INTERVIEW BY Jaja Hargreaves  



Jaja Hargreaves speaks to Ramdane Touhami


You grew up in the South of France, moved to Paris at a young age, lived in Morocco, New York and now Tokyo. You’re a French-Moroccan entrepreneur who has been active all over the world. Why are you so interested in diversity and how important is it for you to understand the context of a new country?

I’m just extremely curious. I’ll be honest with you. I had a terrible childhood: the first time I went to the cinema I was 19 years old and the first time I experienced a holiday and saw the sea I was 18 years old. My family is very working class. I grew up with an insatiable appetite for the new and was always incredibly inquisitive so when the chance came to see more of the world, I embraced it. It’s actually funny how things work out. I’m answering all these questions in English but I still remember being 22 and only being able to speak French. I learnt the English language in the space of two years! Today, I conduct my business in 5 different languages. But to answer your question, I’d say that basically curiosity is what drives me. I love to see new places and im- merse myself in their culture. Diversity is knowledge.

You seem to be very open to ideas from all over the world and the world has given you a lesson in lifestyle but what are the codes of belonging in your opinion?

I’m a real sponge but I try not to look at images and concepts developed by other people. Many of my inspirations are historical. I like to spend a lot of time in mysterious public libraries all over the world. The ones people don’t know about. They’re my secret. I also spend a lot of time ex- ploring weird markets. I’d say that in our day and age, we don’t belong to one particular place. Well, I certainly don’t. With the Internet and modern technology there are fewer barriers. You can belong everywhere or nowhere! I don’t want to be labeled French or Moroccan and I like to acquire characteristics from lots of place. I’ve adopted the way Japanese people are super meticulous, I swear like a real Frenchman, I speak loudly and enthusiastically like Mediterranean people... the list goes on. I can’t stand monotony and routine and I sometimes think that being “French” all the time is hideously boring!

We should all be able to engage in a particular culture for a few years before experiencing a new one.

Do you believe in culture over politics?

I actually believe in politics over culture. I genuinely think that politics can change the world. The only problem is that international politics are currently controlled by idiotic people. Intelligent people with the capacity to actually make a real difference all seem to be active in the creative industries or work in the business sector.

Do you have an optimistic view of the world?

I have a realistic view of the world. You only have to read the papers every day to understand that optimism is not a currency today.

I remember discussing politics with you in London. I was telling you that Brexit would happen and that Trump would definitely be elected. You were horrified and so was a friend of mine who worked for the Obama administration. Both of you believed it was impossible. What is happening in the world today is history in the making and if you look at the past, history is not always “cute”!

You have three children. How do you think growing up today differs to when we were young?

My kids are growing up in a drastically different way to me. From any angle you look at it, it’s the opposite of what I experienced as a child and teenager. My kids are global bourgeoisie. They all speak three different languages fluently and have already lived in half a dozen countries. Modern technology is part of their education and is something that happens organically. They already understand it better than we do. I remember a guy coming into my office in 2002 telling me we would soon have wireless Internet. It made me laugh, I thought it was the most absurd thing I’d every heard. We’re now in 2017 and what would we do without WiFi?

To become a great businessman you need to have good instinct. How does that in- stinct manifest itself in your life? How do new ideas to come to you?

The process of an idea is complicated but curiosity, work and instinct are all elements that mesh together naturally and represent the foundation of an idea.Over the years, I’ve noticed that I always stick with the first idea I develop. It’s extremely rare that I’ll change it to something else. I seem to come up with ideas in the morning while I shower or while I sleep. I actually dream about new ideas and developments which means I sometimes wake up super tired! But to be honest, I’m lucky to be doing what I love. It’s not really working. I’m living the dream and my eyes are wide open.

Geopolitical risk is rising. What does that mean for your company, Buly?

As we say in France: “Don’t put all your eggs in the same basket”. But Buly is a global company and trust me, people will always buy soap.

With globalisation, luxury has become increasingly accessible. Do you believe in adapting to the masses or are you driven by the idea of real exclusivity?

Accessible? I really don’t think so. For the exclusive few, yes, but for the majority of people luxury is something unattainable. The big luxury conglomerates create images seen by everyone but what they are selling can only be purchased by a select “lucky” few. This creates the enormous frustration that has led to fast fashion. Fast fashion is the opium of the masses and a system that is hurting our planet and mother nature. It’s a vicious circle. If the big luxury companies didn’t have so much exposure there wouldn’t be the need to satisfy the envy of many by creating cheap copies. And what is luxury? I don’t really know. At Buly, we focus on good quality products and do not think in terms of “luxury”. I mean, let’s stay humble here, we’re selling soaps...

Is money important to you?

It was. A long time ago. But today, I can categorically say that the answer to your question is “no”.

You have a strong background in fashion. Do you think that true new fashion is still possible?

I think that fashion, since the end of the Second World War, is all about constantly reminiscing and rehashing the same things. Fashion is just a “reminiscence business”.