Hidden gem in the deepest Paris banlieues

Postcard from... Paris

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The Independent Online


My mobile phone is under constant harassment from a company called Bennytex. “Hurry, hurry! New material arriving every day! Prices lower than ever before!”

Bennytex is a small, lock-up warehouse in the deepest Paris banlieues or suburbs. It sells material for dress and curtain-making at a fraction of the prices demanded in the Paris street markets. Bolts of cloth, ranging from the tacky to the sublime, are heaped in chaotic abandon on metal shelves. There is a small office and a concrete floor. That’s it.

The messages are meant for my 19-year-old daughter, Clare, whose idea of a fun day out in Paris is a meandering trip over the potholed roads of obscure industrial estates to Bennytex.

The French economy is struggling? Not here, it isn’t.

Each tiny unit is a thriving business. The owners are Jewish, North African, Indian, Pakistani, African and Chinese. 

Bennytex is run by three Jewish cousins who call everyone “mon frère” or “ma soeur”. Most of the Bennytex clients are North African. Everyone gets on fine.

I’ve driven Clare out to  Bennytex three times to buy material for a fashion show that she helped to organise at her university in Britain (a great triumph, now featured on the Bennytex website).

The turnover of stock at the little company is bewilderingly fast.

We arrived on one occasion to find a truck parked outside piled with bolts of cloth. “This is the stuff we can’t sell by the metre,” explained one of the three cousins. “We sell it to Algeria. By the kilo.”