“Imagine a chef in the kitchen. He opens the fridge, sees what’s there and tries to make the most of it until the last bit,” sums up Jean Cassegrain, president of Longchamp, presenting his company’s new sustainability effort, Le Pliage Re-Play, in this interview with Prestige.
After nearly 30 years of producing the world’s beloved origami-inspired foldable bag, the remaining stock of nylon canvas and leather in a rainbow-worthy spectrum of colours galvanised the design studio.
“The challenge was to do something that is new, different and creative from the old materials. Some colours may have a bigger quantity than others. I think it’s interesting for the designers to work within these constraints,” Cassegrain opines.
The eco-conscious undertaking to extend the lifespan of its end-of-the-roll materials turned what would have been waste into Le Pliage Re-Play, an exuberant capsule collection dressed in a total of nine vibrant colourways. Comprising a vertical tote, a small shoulder bag, and a belt pouch, each style combines three different colours, complete with the signature Russian leather trim. Production lasts as long as there are leftover stocks, making each bag a limited-edition.
GREEN LEAP FORWARD
Endowing remaining textiles a new lease of life is just the latest follow-up to Longchamp’s longstanding commitment to environmentally-responsible practices.
Cassegrain is proud to share that the Parisian house has met its goal of converting the entire Le Pliage production to use recycled polyamide this year, a landmark achievement in its initiatives to cut down on carbon impact. Seeking a sustainable alternative to its hard-wearing nylon canvas, then making a full switch, was no walk in the park.
Unlike virgin fibre made from petroleum, a non-renewable source, recycled polyamide is derived from a range of sources that includes fishing nets, carpets, pre-consumer waste from articles such as nylon stockings, as well as offcuts from the textile production process. The water is recovered, treated then reprocessed into polyamide fibre, then yarn, and finally polyamide canvas. It is backed by Global Recycled Standard (GRS) certification and contains between 70% and 100% recycled fibres.
“Whatever’s made from polyamide can be recycled to create new polyamide. This reduces the carbon impact of a Le Pliage bag by 20%, and at the end, you have the exact same product as before, at the exact same quality, level of durability, with the same look and feel, the same properties – it is waterproof, washable and foldable,” Cassegrain explains. “It makes a significant impact because this is not an experiment. It is an industrial project to convert the entire Pliage production – that’s thousands and thousands of units everyday – to use recycled polyamide.”
But that’s not the only feather in Longchamp’s cap. It also hit its target of attaining gold certification by Leather Working Group (LWG) for 100% of its leather, ahead of the 2023 deadline. “In 2021, we were already 99% LWG-certified of which, half of our supply was gold-certified, which is the highest possible level that exists in the leather industry in terms of sustainability,” adds Cassegrain. Exclusively a by-product of the food industry, these hides are responsibly produced as part of the circular economy by partner tanneries audited by LWG based on factors of environmental performance ranging from traceability and chemical control to energy consumption and waste management.
On top of that, no exotic skins nor fur were used in its collections since 2018.
“And the next goal, set for 2023, is to make all the canvas that we use from recycled fibre. Not only for the Pliage, this will include some of our luggage collections that have textile lining, which is also going to be changed to recycled fibre.”
Despite a stellar report driven by sophisticated innovations, Cassegrain makes his ultimate objective clear.
“You can come up with a material that is super sustainable, but if your bags are going to wear out and need to be disposed within six months, the finished product is not sustainable because it’s wasteful. It’s sustainable when a bag can give you five, 10, 20 years of use,” Cassegrain points out. “We do not want to compromise on quality, because we believe that the most important thing that we can do for the environment, is to build bags that are going to last long.”
The family-owned business ensures their bags stand the test of time by providing repair, generally free-of-charge. The in-house service, which restores around 30,000 Le Pliage bags a year, has become an integral part of ongoing initiatives to protect the environment.
“We’ve been doing repairs for as long as the company existed,” Cassegrain lets on. “Many brands do not offer it because they are not manufacturers like us. We have a library of materials in our workshop at Segré that goes back many, many years. We have the materials and the spare parts that enable the ladies who work in the repair centre to fix any product they receive.”
He concludes: “There’s nothing more sustainable than to continue using the same product.”
Longchamp’s thoughtful environmentally-friendly practices extend to a company-wide endeavour. “Artisans have a certain mindset because an artisan doesn’t like wastage. An artisan is respectful of the materials that he uses. An artisan understands that to have good leather, you need cows raised in a sustainable way.” Cassegrain believes that this ethos comes naturally to an artisan. It’s deeply ingrained in the way his company operates as every department are on the same page.
“The designers initiated Le Pliage Re-Play. The buyers who source for raw materials work with suppliers and the tanneries to improve sustainability. The logistics team takes care to minimise carbon footprint as they move merchandise around the world.”
To further reduce CO2 emissions, transport or travel by air is eschewed. Sea is preferred to convey goods. Since 2019, Longchamp’s personnel has been taking the train for short journeys that are less than four hours. In addition, products are manufactured close to markets where they are sold to further trim down transport-related emissions.
Longchamp’s state-of-the-art workshop at Pouzauges have accommodated charging points for electric cars. While workshops were designed to harness natural light, along with clever insulation, heating and air-conditioning solutions installed to limit energy consumption, these spaces are also equipped with energy-efficient LED lighting. Retail stores are following suit. What’s more, plastic coating from paper packaging were eliminated in order to facilitate recycling in 2018, prioritising on FSC-certified paper from sustainably managed forests.
Longchamp’s dedication to sustainability remained steadfast during the Covid-19 pandemic, debuting the Econyl-oriented Green District line in August 2020, followed soon by My Pliage Signature in 100% recycled polyester. The first Le Pliage to be crafted in recycled polyamide was launched in July 2021.
Business, though, took a hit, as with many other companies when the world went into lockdown. Today, some of the airport stores have yet to reopen. But the setback did little to dampen spirits. As Cassegrain pivoted to work-from-home mode, he bought an indoor trainer, as well as a bicycle with bullhorn bars for the days he went to the office. Even now, staff in Paris’ headquarters works from home two days a week.
“It’s one of the pandemic’s lasting impacts on the way we work. We’ve become more nimble, we’ve been able to manage projects and keep things going remotely, which wouldn’t have seemed possible in the past,” he reflects. “I think we have learnt the hard way the values of flexibility and agility to adapt to situations changing from one day to another. The pandemic made these benefits very obvious.”
It also led Longchamp to accelerate its global e-commerce plans. The site for Singapore launched in December 2020, with the offer of home delivery within one to three working days (with a minimum spend) or the Click and Collect option. “Consumers who were not used to buying online experimented during the pandemic, and have adopted this way of shopping.”
Adds Mollie Jean De Dieu, general manager of Longchamp Singapore and Malaysia: “People became more dependent on e-commerce for their purchases. As the trend for omnichannel grows, online & offline sales complement each other. E-commerce orders do not see a decline even as spending increases in-store, with a 55% uptick in sales compared to last year.”
With 2023 marking Longchamp’s diamond jubilee, Cassegrain sets his sights on global growth and development. “Two of my sons are now working with me, so that’s the fourth generation running the company. Our long-term goal is to ensure stability as the company grows for the next generations, not only the next quarter.”
Always dapper in smart suits, the 57-year-old is quite the #fitspo (that’s the trendy hashtag for “fit inspiration”), participating in triathlons as recent as the 11th edition of the Deauville Normandy Triathlon in June. He once put together a relay team of 52 people from France, the United States and China for the 2016 Garmin Triathlon de Paris Ile-de-France that took place in the heart of Paris, as part of Longchamp’s team-building activities. “We actually won the corporate cup!” he enthuses, before revealing that the trophy was actually awarded based on the number of participants.
It’s the effort invested in triathlons that piques his interest. “It shows that you need to work hard to get results because there is all that training that comes before the race. You have to be disciplined to work in a steady manner for a long time. I guess that’s also the lesson for business.”
Looks like that gameplan will stand Longchamp in good stead towards its 75th, and many more anniversaries ahead.
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