Would you believe it if I told you there was a brand that encouraged traveling, empowered women on a global scale, is entirely ethical throughout it's supply chain, has deep seated roots to a philanthropic organization, AND is the ultimate chic? Meet Kilometre Paris. Created by the sensational Alexandra Senes, whom, like her brand, is literally from everywhere. Born in Senegal, raised in New York City, and relocated yet again to Paris at the age of 17 to begin her impressive editorial career in fashion. Senes' career, much like her life, took her all over the world eventually she becoming the founder and chief editor of Jalouse Magazine. In 2016, she founded Kilometre Paris.
Kilometre has a distinct presence, initially I was captivated by the brand's uniquely embroidered tunics that could easily double as men's shirts. Each collection of Kilometre's perfect-for-summer-light-and-breezy-linen-tunics celebrates cities around the world such as: Karimabad, Pakistan; Niesko, Japan; Costa Careyes, Mexico; Jericacoara, Brazil. Subtly reminding us that we are all global citizens.
I had the unequivocal pleasure of connecting with Alexandra, and immediately, I admired her. Alexandra is a brave, multicultural female force that the world never seems to have enough of. A champion of women's rights by using a diverse portfolio of cultures for inspiration, Senes makes sure to always give credit where credit is due. In addition, Kilometre works closely with the philanthropic Zellidja Foundation, which is discussed in more detail via our interview below. Individually these achievements are impressive, but combined they are extraordinary. The traditional fashion industry hardly ever acknowledges the people that are the most in need of recognition.
This being said, Kilometre is not without attention from the most prevalent voices in the fashion industry, such as: the world renowned Vogue and the exclusive luxury clothing destination, Barney's New York.
GIVING BACK IS THE ULTIMATE CHIC + WOMEN'S EMPOWERMENT
Kelly Madera: Kilometre appears to have a team comprised of mostly women from all over the world! What do you look for when hiring, is international location a need to have or a nice to have?
Alexandra Senes: It’s not a must but I believe that it enriches the company - every person in my team has a different cultural background, different taste and different life views. This is what makes the brand so strong - everyone chips in, shares their opinion. They all bring in their ‘spice’. I always says that Kilometre is chameleon and my international team is a big reason behind that.
Kilometre unites a community of curious, adventurous, fashionable travellers. We are in the process of knitting together a global network of world explorers who have similar values: an appreciation of artisanal know-how and fair trade, discovery, and style.
KM: Talk to me more about the philanthropic efforts Kilometre is involved in. It looks like the Zellidja Foundation is the primary focus - tell me more about how you selected that organization and why it matters to the brand?
AS: I wanted to give back immediately even before the company had even earned a cent. I say that I wanted Kilometre to give back kilometres to kids. What about making a senegalese kid (since I was born there) travel to Paris ? And i thought but how am i going to pick him. Then I though a sick kid. And same question came. How am I going to pick one kid: sick, sicker then the other … Horrible choices. I looked for an association for at least 6 months. I even thought of doing my own association. I was already learning a new job as a fashion designer or conductor of a fashion company, i was not going to spend my nights to create an association. When I discovered Zellidja it was a miracle. Zellidja has been sending a hundred kids- between 17 and 20- all over the world since more then 50 years. This association is part of Fondation de France, a government acknowledge. The kids need to have a project to defend. It can be either calligraphy in Algeria, the horse in Mongolia or coffee in venezuela. We sent 4 kids abroad since we exist. One of them was from Bordeaux and left to Tokyo to study "what graphism changes in the life of a Tokyo inhabitant ». Zellidja changed his autonomy, his point of view on the world and maybe his life.
WE ARE ALL GLOBAL CITIZENS
KM: Kilometre, quite literally encourages its patrons to travel - what a fascinating concept - how did you come up with that? What inspired the brand?
AS: I was born in Dakar, and I spent my teens in Manhattan. I arrived in Paris aged 17. As a journalist for Parisian magazines, I continued to travel around the world to report on places from Beirut to Johannesburg, by way of the Siwa desert in Egypt. For me, travel is truly a way of life. In that way, Kilometre resembles me and is an extension of my personality. I could even say that Kilometre’s stories are my life stories. As a result, Kilometre was born out of my taste for adventure.
In addition, I realised that there was an emerging market for brands that mix travel and fashion. With the exception of Hermès and the brand’s distinctive universe, or Louis Vuitton’s campaigns that celebrate the wonders of travel…the fashion world doesn’t know how to talk about travel. The tourism, hospitality and airline industries are simply not fashionable, which is the opposite of what’s happening in the worlds of gastronomy or contemporary art. This gave me the extra push that I needed to start Kilometre.
COMPETITION? DOES IT EVEN MATTER?
KM: Who do you see as Kilometre’s competition in the retail market?
AS: The brand has a foot in embroidery, travel, lux and ethic segments so we have a bit of competitors everywhere. In terms of retail, I’d say Vita Kin, Mira Mikati, Astier de Villatte, Gucci, Re / Done, L’Uniform to name a few… But don’t take it too literally - I don’t think at all that we do the same thing and are selling to the same customer.
KM: Many of your quite frankly resemble priceless pieces of art in a very Elsa Schiaparelli way, how do you decide which cities to explore and utilize for design creation?
AS: My creative process is directly influenced by that which I see and feel during my travels, and when I meet new people. For inspiration, I visit the Venice and Sao Paulo biennales, or a contemporary art centre on an island in Japan. There, one finds artists from all around the world who know how to celebrate the destinations of tomorrow. I don’t keep a moodboard with clippings of images from cinema, or contemporary dance and art, because it’s the locations themselves that inspire me. There’s something about discovering those unexpected spots that lie off the beaten path. For instance, I prefer New York state’s Hudson Valley to the Hamptons - I find it to be much more up-to-date. Most of all, I love the differences between destinations, and adapting myself to very different surroundings. I feel equally at ease boating whilst drinking cheap rosé on the Canal de l’Ourcq in Pantin as I do on the private beaches of Costa Careyes rubbing shoulders with the jet-set. I embroider all of these experiences on Kilometre’s items. Typically, these embroideries are not literal representations, but a condensed version of my discoveries; like memories that I’ve held of these places. For our Hudson Valley shirt, illustrator Apolline Riser and I decided to use images of kale to represent the area. On the Pantin shirt, you’ll find the buildings that house advertising agency BETC, the 104 cultural centre, Thaddaeus Ropac Gallery, and the Cité des Métiers where Chanel and Hermès have their special order ateliers. On another shirt is an abandoned shack in Kolmanskop, a ghost town that was engulfed by the sands of the Namibian desert. And, the Niseko shirt displays the ski slopes there.
IMPACT + SOCIAL AWARENESS
KM: Does Kilometre have any certifications, or any special impact measure tools to track their environmental or social impact?
AS: We work only with fair-trade companies and small embroidery ateliers. We always continue to stick by our eco and ethic main values. Our main fabric is khadi - which is hand-woven cotton made in India. It’s really a universal fabric - it can be very sexy when transparent and not layered and very modest - when doubled. In our collection we represent both options for different kind of woman.
KM: No clothing brand can ever be perfect, but are there any improvements you have intentions of cultivating?
AS: The fact that the fashion world functions in seasons - it’s a never ending cycle, and all parties involved end up getting caught in it: designers with the necessity to produce at least 4 collections a year, and consumers with the constant need to buy-buy-buy… I want my brand to be out of “seasons”. It’s tough to carve your own way in the established system but I am trying my best to impose it, at least on my clients. And I think it’s working! Starting from July, for example, MatchesFashion will be carrying a range of our Piece Unique models that have been designed over the past 1.5 years.