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Oct 20, 2022
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Chanel commits to the circular economy with Atelier des Matières

Translated by
Oct 20, 2022

Circular economy and upcycling are more and more becoming one of the luxury industry's main focus. While LVMH launched Nona Source in 2021, a site for reselling its dormant stocks of fabrics and materials, Chanel initiated Atelier des Matières four years ago, via a slightly different circular transformation model, which works on reclaiming and bringing back to life unused materials as well as unsold or unused manufactured goods from the fashion and luxury sectors.

Eric Dupont,director of sustainable development and transformation - Chanel

The idea was to create a company open to all luxury and premium brands, offering them the opportunity to refurbish their scraps, in terms of fabrics, materials, finished or semi-finished products, relying on the support of Chanel's research and development department in Paris, where eight to ten people are involved in this project. Located in Le Meux in the Oise region, on one of the groups former logistics sites, the Atelier des Matières now employs 35 people, including a team of "valuers" in charge of finding second life solutions for the collected objects.
L'Atelier des Matières collects ready-to-wear products, leather goods and small leather goods, shoes at the end of their life, but also unused materials, such as threads and textiles, chains or metal elements, buttons and cuffs, leather and skins, which it will sort, disassemble, extract and then transform "into quality recycled materials, relying on complete traceability of the resources entrusted to it, as well as on the confidentiality and security of its responsible transformation chain", says the company.

"We work either in a closed loop, like a subcontractor, to recover a material from a client and give it back to him once transformed, or in an open circuit, we are entrusted with products, which we will refurbish and then offer to other clients," explains Chanel's director of sustainable development and transformation, Eric Dupont, who has been running the company since 2020.

This training engineer has been operating in the group for eleven years. He led the Manufactures de Mode division, steering Chanel's manufacturers and suppliers, particularly in Italy. His mission at the Atelier des Matières is similar to a sort of custom service, with orders often accompanied by pilot projects.

For example, with the support of the Toulouse-based start-up Authentic Material (in which the luxury group is a shareholder), L'Atelier micronized some of Chanel's leather bag offcuts to transform them into aggregates of used materials in the hidden parts of shoes. Another example, leather has been recycled to create knife handles. 

A design by Sini Saavala, that won the Atelier des Matières Prize at the Hyères Festival - © Étienne Tordoir

"We have also created a packaging sector. I want to develop partnerships with players outside the fashion industry," says Eric Dupont, who emphasizes the mutual enrichment between the service provider and its customers, who "also learn with us," and the many possibilities available in this field of recovery and recycling. "How do I scientifically, technically and humanly put in place the means to break the codes of circularity, to do something that is qualitative and that is accessible at the same time? That's the big challenge," he says.

Although Chanel was its main client at the beginning of the adventure and continues to support the company via its structures and its research and development unit, Atelier des Matières now has eight clients. Even if, as the manager admits, the business is not yet profitable. "It is clear that there must be an economy behind it, that the process set up makes the project profitable. For the moment, we are not making money with what we are handling", he confides.
Until now, Atelier des Matières was confidential but found itself in the spotlight recently during the Hyères Fashion Festival, as a partner of the competition with a dedicated prize inaugurated in this 37th edition. The company provided the ten finalists in the fashion category with materials to create a silhouette and rewarded the Finnish Sini Saavala. This is a way for the company to gain visibility and make itself known to new generations of designers, potential future customers.

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