Changing countries and career paths: Alicia teaches couture to expats in Barcelona

Expat interviews
  • Alicia
Published on 2022-03-11 at 14:00 by Nelly Jacques
Alicia has lived in different countries on different continents and had a taste of different working cultures -- which made her realize that she needed to work towards something more meaningful. She has always had a passion for couture, so she decided to earn a living from it. Now an expat in Barcelona, she talks to about her journey and the challenges of being an entrepreneur in a new country, especially when you don't speak the language perfectly.

Can you tell us about your background and your life before Barcelona?

Like many expats, I fell into the pot at a very young age. When I was 15, I left to finish high school in Singapore, where my parents went to work. I moved without regrets, too curious to see what life looks like on the other side of the planet!

After high school, I had decided to study at Sciences Po (thanks to my freshly boosted English by spending 2 years in an English-speaking country). Barely 6 months after I started my studies in Lille, my parents left for a new adventure in San Francisco then New York, and I had a lot of fun visiting them for the holidays!

After a short stay in London to finish my studies, I returned to Paris to look for my first job as a young graduate. I chose to work in communication: I was hired by a good business school that had a fairly open environment for recruiting young people without a lot of experience. I spent 4 years in a press relations agency until I felt the need to move once again. My partner (and now husband) had landed a new position in San Francisco, so that was an opportunity to live the American dream.

How did your move to Barcelona affect your career?

It was a real catalyst. When I arrived in San Francisco, I was already looking to a change. I dreamed of making a living from couture, but I still couldn't find the formula that would allow me to earn enough income from this kind of business, especially in San Francisco, an ultra-expensive city with staggering salaries.

However, things changed when I arrived in Barcelona. Since I did not speak Spanish as fluently as English, it was difficult for me to do a job that required a good command of the language and the local culture. And then frankly speaking, after nine years in the communications field, I was tired of working for others in a job that was no longer fulfilling for me.

At the same time, I had thought a lot about what I could do for a living from couture. I then decided on teaching, which I already did a little in SF with my girlfriends, and I had liked it a lot.

After discussing with my husband, I gave myself 6 months to earn my first income with this new business in a city where I hardly anyone yet.

Had you ever imagined teaching couture under the palm trees of Barcelona when you finished your studies?

I actually dreamed of spending a part of my life under the palm trees of Barcelona because living abroad has always been part of our life plans with my partner. I've also been an expat kid, so once you get started, you can't really get enough of it.

Going back to Paris after England was a bit of relocating abroad for me as I had not lived in Paris for 5 years.

The United States had also answered some of my questions about entrepreneurship. But I took more time to choose couture and accept the change.

What types of courses do you offer, and who are the people you work with?

Before starting, I did my own market research. Are there couture courses in Barcelona? In which languages?

I realized that there was nothing in French, although there is a very large French-speaking community here.

Rather than exhaust myself by offering courses in 3 languages, I decided to specialize in couture courses for Francophones.

Obviously, that was just the first step. Then I had to think about what my clients really wanted from couture. Were they only looking for some introductory lesson? How long would they like to stay?

One step led another and brought me to my current formula: I teach individuals to design their wardrobe, that is to say, really wearable clothes that are perfectly adapted to their tastes and measurements.

My clients are aged between 25 and 45, and they are generally sensitive to fashion and ecology. They learn to choose more responsible materials and think about their wardrobe so that it is as useful and flattering as possible.

It is also an opportunity to meet other French speakers and discuss our common passion.

What challenges did you face on arriving in Barcelona? Conversely, what did you find easy?

I started my business as soon as I arrived in Barcelona, ​​so I didn't know anyone! I had to start from scratch: first, locating the fabric and supply stores, then connecting with the French expat community. I started by working with partners like Eve from Bébé de Barcelone and Marion from Chez Paulette, who helped me earn a name.

Over the course, I refined my product and my target. Then word of mouth helped me develop a regular clientele. I also relied a lot on my prior to develop effective communication, primarily via Instagram.

This does not mean that creating Atelier Marquise (my company) was easy.

The main difficulty I encountered was the Spanish administration (and often even exclusively in Catalan, which is difficult).

I even needed an intermediary to obtain the NIE (sort of Spanish work permit) because I couldn't manage. It's not easy when you are used to being very comfortable in English, and you suddenly have to go back to learning a new language!

And what are the challenges that you are still facing and the things that you like the most about Barcelona?

Today, I am tackling a new challenge: offering online courses to a French-speaking audience around the world! I wanted a balance between my physical lessons here in Barcelona and a community of students worldwide.

This is almost a new job where I rely more on online marketing. But all my efforts are rewarded by the very pleasant living environment of Barcelona that provides good work-life balance, which was my goal when changing career path.

Do you have any advice for people who would like to change career paths and settle in Barcelona?

Plenty of them! My husband is convinced that I will end up a business coach someday. Either way, my advice is the same.

You have to think of your move or career path as a project. Assess it, budget, take care of the details.

Do not rely on fantasies conveyed by social media. Personally, I find it hard to work on the beach, I'm not focused, and I don't really enjoy either. My life as an entrepreneur has its moments of pleasure, doubts, tedious tasks, a bit like my previous job. The difference is that I'm free to change what doesn't suit me.

Then, test the waters. Do you dream of opening your own bakery? Are you looking to offer your services to your neighborhood or to a more extended audience? You need to fully understand what it involves.

It's the same for a move. Check whether you can come and spend a few days in adoption county. Otherwise, meet expatriates who have lived there. You will feel more confident to build a solid future that suits you.

Share your expat experience!

Contact us to be featured in the Interviews section.