Purveyors of beautiful and sustainable sleepwear, co-owners RENAE JAMES and NICOLE KELLY of Papinelle are dressing women around the world in their luxurious fabrics. From humble beginnings in the Paddington Markets, Sydney, the brand is making waves globally, all while staying true to its core ethical values. MADDIE IRVINE caught up with the two women behind the label to learn more about Papinelle Sleepwear’s journey.
NEWMARKET. Papinelle Sleepwear began in 2003 and has since evolved into an internationally recognised sleepwear brand, worn by women all around the world. Could you tell us a little bit about the brand’s journey?
RENAE. I started Papinelle at Paddington Markets with a series of floral, feminine sleepwear. Two years later, I opened the Papinelle store on Oxford Street in 2005, where it still proudly stands. Nicki and I met back in 2004 in New York and quickly became friends. Nicki at the time was living in the US, with her own successful sleepwear brand, and I was building Papinelle in Australia. In 2015 we joined forces and now work in partnership bringing different skillsets to the design process and together have built the brand to become the name that it is.
N. How would you describe the Papinelle woman?
R. She is definitely self-assured, discerning in taste and unwilling to compromise on the small things that make her feel good. The Papinelle girl values her downtime as an essential part of who she is and loves the ritual of relaxation.
N. Papinelle uses pure silks and organic cottons with over 80% of the collections derived from natural and ethically sourced fibres. Can you tell us about how and why you source these fabrications, and why consumers should be aware of this when purchasing?
R. As a company we are committed to ensuring we operate in an environmentally responsible way. We are far from perfect, but we really care! We believe that every small bit helps, and we are actively taking steps to increase sustainability and reduce our footprint both behind the scenes in sourcing and manufacturing, as well as what our customers take home. Our aim is to source beautiful, sustainable fabrics that are the premium quality our customers expect. Every decision we make, we consider the impact on the environment. Some of our initiatives include reducing our plastic consumption by up to 70% by not individually bagging our garments coming from our factory. We are proud to say that more than 80% of our collection is made from natural fibres and if not, we aim to source recycled man-made alternatives. We also source organic cotton and pure silk along with using RPET made from recycled plastic bottles. We aim to engage in low waste practices, with careful management of materials. Much of our surplus fabrics and trims are utilised into new designs such as our knickers and eye masks.
N. You opened your beautiful Newmarket store on Teed Street in 2018 offering customers a calming and boutique shopping experience. What led you to open a store in New Zealand, and in particular Newmarket?
NICKI . My family moved to New Zealand after living in the US and when Renae and I started working together it was only natural that we wanted Aucklanders to get the full Papinelle experience. Being the premier fashion precinct, Newmarket was our first choice. We also loved the idea of our first NZ store being on an outdoor strip as it was in Paddington, Sydney.
N. Consumers are becoming more invested in a brand’s story and the values they hold in relation to sustainability. What are some of the biggest challenges you have and continue to face in maintaining a sustainable and ethically focused fashion brand?
N. Rather than being a challenge we truly feel like we are on a journey. By now, all brands should be taking steps to a more sustainable, ethical future and we are fully committed to moving in this direction. From an ethical standpoint we feel a moral obligation to the people who make our garments. Adequate wages, healthy working hours, a safe hygienic workplace, protection of the environment, prohibition of forced labour and elimination of child labour are all vital to our social responsibility. We have worked continuously and closely with our main supplier in China for over 15 years. Long- lasting supplier relationships are as important to the company as the sourcing of sustainably produced natural fabrics for our sleepwear.
N. What are your biggest sources of inspiration when designing?
R. Nicki and I both specialise in different areas that complement each other perfectly. I am inspired by beautiful feminine prints and Nicki loves elevated basics and loungewear. We both love fashion without being victims and we both love France, so we love to add a French flair to everything we do.
N. Alongside sleepwear and loungewear, Papinelle stocks a range of gifts, cosmetics and wellness products from various brands. How have you integrated these in with your own brand and what do you look for when choosing new brands to stock?
R & N. We aim to curate a selection of tried and tested products that will give you the best nights sleep of your life! We have sleep candles, relaxing teas, books with relaxation tips, incense, silk pillowcases (which you’ll never go back from once you try!) and sleep masks. Basically, if we think it can make us have a better sleep experience, we want to share it with our customers.
N. Forbes Magazine mentioned you as “One of the 32 female-led consumer brands you need to know” writing that Papinelle is “sought after by top-level retail, media and celebrities worldwide”. What does this kind of media coverage mean to you personally and for your business?
R. This was a ‘mic drop’ moment for us. We had to pinch ourselves when such a reputable US magazine published this about our brand. In saying that though, it’s all true and it didn’t come without a lot of hard work, so it felt amazing to have that esteemed recognition.
N. COVID has meant many of us are spending a lot more time at home, which has seen a huge increase in the popularity of loungewear and has changed the way people are shopping. What consumer trends have emerged in the past year as a result of COVID and how have you adapted to these?
R & N. As you say, with people spending a lot more time at home, loungewear and sleepwear has become an essential part of people’s wardrobes. Once you own our comfy knit loungewear or luxe silk PJ’s, it’s hard to wear anything else. COVID has just exposed what we were already doing well to a new audience who may not previously have considered investing in good sleepwear.
N. Papinelle has a strong social media presence, which in this digital age, is a useful tool to create
a sense of community with customers as well as driving e-commerce sales. How has the rise in social media changed the way Papinelle operates?
R & N. Social media allows our customers to get a glimpse inside our stores or of our sleepwear worn at home. And as you mentioned, it also allows us to create a sense of community and our customers can share with us how they love wearing our garments. We use social media as an extension of our website and our stores to make the buying experience as informed and as easy as possible.
N . If you had to choose just one, which is your favourite Papinelle collection?
R. Right now for me, it’s our Modal Kate PJ’s (I love the floral printed ones) that are soft, warm and stretchy. I’m living in the crossover fluffy slippers too. N. Because it’s getting cold in NZ, I’m living in the waffle knit loungewear.
N. If you could sit down for dinner with any three people in the world, who would it be and why?
N. I really enjoy my podcasts and have been listening to Seth Godin & Tim Ferris for years now so a dinner with them would be amazing. Totally obsessed by the TV series Sucession so I would invite Bryan Cox along for some fireworks. I’d have to add one extra so one of my besties, Kym, as a wing lady.
N. What are three self-care practices that you cannot live without?
R. For me, my wellness bucket is full when I balance a clean, healthy diet with family time, work, and relaxation. I love a massage or a facial, so I try and take time out for these, too. I also always make sure to take the time to read before going to bed – it’s my way of switching off and being completely focused on one thing. N. Beach time, I’m solar powered so seek the sun wherever I go.
N. What’s in store for Papinelle in 2021, and beyond?
R & N. We are super excited about 2021, our brand is experiencing amazing growth and we are excited about what this has in store
for us. We are working on some exciting collaborations; we have a beautiful Summer collection launching in August and our brand is continuing its rise in the US. Most importantly though, we want to make sure we continue with our mission which is ethically producing the most beautiful sleepwear in the world.
2 Teed Street | papinelle.co.nz