Priscilla Debar is bringing eco-conscious women of color out of the shadows by spotlighting them at Faubourg, the online boutique for sustainable fashion she launched in 2017.
Debar, a black woman of West African descent, prominently features fellow fashionable women of color on her company’s site, both as models and as profile subjects on her blog. It’s an intentional effort inspired by the lack of diversity in eco-friendly spaces that she noticed as a customer.
“There’s a humongous lack of representation in an area that couldn’t be more universal,” she says, adding that everyone has a stake in Earth’s well-being. “We’re talking about the future of the planet — there shouldn’t only be one type of beauty represented” in sustainable fashion.
Her business is still in its early stages, but Debar has big plans. She declined to disclose revenue or sales figures, but reports a rotating team of six to 10 assistants, freelancers, contractors and interns — and partnerships with more than 20 other brands, some of them also run by women of color.
While eco-conscious fashion is her business’ bread and butter, Debar says she has a bolder mission: When it comes to making environmental change, “I definitely want people of color to feel they have a role to play.”
Diversity in the Sustainability Movement
Her whole life, Debar has been surrounded by strong black women — in particular, her great-grandmother, Eunice Adabunu. The matriarch was always an independent woman, Debar says, who educated herself after a teacher harassed her, then started her own fabric trading business.
That venture thrived, quickly spreading beyond its Togo roots. And Adabunu paid her success forward by teaching local women to read and count. “She was taking care of other people and dedicated to empowering women,” Debar says.
That entrepreneurial, giving spirit bloomed in other women in the family. Debar says she was lucky to “have women directly around to teach me that I can be very, very strong if I put my mind to something.”
That “something” was Faubourg, which she named after Faubourg Saint-Honoré, a street in Paris once considered outside the city limits, but now located well inside. “It’s an analogy for taking something marginal and bringing it to the center,” she says.
When she first started her company, “the [eco-conscious fashion] market was very white, and not very inclusive,” Debar says. But she wasn’t sure she “wanted to be the face of it, or what faces to use,” so at first, she focused on creating an online space that sold “the most beautiful things, with limited resources.”
But by the time she debuted Faubourg’s second line, she had found multiple ways to put women of color front and center on her site. She hired them as models for the brightly colored, artsy garments and accessories sold in her store. She also started a blog where she began telling stories of women entrepreneurs, artists and designers.
Recently, Debar launched a series — Faubourg Voices — that further elevates women through brief video profiles and accompanying written interviews. And, Debar partakes in collaborative promotional events with other minority-owned businesses that are dedicated to conscious living.
For Debar, these aren’t simply calculated business moves. Rather, “it’s about diversity — about being inclusive.”
Finding her Way to Faubourg
Debar grew up in Paris, and developed an early interest in world issues. “I really love to understand how society works, and what influence I can bring,” she says, adding that for African people in France, where immigration is a hot-button issue, politics are felt directly, and daily.
She studied American business law at Paris Nanterre University, and then moved to New York City in 2006 to study at Fordham University and work at a law firm on Wall Street. Debar also “always had one foot in creating something more artistic,” be it writing, curating video content or producing fashion events.
She got her law degree from Fordham in 2007 and began practicing, but burned out after 7 years. In 2014, she traveled to Mexico for several months to “assess my priorities,” she recalls. “My health had deteriorated, and I was extremely stressed out.” She began thinking more about the food she ate and the clothing she wore, and saw opportunities to live healthier. “I started looking for clothing with ethics I ascribe to, and the least amount of chemicals.”
But the designs she found were too simple for her tastes, and the lack of diversity among the models and sellers concerned her. Inspired to make a change, she traveled back to New York and began developing Faubourg while getting back into her law career.
She got her business off the ground in August 2017. Her efforts have been entirely bootstrapped, and brand partnerships are a mix of personal connections, referrals and relationships forged at trade shows. To keep costs low, she designed Faubourg’s site herself and used Facebook and Instagram to promote it.
But while online tools helped her get the world out, Debar says she has gotten the most traction with customers offline at pop-up markets and other events. Many of them are collaborations with other minority women business owners that allow “direct connection, and create community and experience,” she says.
Mompreneurship and the Future
In addition to running a growing business, Debar is also mother to a 2-year-old daughter. “It’s the most challenging aspect of what I’m doing,” she says, an issue compounded by the fact that most of her extended family is still an ocean away.
Though she and her husband are raising her together, she has learned firsthand that “it truly takes a village” to raise a child. She recommends other mompreneurs “figure out logistically who is going to help you, because you’re going to need it.”
But her child is also her inspiration. “When doing all of this, I remember that I’m doing it for my daughter,” Debar says. She hopes one day her daughter will “be inspired by it.”
And there is much that she hopes to accomplish with Faubourg. She is planning more in-person events in New York City designed to “bridge the gap between art and fashion in different communities.” She also wants to grow globally by collaborating with designers in Europe, Africa and Latin America, some of whom will debut on her site this summer.
Beyond growing her venture, Debar wants to encourage people to think more carefully about what they wear. She hopes customers will “get into the habit of asking questions” — like the ones about diversity in the sustainability movement that led her to launch Faubourg in the first place.