In a visit organized by French leather goods federation Fédération Française de la Maroquinerie, Longchamp opened the doors of its historic Segré-en-Anjou site this June for a closer look at its savoir-faire and where the brand is headed.
From its debuts in 1948 producing items for smokers – the first Longchamp product was a leather-sheathed pipe – the French company is now one of the country's leading leather-goods manufacturers. Its industrial headquarters in Segré-en-Anjou employs a staff of 420, of which some 200 are dedicated to leather production. The site's design office is where new models and prototypes are dreamed up, says Industrial Director David Burgel, with this figure currently around 260 per year.
Longchamp bags in the making ©Longchamp
For its leather goods, Longchamp sources its raw material, cow leather (a byproduct of the food industry) mainly in Italy, but also from France, Holland and South America. Each Longchamp production site cuts its own skins, using either traditional or digital techniques.
Leather alternatives fall short
Regarding leather alternatives, the brand is in the exploratory stages. "We are of course looking into the likes of apple or mushroom leather, and new materials made from leather offcuts, but we have not yet found a substitute that is satisfactory in terms of durability," says Burgel. "Leather remains a material that is difficult to replace. We can use it to make a product that lasts for 50 years," adds Longchamp President Jean Cassegrain.
All Longchamp’s canvas bags are made using recycled fiber (polyester, polyamide), which it claims has the same aesthetics, quality and lifespan as its virgin predecessor. It costs more, but this increase is passed onto the consumer. Upcycling has also been a focus: with Le Pliage Re-Play in 2022, Longchamp used its remaining stocks of virgin nylon to create a range of bags.
At Segré, an area dedicated to personalized bags produces custom creations based on different options selected online by the consumer. Dubbed My Pliage Signature, this enables them to choose the bag size, color, hardware finish and custom lettering done via sublimation. "While not a big part of our turnover, personalization enables us to demonstrate the modernity of our organization and showcase our innovative techniques in store," comments Burgel.
Longchamp's My Pliage Signature program offers personalized bags ©Longchamp
Longchamp’s after sales activity at Segré is mainly focused on giving a new lease of life to consumers’ old bags - it has a stock of leather going back fifty years. Bags are unstitched, re-stitched, cleaned, polished and redyed before being returned to their owner.
Regarding the traceability of its products, the brand is in the initial stages of a transparency project, which aims to provide information to the consumer on the origins of its leather via a QR code.
France, a number-one market for Longchamp
Longchamp is this year looking to hire 450 staff – 200 in France, in a context of strong growth. Part of this will compensate for retirement departures, which represent between 30 and 80 vacated posts per year in France. Cassegrain said that after returning to pre-covid sales levels in 2022, the company is seeing double-digit growth in 2023 and is outperforming the market.
Longchamp is looking to hire some 450 workers this year ©Christophe Petiteau
France is its biggest market, accounting for around 30% of sales (here two-thirds of sales are done to French people and the remaining one-third to visitors). Online sales represent around 15% of turnover globally.
Longchamp has around 330 points of sale worldwide that it manages itself, added to which is a further 900 doors. The brand has identified China as having the biggest growth potential in the coming years for new store openings: it currently has 40 shops in the market and plans to open five per year to reach around 60 doors.
L’Observatoire de la Maroquinerie: a federation mobilizes
The visit to Longchamp’s ateliers was organized by French leather-goods federation Fédération Française de la Maroquinerie (FFM). In Feburary 2023, the FFM launched L’Observatoire de la Maroquinerie with the aim of bringing together the profession and public authorities to discuss major challenges facing the industry. These include training and employment to preserve know-how; promoting excellence in savoir-faire; foreign trade; CSR and combating counterfeiting. Getting out on the field to take the sector’s temperature and bring back best practices and solutions will be a major part of this approach: Longchamp was the Observatoire’s first field visit.
"Leather goods companies are facing massive recruitment pressure for mainly manual positions, due to insufficient training opportunities and a lack of interest in manual trades. Preserving and developing employees' skills is also a crucial issue, as is promoting the excellence of know-how and passing it on," FFM President and CEO of Gainerie 91 Arnaud Haefelin said in a statement.