Say “no” fast & explain why: One ofour main mistakes was that we did not say “no”, when necessary, to marketing contacts, manufacturers, platforms, media etc. We both come from a culture where saying “no” is very taboo and it was a difficult hurdle to overcome. We now see that declining an offer still gives a great learning experience as well as doing both parties a favor.
As part of my series about young people who are making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Nour Mejri & Hassen Khrouf.
Nour hails from strategy consultancy while Hassen from finance. Both have built reputable careers in fast-paced and high-pressure industries in Paris, their second home for the past 10 years, where culture, sophistication, and art continue to inspire them.
The story of Metropolitans Paris began in 2012 when the founders decided to pack only their essentials and wander around the world, collecting unique stories and items along the way. To fully immerse in the local culture wherever we went, they chose to live with the locals, eat like the locals, and move with the locals.
Throughout their journey they discovered the value of minimalism, of quality over quantity, and that the things that truly last go beyond material possessions. They decided to translate their memories from beautiful photographs to beautiful products that would remind them of where they’ve been and be carried with them on their next adventures.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you tell us a bit how you grew up?
Both Nour and Hassen were raised in Tunisia, where luxury leather goods have been produced by artists in the old-village Al-Medina for centuries. Our exposure to craftsmanship and seeing female masters at work at a young age ignited in us a deep appreciation for leather goods that are ethically and well crafted. Founding a leather goods brand seemed the next natural step to celebrate our heritage as well as to keep a piece of local culture from countries we’ve visited alive.
You are currently leading an organization that aims to make a social impact. Can you tell us a bit about what you and your organization are trying to change in our world today?
The story of Metropolitans Paris began in 2012 when we decided to pack only our essentials and wander around the world, collecting unique stories and items along the way. To fully immerse in the local culture wherever we went, they chose to live with the locals, eat like the locals, and move with the locals. Authenticity was very important to us.
Throughout our journey we discovered the value of experience, minimalism, of quality over quantity. So we decided to translate our memories from beautiful photographs to beautiful products that would not only remind us of where we’ve been but that would also last for a long time.
The brand was born out of three core values: Travel, Authenticity, and Sustainability. We desired to bring a piece of the world to the busy lives of urbanites to encourage them to dream beyond their city environment. Every handcrafted leather good, every color, every texture was authentically inspired by a unique memory from our 8 magical years of travel around the world. Travel is one of the few things in life that truly nurture the soul and enhances one’s perspectives.
Sustainability for us means quality and being ethical to the environment and its people. We believe in quality goods that can last for years and become part of future journeys, be them travels within the city, weekend trips, or to a far-flung location. On the environmental front, we’ve also offset all shipping incurred throughout the business and our leathers are certified byproducts of the local meat industry. On the social front, we work with underprivileged female talent to preserve craftsmanship skills and local culture. Ethics first.
Can you tell us the backstory about what inspired you to originally feel passionate about this cause?
We love traveling more than anything in the world. For 8 magical years we visited 20 countries, discovered breathtaking landscapes, and met so many interesting characters. Travelling nurtures the soul, expands one’s views about the world, its people, and life. It is a gift everyone should be able to experience at least once in their lifetime. Sadly not everyone is able to and we met several families that lived humbly during our travels, which is why we thought of an affordable way to still help some people dream about far-flung locations. Traveling also helped us realize how fragile everything is. Places, monuments, nature and even people will change over time (sometimes not for the better), which is why it’s important to do things sustainably and find ways to preserve the local culture. This is what Metropolitans Paris is all about. We feel like these are the real things that matter. It’s much more than simply making products.
Many of us have ideas, dreams, and passions, but never manifest it. They don’t get up and just do it. But you did. Was there an “Aha Moment” that made you decide that you were actually going to step up and do it? What was that final trigger?
France underwent a national lockdown during Spring of 2020 that lasted almost 2 months. During this confinement, we were both working in a fast-paced and high-workload environment. Despite enjoying our work in our respective industries, we were longing for something more. As avid travelers, we were also missing the experience of travel, of interacting with people from different backgrounds. That was our Aha moment: missing something that we took for granted and now we wanted to share with the world the magic of travel by inspiring them via minimalist and high quality product with a hint of cultural element.
Many young people don’t know the steps to take to start a new organization. But you did. What are some of the things or steps you took to get your project started?
We both come from the corporate world where we joined well established companies. This taught us to be organized and resilient, to efficiently manage our finances, and to have a political view of actions. Some of the steps we took before launching the project were developing our vision and identifying trustworthy partners, designers and craftsmen (do not underestimate the importance of this step!). Trust is an anchor of our work so we continuously work with a limited set of partners that share our same values throughout the journey.
Additionally, we learned to streamline — this has been our biggest lesson to date. Learn to say “no”, answer fast and explain why. Coming from demanding careers where our days are full of back-to-back meetings, we learned that simultaneously being an entrepreneur is also being able to say “no” quickly and with conviction — in order to save ourselves and our partners.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?
The most interesting story would have to be how we got to meet and work with talent from all over the world. Some of them have super multicultural backgrounds. For instance, I worked with an international young designer born in India who is living in France and who had traveled across the world to pursue her passion for fashion and design in both Italy and New York. More than one story, it is really about the experiences and creative moments we shared with the designers and manufacturers that make our story unique! Akin to our travels around the world. It was another interesting way of experiencing other cultures while being confined in our home.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson or take away you learned from that?
Of course! Many mistakes are part of the journey and this was perhaps our funniest. At the start of our journey, we knew the customer was king. One of them asked us to customize one of our products in a certain color and we thought it would be a REALLY cool idea to design a new product line in that color; it had edge and was really different. What we did not realize was that the color was so controversial that it was not a big hit within our customer base. We realized then that although yes it is important to listen to the customer, it is equally important to ensure you have enough data points to validate an idea before jumping in blindfolded. It is also important to maintain your aesthetic vision otherwise the identity of the brand can get diluted easily.
None of us can be successful without some help along the way. Did you have mentors or cheerleaders who helped you to succeed? Can you tell us a story about their influence?
Mentors and cheerleaders are instrumental for your entrepreneurship journey. We are part of several entrepreneur groups where fellow entrepreneurs encourage each other and share useful tips. One of the most impactful advices was gathering quality customer insights before rolling out the next series of products, because one of the worst mistakes one can make is thinking they know what the customer wants. So we conducted A/B testing through surveys and social media. Our families have been equally instrumental in the success of our journey. It’s all about having a good support system!
Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?
Metropolitans Paris is all about supporting under-represented talent whose values align with ours. Erica is one of our most trusted craftswomen managers for our small leather goods brand. Her atelier in Spain was deeply impacted by COVID-19 during March and April 2020. By working closely with her during the crisis, we supported her business as well as the craftsmen that worked there. We feel very proud of that.
Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?
There are 3 main areas Metropolitans Paris is working to solve:
- Making travel affordable
- Support under-represented women designers & craftsmen or craftswomen
- Create more sustainable products that last
We hope society can start consuming more consciously by keeping travel more local or planning more meaningful trips instead of for the sake of flying or for novelty. We rack up a lot of CO2 unknowingly. We also hope they understand the power of their purchases because they are essentially voting whether or not to support local communities or under-represented talent that would not be able to survive otherwise. This is something we hope politicians can also show more support towards. There are still so many vulnerable women populations around the world that it takes more that businesses like ours to empower them. All the different parties need to work together and play their part.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
- Say “no” fast & explain why: One ofour main mistakes was that we did not say “no”, when necessary, to marketing contacts, manufacturers, platforms, media etc. We both come from a culture where saying “no” is very taboo and it was a difficult hurdle to overcome. We now see that declining an offer still gives a great learning experience as well as doing both parties a favor.
- It’s OK to fail fast: We started with a soft launch and experimented a lot. Social Entrepreneurs tend to make it look much easier than it actually is. Entrepreneurship is a tough path, with some successes and MANY failures. It is still a great learning experience nevertheless.
- Hire an expert instead of doing everything alone: Joining forces with people that have complementing skills help move things faster and with less mistakes. The famous African proverb of “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together” rings very true here.
- The team must be aligned: People are the soul of any company and brand. You, the founder, need to have a clear vision of where you want to go and involve your team to finetune that vision. When everyone understands their respective roles and are aligned with the vision, the ship is less likely to sink. It takes teamwork.
- The sky is the limit: Everyone can come up with brilliant ideas, but very few execute those ideas and persist. If you can dream it, you surely can do it!
If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?
If we had to do it all over again, we would follow our passion first — this coming from two professionals who seemingly have it all: top university graduates, reputable and high-paid jobs, traditional careers. And if you follow your passion, do it right. Just like with Metropolitans Paris, we seek to inspire people to broaden their horizons, to think long-term and consume consciously, to cherish every moment and every item.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
Definitely Bernard Arnault! What a legend, growing the LVMH empire to that stage.
How can our readers follow you online?
Here is our website: metropolitansparis.com
Our Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/MetropolitansParis
Our Instagram Account: https://www.instagram.com/metropolitansparis/
This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!
Thank you for giving us an opportunity to share Metropolitans Paris story.