Culture in France

The Sweat Shop of Café Couture

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A small shop by the Canal Saint Martin has recently been making a lot of noise: The Sweat Shop. However, the Sweat Shop in question has nothing in common with your regular mass producing factories with semi enslaved employees.

Singer sewing machine
Singer sewing machine Marjorie Hache

It is in fact combination of sewing and knitting classes in a beautiful vintage decorated coffee shop. Founders Sissi and Martina refer to this as “Café Couture”.

“It’s like a cyber café with sewing machines you can rent for an hour, several hours or a day, “ Sissi says of their business which offers sewing and knitting classes to adults and children.

Paris’s Sweat Shop took two months to set up with the help and collaboration of sewing machine brand Singer and wool provider Bergère de France. Shelves of wool, cotton, sewing machines and their beautifully refurbished desks not to mention the old fashioned posters and some fine woven items provide a welcoming view for those who enter the shop.

Sissi and Martina chose the name in direct reference to the real sweat shops in a bid to encourage people to stop purchasing mass produced items from outlets such as H&M which are often made in sweat shops.

Different people attend the classes although the majority of them are women aged between 20 and 45.

Agnès, who is pregnant and has been using the sewing machines to make things for her future child, explain between baby sheet stitching that she noticed the classes after walking past the pretty shop window.

"I've taken many classes and today's the second time I've come to rent a sewing machine. If I persevere, I will become a regular," she says. "It's perfect. It's what I was looking for. I wanted to start sewing and I found the ideal place to learn and practise. Plus people are nice here."

Lessons at the Sweat Shop range from 20 euros to 90 euros depending on the workshop and teacher.

For instance during our visit to the Sweat Shop, Sandrine, a stylist from Sonia Rykiel, is giving an embroidery class. "I love it here.” Sandrine gushes about the concept, “I kind of taught myself but I know not everyone can and I think it's a very good system.”

“I imagine people ranging from students to working ladies come here just to learn to be a little more personal in their style."

Sissi and Martina's sweat shop is growing in popularity and they hope to open three Sweat Shops throughout Paris in the next few year. They also hope their type of Sweat Shop will become more common "than those that can be found in China”, for example.

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