The Covid-19 pandemic has shaken up consumer habits and raised public awareness of the need for sustainable fashions that are locally produced. Both of these concerns figure large in the DNA of the 1083 brand, which launched its locally made, environmentally friendly, organic cotton jeans on the French market eight years ago. ETX Studio met with company founder, Thomas Huriez.
What inspired you to launch an environmentally friendly line of French-made jeans at a time when fast fashion was at its height?
The 1083 brand has been around since 2013, but I started out with my first company in 2007. It was an organic and fair-trade clothing store in Romans-sur-Isère in the Drôme. As I was a computer scientist, I had to learn the trade on the job, and after three years, which was the time it took me to find my feet, my suppliers closed. So as not to shut down myself, I decided to create my own clothing brand. I found jeans particularly interesting because they are a garment that everyone wears, which allowed me to reach a very large clientele with my ideas, namely respect for people and the environment and Made in France. Jeans are a very globalized product, and the business of making them is very competitive, and highly polluting. The plan to produce environmentally friendly and affordable jeans in France was simply a great challenge.
The 1083 story began with a commitment to fair trade and local employment, but how did you turn this formula into a recipe for success?
Because we were starting from scratch, it was easier for us than it would have been for a brand that was already established. To do Made in France and organic at an affordable cost we had to ensure that we were the lightest possible distribution intermediary. Branded jeans cost about 100 euros while fast-fashion jeans cost about 20-30 euros. People think that both of these products are different, whereas in reality, if you look at the labels, you'll see that they are both made in the same countries using the same raw materials. The difference is not the jeans but the brand, and behind the brand, there is the distribution model for the brand. The strength of fast fashion is that it functions like a direct sales operation, while brands act as intermediaries between retailers and manufacturers with high distribution costs and heavy marketing budgets, which add value to their product. But as I said, this value is not intrinsic since the product is more or less the same as the one made by fast fashion.
Is that not misleading for consumers?
Yes, but when a consumer buys a garment, he or she is also buying a sentiment that is created by communications and marketing. There is nothing abnormal about this. It is an honest deal when you consider that we choose what to wear because it says something about who we are.
How is it that 1083 jeans are still affordable even though they are made in France using sustainable fabric?
We did the same thing that the fast-fashion companies do, that is to say that we maximized direct sales and limited the delta between the cost price and the retail price for consumers. We kept margins low. When you're doing direct sales, you do not need the margins you require when selling via intermediaries. If your jeans retail for around 100 euros, and you are keeping margins down, you cannot pay more than 30-40 euros for them to begin with. However, that is considerably more than most brands, which buy their product for 10 euros a pair. So we wondered if we could produce in France for that amount. And lo and behold, we could. So we decided to limit margins and to buy expensive product that was locally made with an optimized environmental and social value.
What do you think of brands who say that this revolution will take time?
It is more difficult for them, because they are not starting from scratch. Local production and direct sales are easy to do. However, when you are used to acting as an intermediary, when you have a network of shops to keep going, a marketing department, a lot of employees, and suppliers who are already based in Asia etc., then it is a more complex transition. That in essence is the problem faced by brands. It is not easy to change how you do things, especially in a time of crisis. Change should be embraced when everything is going well, but often we do not see the need for change until things have already taken a turn for the worse. Everyone is like that. In ten years time when 1083 is well established, if there is another revolution that we have not noticed or one that we did not want to notice, we will be in exactly the same position.
You have made a point of never holding any sales. Why did you adopt this policy?
Sales are are a logical necessity when you have to get rid of unsold seasonal stock. But jeans are not seasonal, so it does not make economic sense to hold sales, even if they can be beneficial from a marketing point of view. But that is not the case for us, because we would be contradicting our main message and undermining consumers' perception of the value of our product. We do not want to confuse customers with prices that are always going up and down. We have decided to charge a fair price at all times of the year, which is something we regularly explain to people.
How do your customers respond to this choice?
Every year, the ones who first get to know us between March and June are surprised to find that 1083 is not holding a sale in July. They log in on the first day of the summer sales, and that is when they find out why, because we like to be fully transparent on this question. So when people visit the site they understand where we are coming from and why it makes sense. As a result, ever since 1083 was launched, the first few days of the sales season are always very good ones for us. Our new customers understand our position and how it relates to our values. They even like us better for it.
How has the health crisis affected 1083?
The pandemic has accelerated a transition for a lot of consumers. As I said before, people do not really respond until their backs are against the wall. We have been growing faster since the onset of Covid-19, even though we were already growing by 30% to 40% a year. More and more consumers are eager buy goods that are clearly local, because it makes sense, so when it comes time to update their wardrobes, they are more than willing to change their brands and habits. All the brands that are embracing environmental values today stand to benefit from a upsurge in awareness prompted by the Covid-19 crisis.
Do you think that brands have to make a point of their ideological commitment to sell to today's consumers?
Yes, you only have to look at today's brand communications to see that is the case. If you look at the pledge 1083 makes to its customers and the current message from fast-fashion brands, you can see that they have a lot in common. The difference is that we have made the same pledge for years because it is reflects our values, while fast fashion has adopted this message now because the market is increasingly receptive to it. It can be frustrating because there is often a sizeable difference between marketing messages and the reality of many supply chains, but at the same time fast fashion is right to acknowledge that the limits of its model and to attempt to address them. It is a good thing that it is embracing change, driven by a market that is forcing it to act in the interests of the planet and to produce in a manner which is more respectful of people. The brands that are now greenwashing and encouraging the public to consume responsibly are validating our long-standing message, which was thought to be outside of the mainstream 10 years ago. And the fact that we have been proved right has helped us to accelerate our growth and to reach out to wider market. It is obvious that all of today's communication on the environment and ethics will encourage consumers to switch to brands that are truly aligned with these values.
Do you think you can take your concept even further?
Yes, that is what we are doing and what we will keep on doing. Today, we have embarked on research and development to produce cotton from recycled jeans in France, and we are also building new workshops. We have more and more orders from people who are buying fewer and fewer jeans, and that is great because it shows that when you give people a chance to buy better, they buy less. All of this will allow us to create local jobs We have created 150 jobs in France over the last eight years, and one day we are hoping to have more than 1083 employees.