France’s Unofficial Minister for Fashion Isn’t Afraid of a Redesign

In France, the place trend is taken into account half of the patrimony and first women have been front-row regulars (and supermodels), the federal government has lengthy handled the trade with child gloves. Then, in 2017, Brune Poirson arrived.

“In the beginning, everybody thought I was crazy,” mentioned Ms. Poirson, who’s formally one of three secretaries of state to the minister for the ecological and inclusive transition and, unofficially, France’s de facto minister for trend.

Both a champion of the trade and its uncommon critic, Ms. Poirson, 37, is taking part in a function in negotiations relating to President Trump’s threats to impose tariffs on purses and different luxurious items, often known as the “handbag war.” Last 12 months, she additionally spearheaded wide-ranging laws that included banning manufacturers from destroying an estimated 630 million euros (or $700 million) of unsold items yearly, a frequent follow within the trade. Prime Minister Édouard Philippe has mentioned France could be the primary to formally undertake this measure.

“When you’re a young woman in government — or in general, in life — and you decide to tackle a topic like fashion, everybody goes after you,” she mentioned in an interview. “It’s nearly the tip of your fame. If I had been actually a politician, I’d have taken nuclear vitality or one thing. But I believe there’s extra to do within the subject of trend. I know we have to do one thing about it.”

It is, in any case, France’s second-most worthwhile sector, value an estimated €150 billion. (The first is aeronautics.)

And Ms. Poirson isn’t your typical French politician.

“Brune Poirson has a very important mission for the government and for France,” mentioned Pascal Morand, govt president of the Fédération de la Haute Couture et de la Mode, the trade group for French trend. “She considers that fashion is essential and should be exemplary, and she brings conviction and determination to promoting the circular economy.”

Seated earlier than a espresso desk in a nook of a grand however sparsely furnished ministry workplace on the boulevard St.-Germain, early within the night of one more lengthy day of transport strikes, Ms. Poirson made no secret of her impatience with a sclerotic French system of government and business, or the way things have functioned for years (and even centuries).

“We need to change the way we work,” she said in polished English. “In politics, what’s terrible is that things take time not because it’s difficult, but because people are unwilling to change things for petty reasons. It looks good on TV for a week if you can say you implemented something 10 years after it was planned. It’s completely depressing. So sometimes, if you want to change things, you can’t rely too much on politics.”

The pact is not legally binding and was decried by critics as toothless because it lets signatories pick and choose guidelines rather than setting goals, and sidestepped the problem of overconsumption. “Well, it’s the French way of approaching things,” Ms. Poirson said, with the faintest hint of exasperation.

Ms. Poirson has no truck with some luxury brands’ argument that they represent only a tiny fraction of the fashion sector. “That’s like France pointing the finger at China as the bigger polluter,” she said. “I refuse to hear that argument. Everyone should work to maximum capacities to find a solution to climate change. ”She was born in 1982 in Washington, D.C. to French parents — her father worked for the World Bank; her mother restored paintings — and the family returned to France before she could walk. She and her two younger brothers grew up in Apt, in the Vaucluse, part of the then-grittier, pre-Peter Mayle Luberon region in Provence.

She knew from childhood that she wanted to work in the public sphere. But, unlike most French politicians, Ms. Poirson is not an énarque, as graduates of the École Nationale d’Administration, the primary vivarium for French political life, are known.

“I wanted to do the exact opposite of E.N.A. It was a project,” she said. “My roots are really strong. I know exactly where I’m from. It gives you a lot of strength to go anywhere else, anywhere in the world. And I went with the intention of coming back, always.”

That path led to the London School of Economics; Laos — where she spent a year working on education, particularly of young girls, among the Hmong ethnic minority; and, by 2008, New Delhi, where she worked in the public and private sectors, for the Indian cabinet minister Satyan Pitroda and the French company Veolia.

In 2016, she studied political science and sustainability at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, but the combination of the American and French presidential campaigns, Brexit and new motherhood brought her back to France to run for office.

“People often say that when you have a family, you just want to protect them,” she said. “For me, it was the opposite, in a way. I had a daughter, so I had to work twice as hard.”

She ran for local office in the Vaucluse area and used a grass roots campaign to beat the far-right candidate Marion Maréchal Le Pen (niece of Marine Le Pen, leader of the National Front and Mr. Macron’s former opponent). Within 48 hours, Mr. Philippe, the prime minister, invited her to join the government.

Ms. Poirson said her next steps are “not necessarily legislation, but keeping the fight on sustainable fashion.” She said she would like to establish a fund for innovative fashion brands working to change the production system, though has few specifics.

Her position on handbags getting swept up in a possible trade war? “Getting into logistics of commercial sanctions will only create losers,” she said. “Commercial conflicts are just a source of uncertainty and weigh down global growth.”

And she wants to revive sectors like France’s lace industry now hanging by a thread.

“I want to go back to the areas in France with a strong textile history and see how we can actually return to local production,” she said. “I believe in path dependency — when a place is good at one thing, I think you can really rebuild on that.”

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