Zébucq: The new natural material developed by an upcoming designer during the pandemic

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Ahead of her time, this aspiring designer from Madagascar, Loetitia Razanamarie, completed an intensive training course at the ESMOD Paris fashion school. She then went on to successfully launch a handbag collection made from Zébucq, a material she invented herself and is made from coconut tree fiber. It is a significant accomplishment at a time when all of the major fashion companies appear to be entering into a race to discover the materials of the future.

Zébucq: The new natural material developed by an upcoming designer during the pandemic
Zébucq: The new natural material developed by an upcoming designer during the pandemic

Fashion is being pushed to reinvent itself, rethinking its manufacturing processes, and using more ecologically friendly materials. Luxurious companies are responding by collaborating with start-ups or developing their own cutting-edge fabrics, such as Gucci’s Demetra, Bolt Threads’ Mylo, or the maybe more well-known Piatex from Ananas Anam. However, it was not these concerns that prompted Loetitia Razanamarie to start producing her own, no less creative, material, Zebucq, but rather a desire to stand out, to provide something new, something that piques the interest of customers, and something that is one-of-a-kind. This experience, which began in the midst of the pandemic and culminated in the creation of the accessories brand VAZANE by Lora & Zéboutin, was the consequence of a lucky mix of events. It’s a brand that clearly distinguishes itself from its competition, but it’s one that may have never seen the light of day.

From Madagascar to Strasbourg

Born and bred in Madagascar, Loetitia Razanamarie has spent much of her life there, and it is there that her artistic career began, albeit partly as an act of necessity. “I’m originally from Madagascar, which is a really impoverished nation. Throughout our youth, we primarily dressed in a thrift shop or extremely low-quality items, so I began having my clothing custom-made for important occasions such as parties or wedding rehearsal dinners. For me, it was important to be different and distinct from the crowd, so I didn’t duplicate what I saw in catalogs, but instead gave detailed directions to the seamstress based on my current mood board.” And the results were a rousing success.

Because there was no fashion design training available in Madagascar at the time, Loetitia never considered pursuing a career in the area, despite her early success in the sector. Therefore, she chose business administration courses, but she took a year off after graduation to learn to sew and further pursue her interest in sewing, which she had previously dismissed as being out of reach. The first watershed moment occurred in 2011 when Loetitia decided to relocate to France for personal reasons — specifically, to Strasbourg. Because her Madagascar credentials were not recognized in France, she spent the next five years working in the grocery business as a self-service shop employee — a position that provided her with a means of subsistence but did not really excite or inspire her.

Along came covid

It was a wedding in Paris that helped Loetitia understand that her artistic abilities may pave the path for her to achieve greater things in the future. She opted to design her own dress for the occasion, as well as customizing her shoes, which proved to be a huge success once again for her. “Perhaps there was some significance to that statement. In the meanwhile, other events in my personal life occurred that caused me to understand that, if I didn’t do something, I may come to regret it, and I didn’t want to wind up working in a job that I didn’t particularly enjoy doing. That was the spark that sparked my interest, and I decided to give it a shot.” Several unsuccessful online courses later, Loetitia decided to travel to Paris for an intense training course at ESMOD, a well-known French fashion school, where she concentrated on accessories in order to extend her abilities as much as she possibly could.

At this point, Loetitia came across handcrafted products made of raw coconut fiber, thanks to the Facebook page of her sister, who was staying in Sambava, a seaside city in Madagascar famed for its coconut farm, at the time of her discovery. “I thought it was fascinating,” says the designer, who came up with the concept of incorporating this material into items that would normally be made of leather, such as handbags or accessories. When the covid-19 epidemic struck — and consecutive lockdowns abruptly put an end to her second internship — the designer decided to take the leap and launch her own company.

However, it was by no means a hasty choice. Loetitia was able to investigate and create her novel substance during the many months of lockdown — which she is still refining today in her garage, which has been transformed into a working workshop. And only Loetitia is aware of the existence of this new substance, which is formed of coconut fiber. It also provided her with the opportunity to master the fundamentals of leather goods production while working alongside an artisan, if only to create her first prototype in Zebucq. As could be expected, the prototype was a big hit.

Coconut tree fiber: a material of the future

Developed from coconut fiber harvested near the city where Loetitia grew up, this novel material is distinguished not only by its extremely textured look but also by the fact that it can only be processed by hand. This needs information, but more importantly, skills.

“I’ve been asked why I don’t automate the manufacturing process. It is simply because it is a material that can be manipulated to reveal a variety of nuances depending on the way it is handled. My knowledge of it grows as I experiment with it and learn new techniques for creating different textures and looks. It is a material with a great deal of promise, but it can only be achieved by manual labor. My bags are extremely durable and long-lasting due to the fact that I have tailored their design to the limitations of the materials I employ “explains the designer of the VAZANE by Lora & Zéboutin collection.

While similar in appearance to leather, Zebucq is not a substitute for leather in the accessories industry. In fact, it is not even close to being a substitute for leather. “Initially, I presented it as a leather substitute, but after using it for a while, I realized that it was nothing like that. It’s actually a material in and of itself, just like we realized that raffia and bamboo were [also] wonderful for producing bags when we discovered that they were. In the end, I just discovered a material that I thought would be fascinating to employ in the production of some [traditionally] leather items. It is a unique plant-based substance in and of itself.”

Original and authentic

The founder of Lora & Zéboutin wants to be completely honest with her consumers about the fact that it was not the environmental and sustainable properties of coconut fiber that inspired her to create Zébucq in the first place. Instead, it was about something she’d been nurturing since she was a teenager: the urge to stand out and be different from the crowd. But it’s also about differentiating oneself as a designer, which isn’t easy in 2021 given the competitive landscape. “What that would stand out from the crowd was something I was looking for. We graduate from fashion schools in droves every year and I wanted something that would make me stand out among the thousands of other graduates. It was also important to me to have something that reflected my personality and stood out from the crowd. I wasn’t guided by the fact that it was made from plants, but rather by the fact that I wanted a material that was bright and textured, and that would pique people’s interest.”

Despite this, Loetitia believes that natural fibers are the future of fashion and that they will be used in the future. “I believe that these materials are the way of the future since we can see that they are taking over an increasing amount of space [inside the business]. The reason for this is simple: more and more people are becoming interested in what individuals are wearing. I appreciate that, but I don’t believe it is always appropriate to vilify leather, because it is a material that may be utilized in a correct manner in some situations. Every action has a purpose, as long as it is carried out appropriately and in accordance with one’s own personal beliefs.”

Two of the most important qualities for the designer are transparency and honesty. “I don’t necessarily talk about sustainability, despite the fact that it is important to me, but I want to be open and honest about the principles that govern my work. As a result, I relate the tale as it truly happened. Numerous others have advised me that I should place greater attention on these environmental characteristics, but I refuse to be deceived. Truthfulness and transparency are the most essential things to me in all aspects of life.”

Unique creations

Creating her distinctive material, Loetitia informs us, takes at least one week, followed by roughly two weeks spent creating a handbag from start to finish. It takes a total of three weeks to construct these models, which are created using traditional artisanal processes. “To distinguish me as a [accessories] brand with a distinct material and models, I want to use original material and provide a unique model. Because that is also the beauty of Zebucq: you may have two bags of the same color, but they will never be identified because of the way the fabric is woven.”

The bags are currently available for purchase at between €320 and €750. “These are products that have been handcrafted from a unique type of material. It is quite affordable for a product with a designer-made price point, and it is also very attractive “Loetitia Razanamarie is the author of this statement.

Recognizing the financial burden that this represents for many, the designer is developing a new collection that can be produced more swiftly and with less material. It will be offered in three different sizes, with a starting price of €180 for the smallest. There will be very little profit margin made on this product, but it has the potential to generate awareness of this new brand and its special substance. It is now up to the designer to fine-tune and polish each of her designs, to introduce additional features such as a shoulder strap, and to improve Zebucq, which is likely one of the few materials to have emerged “as a result of” and in the midst of the epidemic.