Augustine Level and ethical swimwear
When you have your own brand, it’s always a love affair. For Augustine Level, it all began with her love of beaches. The world’s most beautiful, if possible!
“Oïana Island is my first brand. I launched the ‘Escale à Tahiti’ collection last spring. Naturally I started working on it the year before, and launched last March... Just when lockdown came into force, actually.” Potentially tricky timing, but so far she has pulled it all off brilliantly.
After obtaining a BTS diploma in visual communication, she began taking evening classes at Esmod in 2012. This introduction to the fashion world helped confirm that this was really what she dreamed of doing. She only began studying full time at the school in 2013, with an intensive course in Fashion Design and Pattern-Making, and then a third year to finish her degree. Augustine graduated from Esmod in 2015.
After her final internship at Sessun, in the south of France, she set off for the United States: “I wanted to improve my English, which is a must in the fashion world. I started off in New York and then travelled around a bit.”
Back home in France, she worked for Marc Jacobs, helping to organise the showroom during fashion week. Initially a temporary job that was extended for 3 years. She had a similar one-year experience at Loewe. Close contact with the clothes brought to light her true love of design. “It was really a personal calling, since none of my friends or family work in fashion.”
Planet Esmod: Why you start with swimsuits?
Augustine Level: It was always a piece that inspired me. I've always lived in the south, and spent all my summers on the Mediterranean coast. So swimsuits are something I know all about. It's a meticulous little piece, which is a good match for what I like most, in fact. It's like an accessory, and more than that it conjures up the beach, holidays, the stuff of dreams.
It's light, too, not only to wear, but also in terms of purchasing materials and stocks. It's doesn't require such a heavy financial investment as a complete ready-to-wear collection.”
P. E.: Does that mean you would like to create a more complete collection later?
A. L.: Yes, of course. I'm raring to go. I'd like to start off with a sweatshirt and a few other accessories this winter.
P. E.: Why "Oïana Island"? Where does the name come from?
A. L.: During a trip to Hawaii, I met a little girl on the beach. She came up to me and gave me some shells, and I became friends with her Hawaiian family. Her name was Oiäna.
P. E.: How have things been working out business-wise?
A. L.: I was a bit worried at first, of course, because everything came to a standstill in March 2020. But now the stock is totally sold out! True, there wasn't much, but I was surprised even so. Overall I've been lucky to work with a French workshop in Nice, which means I can start off with reasonably small quantities. Everything was sold with the help of the social networks in the end. They’re my only shop window, along with my website. I was less lucky with the trade fairs I went to in Cassis and Saint Tropez, as most of the orders received there were later cancelled.
P. E.: What was the theme of this first collection?
A. L.: I was inspired by my first trip to Polynesia. I designed a print in lagoon colours, then decorated my designs with precise details linked to Tahitian nature. There are also some crocheted insets, which are full of meticulous details.
P. E.: What is the outlook behind your brand more generally?
A. L.: I focused on three aspects: ‘Made In France’; a global environmentally-friendly approach, and a good dose of ‘Mix and Match’ styles. So all my swimsuits are reversible. You buy one model, but you can wear two different swimsuits. I even have a four-in-one swimsuit! It's a model you can turn inside out to change colours, but you can also wear it back to front or unlace it as you please. Plus, all the materials and stitching in the Oïana Island brand, as well as the cotton details on the crochet elements and labels have Oeko-Tex Standard 100 certification. Each fabric is guaranteed toxin-free for the body and environment. I also like the idea that my swimsuits leave no marks on your body. More often than not, swimsuits have elastic and seams that are too tight. Not mine! Lastly, the swimsuits are sold in pouches made from recycled sail canvas. Each pouch is unique.
P. E.: Can you see yourself designing two collections a year? Aren't things a bit quiet for swimsuits in winter?
A. L.: Yes, but that means I can focus on the finances. And work on the next phase, too: that's to say, the collection that will be going on sale next spring. I’m doing everything on my own for the moment, so the periods that are supposed to be quiet aren't really very quiet…
P. E.: What did you learn during your time at Esmod?
A. L.: The courses most of all developed my feeling for fashion. They also helped me work on the details. The trend conferences were also a lot of help. Plus, I didn't know anything about couture, so it developed my eye for design. My way of seeing things completely changed. Esmod also taught me to be meticulous. Now I try to be as organised as possible at every level, from design to production, as well as all the commercial and financial aspects. For me, the school's strength is its rigour.
P. E.: What advice would you give current Esmod students?
A. L.: You have to stay positive and believe in your project. The competition is tough, so you have to be tenacious and hang in there. When you start out, you often come second to the big brands, and people don't do you any favours. You have to earn the trust of manufacturers, suppliers, etc. Don't be afraid to go and knock on doors. And never think anything is finished. There is always something left to do!
All in all, you need a fair amount of tenacity, to love what you're doing because it's ongoing. That is what is so great about fashion, in fact: it never stops. Even on holiday. Especially when you design swimsuits...