Loetitia Razanamarie: Alternative Leatherworking
Young fashion designer Loetitia Razanamarie has just designed her first line of handbags, Vazane, using a new material: Zébucq. A material she developed herself, from coconut fibre, used to make one-of-a-kind Made-in-France creations.
Behind the complex brand name, "Vazane by Lora & Zéboutin", hides a straightforward, pragmatic and perfectionist creator: Loetitia (pronounced Laetitia) Razanamarie. Originally from Madagascar, this young graduate from Esmod's Fashion Design and Pattern Drafting course specialised in accessories and now lives in the Strasbourg region.
Her love of fashion dates back to a very young age. Loetitia took sewing classes very early to give herself a more original look. Despite the genuine compliments she received on her creations, she opted for a classic tertiary path after high school, studying business administration and management at a private university in Madagascar.
In 2011, she moved to France, where she quickly discovered that her studies and qualifications were not recognised. Nevertheless, she worked hard for four years, accepting posts stocking shelves at huge retailers and setting her fashion dreams to one side. Loetitia got back into creating clothes almost by accident when she made her own outfit for her sister's wedding in Paris. It was a great success! And it put her back on the path of her true passion. "I’d been discouraged by the idea of becoming a fashion designer when I arrived in France," she admitted. "It seemed like such an inaccessible profession. But I didn't want to live with regrets for the rest of my life..."
Bit by bit, the option of going back to school to study fashion emerged. First, while still in Strasbourg, she signed up for an online course, which proved to be a bit of a flop. She also took drawing classes alongside her regular job. After a year, she felt ready for Paris and Esmod, with the support of her partner. "You need a good course if you want to break into a profession that seems so difficult!"
Planet Esmod: So, why did you choose Esmod?
Loetitia Razanamarie: I was 27 and already had a degree, as well as a professional career. I was won over by the options offered at Esmod for two-year intensive courses. It also worked for me in terms of the length of time. The first year is dedicated to broad, intensive studies, over 10 months. In my second year, I chose the Fashion Accessories specialisation. I’d actually already heard about Esmod in Madagascar, where the school has a good reputation. It was my first choice.
P. E.: Why did you choose to launch your brand straight after graduating?
L. R.: I was already working on this project during my studies, but I wanted to have at least two or three years of experience in a company before devoting myself to it full-time. But the pandemic brought this plan forward. After my end-of-study internship at Tammy & Benjamin, I did a second internship at Morgan, but I had to stop after two weeks because of the first lockdown in March 2020. This meant I could spend more time on research and development for Zébucq. I also took the opportunity to learn the basics of leatherworking from an artisan, in May, when lockdown was lifted. Thanks to this month of training, I was able to design my prototype and then produce the bags myself later, when I launched Vazane. I returned to my internship at Morgan in July, which was meant to last for six months. Unfortunately it was once again abruptly curtailed in November, with the second lockdown. Add in the difficulties of landing a first job in the current context, and it's pretty easy to see why I decided to launch my handbag line. I decided to turn an obstacle into an opportunity.
It's important not to settle for what you're given, but instead always try for more. And constantly experiment with new pathways.
P. E.: How did you come up with this unique material?
L. R.: I started to notice Madagascan coconut fibre towards the end of my second year at Esmod. I come from Sambava, the region with the biggest coconut plantation in Madagascar. My mother works there. It’s the environment I grew up in. My sister had been sharing articles on Facebook about local artisanal products made from coconut fibre. Of course, the products are quite crude, not processed, with very rough finishes. But I still found it an interesting avenue to consider. At Esmod, we are somewhat fixed in our options. We learn the basics of the profession, so in the Accessories specialisation we essentially use leather. So I put this idea aside at the time, to work on it further when I finished school. However, for my end-of-study internship, I sought out a young, medium-sized company that corresponded to my aspirations. I wanted to learn as much as possible that would be directly useful later... if I did launch my brand.
P. E.: Where did you do this end-of-study internship?
L. R.: At Tammy & Benjamin, a leather goods brand that matched my target market. I was there for 5 months. The creator also studied at Esmod, which helps build bonds.
P. E.: How did you go about creating your brand and developing this new material?
L. R.: I asked my mum to send me samples, which I then played with for months before I found the right formula to produce the texture I wanted.
P. E.: Can this material, Zébucq, be defined as a leather alternative?
L. R.: No, not really. First of all, it's a plant-based material. It's developed from coconut palms and only used very little, starting less than 10 years ago, even in Madagascar. In general, it's only used in a crude form, or for traditional dress and decorative objects. In any case, never or hardly ever for modern fashion accessories. I completely transformed this rough fibre. I use the underside of it, which offers a more interesting texture. My manufacturing secret lies in the finishing phase, which radically transforms this fibre. It remains textured and graphic, but also soft. Otherwise, it would be impossible to wear. I adapted my design to this new material. And I gave it a name, as it can no longer be called raw coconut fibre. My material is called Zébucq.
P. E.: What does your brand name mean?
L. R.: In Lora & Zéboutin, Lora is me, Lo for Loetitia and Ra for Razanamarie. Zéboutin is my mascot. It's a bracelet in the shape of a stylised zebu head that sometimes appears in my profile picture. The zebu is the emblem of Madagascar. My line of bags is called Vazane because in Madagascar, the word for foreign things is 'vaza' (vazaha or vazâh - editor’s note). While the material I use comes from Madagascar, it’s then transformed, and I use techniques from French leatherworking. So, it's a foreign product. It may not be very simple to explain, but it reflects my creation process.
P. E.: Which brand inspires you the most?
L. R.: I'm a huge fan of Delvaux. Their leathers are so well-worked, really astonishing and fantastic. I actually almost did an internship at this luxury leather goods company in Belgium. But their internships aren't paid like here in France. So it didn't work out. From the beginning, I've been trying to work my base material, Zébucq, with the quality of Delvaux leather in mind.
P. E.: What did you take away from your classes at Esmod?
L. R.: The Esmod working and research method helps me every day. Having discussions with other students at the school is also very important. Of course, the main thing is the technical skills you learn Not to mention the access to internships, which complement the course and are one of Esmod's key strengths.
P. E.: What advice would you give to current Esmod students?
L. R.: I would encourage them to go beyond what they're given. Curiosity is a key element of all studies. For example, I was the only one at the time to use 3D modelling for my prototypes and research. Now, it's the most practical tool for all prototypes, even at the school. In general, it's important not to settle for what you're given, but instead always try for more. And constantly experiment with new pathways.
I would also thoroughly encourage them to take an interest in the business side of fashion. Whether you have your own brand or not, in the professional world, being aware of the reality of the market is just as useful as creativity when designing a collection. I didn't realise how important it was when I was studying. You learn a lot in this area from internships as well.
P. E.: The material you’ve developed, Zébucq, is vegan, like Pinatex (made from pineapple fibre) or Muskin (from mushrooms). Is this a communication strategy that interests you?
L. R.: Yes, it is a vegan material. But I'm not vegan, I'm just in favour of exploring and discovering. I also wear leather, and I used leather for my end-of-study collection. Which is why I don’t communicate directly about the fact that this new material is vegan. I don't want to be boxed in or categorised as anti-leather. I don't believe in that argument, which often seems like greenwashing to me. I don't believe that simply buying a handbag will change the world.