A fashion brand that works on four pillars of sustainability, from design to distribution

Palem was founded by husband and wife duo Selim and Juliette Barken to create responsible and desirable collections

Supplied photo
Supplied photo

Purva Grover

Published: Sun 7 Aug 2022, 12:35 AM

Last updated: Sun 7 Aug 2022, 12:38 AM

Palem, a clothing and accessories brand, attaches great importance to using exclusively natural materials or materials derived from vegetable fibres, and therefore reducing the environmental impact while facilitating their future transformation.

With their commitment to slow fashion, they claim to listen to the world around them, especially to preserve it. Aware of the urgency to change — and that in the fashion industry every gesture counts; whether having greener manufacturing processes or social actions for the men and women who make the collections — the brand’s approach is in line with the times and evolves every day towards better solutions.

After several years of research and development in the fashion space globally, Palem was founded in 2019 by husband and wife duo Selim and Juliette Barken to create responsible and desirable collections.

In 2022, they set up shop in the UAE, with other stores located in Paris and Singapore, and with Bali to follow. Their process of selecting materials and their natural compositions is an integral part of the brand. In order to enhance the value of each product, the collections are produced in limited quantities.

Palem adopts a "0 rest" policy, which means that surplus fabrics and scraps are systematically recycled in order to maximise the approach. They also place particular emphasis on the perfect fit of the garment and the know-how of their Chinese workshops.

Juliette Barkan, Palem's Co-founder and Creative Designer, explained how the brand is creating a fashionable green impact. “Our DNA is predisposed to sustainability. We are mindful of the environmental effect of the fashion business and want to do the right thing. We restrict our effect through four pillars at Palem, all the way from design to distribution.”

The conception of the brand started with a dream by the couple, wishing to breathe life into their most precious emotion of wanderlust, with a soft and strong name, a tribute to the palm tree in Indonesia.

Hailing from a fashion education background, Juliette studied fashion at the French Fashion Institute, where a lot of her learnings on the production side of the business came from. Prior to her stint in Paris, she spent time in Spain, where she studied the commercial negotiation side of the business.

She also spent time in China to complete a fashion design course at the Marangoni Institute in 2004. Her stint in Shanghai lasted 15 years, which is also the place where the idea of Palem came to life. The company manufactures its collections in workshops in Shanghai.

“Often wrongly judged by misconceptions, China has exceptional know-how, which is too often undervalued. Originally a country with an ancestral textile tradition, China is today in the midst of an industrial, environmental and social transformation. The working conditions of Chinese workers have changed considerably over the past 10 years. The scarcity of labour now forces manufacturers to ensure good working conditions and fair remuneration for their workers. We audited and supported our factories: this includes wages, working conditions and environment, but also compulsory insurance,” added Juliette, whose role at Palem is diverse - from developing the brand concept, working on the brand DNA, communication, distribution and social network management in conjunction with the wider brand team globally.

Palem offers a shopping bag made of reusable fabric instead of plastic bags, sends orders in boxes made of recyclable paper, adopts organic cotton at the heart of its collections and favours natural materials - among other green steps.

Does not all of this make purchasing from them far more expensive from the consumer's point of view? While Juliette agrees it does, she points to other factors that more than justify the added expense.

“Yes, it is more expensive than traditional fashion, but the quality is a deciding factor in the choice. Sustainable fashion and current fashion are diametrically opposed. It's for environmentalists and ‘hippies’. Sustainable fashion has a drab image in which the options are restricted to cotton, hemp and linen. I am completely persuaded that in order to attract customers to sustainable fashion, you must remain appealing, current and trendy. This is now achievable, owing to the progress of materials and the assurances of environmental and social standards in our factories at Palem,” she explained.

Asked what the biggest obstacle is in trying to bring a change in the industry, she said: “Many firms have grabbed ‘sustainable fashion’ as a theme, a marketing tool in recent years, and there has been a lot of 'greenwashing'. It's too late to act, but it's never too late to start. However, it is now hard to dismiss the environmental effect of the fashion business.”

Juliette believes that fashion defines personalities, society and the mood of the times. It's not just clothes or accessories but a reflection of our society; and definitely a means of expression for both designers and consumers.

Throwing light on how much design can get affected when it comes to adapting sustainable routes, she added: “On the design side, the sustainable fashion approach is centred on choice of materials. Textile manufacturers have substantially expanded their offering of sustainable materials, beginning with recycled materials (polyester, silk, wool) and progressing to eco-friendly materials such as viscose."

Several years ago, the options were fairly limited and quite basic, which discouraged designers from going with this approach. But she feels there has been significant advancement towards costly materials with highly complex finishing.

“Naturally, the cost of sustainable materials is 20 to 30 per cent more, but that is part of the process. This strategy has enabled us to form connections with workshops in India that focus on natural dyeing based on plants, allowing us to explore new production techniques,” she revealed.

Palem was developed on Juliette's personal affection for travel, style and especially the ideology of endless summers. She wanted to bring a concept to life that made people feel like the summer season never really ends.

“I believe that both looking and feeling good in our clothes is important and with a blend of terracotta, ochre, ecru and eucalyptus mixed in prints and materials that are all environmentally friendly, one can achieve that,” she signed off.

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