bright colours, in gradient or colour blocks, so the printing had to be top notch. I wanted to create durable clothing which doesn’t sag, doesn’t lose colour and has strong seams. On top of that, I endeavour to work with people with whom I get along. At the end of the day it’s also a human adventure. When I started this quest, I had no clue about how hard it would be to gather all these elements in a pair of leggings. But now I’ve developed a whole smooth process working with small factories in Latvia.
You created a matching set called FREEDOM. Tell us more about that collection and the inspiration behind it ? It all started with me meeting Julim Rosa, introduced by a common friend. As we were talking about how we were dealing with this endless craze and sharing some tips about how not to lose our minds, it very quickly became obvious that we should team up to make some leggings. The matching FREEDOM set was created as an answer to the daily frustrations and restrictions we are facing. We wanted to create something beautiful out of the shit waves we were going through and then be able to share it with the world. Something that feels liberating, strong and based on positive energy. Julim is a talented queer tattoo artist who puts her ink and soul into her creations and has created an exclusive design for PAPESSE APPAREL. I loved working with her as she’s not only a great professional but also a wonderful person. And this is the kind of bond I’m interested in. I want my business relationships to be as strong and trustworthy as my personal ones, otherwise I just wouldn’t go for it.
All my pieces have a little secret message written in the waistband. It’s just for you, to remind you that you’ve got this, to rock the day or to make you smile.
How do you want people to feel when wearing your leggings? Empowered! And I want people to have have fun wearing PAPESSE APPAREL clothing, embrace it as a statement piece, style them in their own way. I also want people to feel comfortable, able to move around, to run, to stretch, to dance, to bend, to show off or just to chill. All my pieces have a little secret message written in the waistband. It’s just for you, to remind you that you’ve got this, to rock the day or to make you smile. I also hope that when someone chooses to get an item produced by an ethical independent brand they also enjoy supporting freelancers and wearing something which hasn’t been produced in a sweatshop. Sometimes I’m told that my leggings look great, but that they are pricey compared to other leggings available on the market. Well, this is what happens when your products (not just clothing) are made ethically. If there were no more sweatshops, you couldn’t get T-shirts for 10€ anymore.
You have a collection of “scrunchies” aiming to help women victims of domestic violence. Tell us more about that initiative. I also wanted to use my brand as a platform for contributing to organisations who help womxn who are victims of abuse. So I’ve created scrunchies which match my leggings. They are made pro-bono and the profits go to the Berlin-based association Papatya which helps womxn who are victims of forced marriage as well as LGBTQ+ people who are threatened by their families because of who they are. So when you get one, not only do you look fabulous from head to toe, but you give to a great cause. In the future, I would love to be able to create more projects like this one.
What has been the most challenging for you since you started your project? I was ready to launch my business right at the beginning of the pandemic, which was a massive bummer. Of course what has been the most challenging so far is this strange period of time. It makes everything harder. Even something like organising a simple product shoot becomes a complicated thing. The pandemic is the reason why I’m in so many of my pictures! So yeah, the hardest part since I’ve started the project is definitely the lockdowns, not being able to easily meet people, organise events…
The pandemic has severely affected the fashion world, how do you cope with this strange situation? Well, as I said, I launched my brand at the beginning of the pandemic and didn’t have much contact with the fashion world before. So I can’t really say that I’m adapting, but rather that everything that I learn and do is coloured by the pandemic.
What’s next for you and what are you looking forward to? Of course, like everyone, I’m looking forward to the end of the pandemic! And to be able to meet IRL again, for the stores to re-open, to organise meetings and fun events… Apart from the end of the pandemic, I’m also looking forward to developing more projects like the scrunchies one. I also loved doing the collab, this is also something I would love to do again.
I also hope that when someone chooses to get an item produced by an ethical independent brand they also enjoy supporting freelancers and wearing something which hasn’t been produced in a sweatshop.