French ribbon manufacturer Neyret is celebrating its bicentennial in 2023—200 years of technical and industrial innovation, explains CEO Benoit Neyret. Now present in the high-end ready-to-wear and luxury packaging sectors, this family-owned group is turning its attention to smart labels. A series of other innovation-focused projects underpin its prospects for growth.
How did Neyret start out in the early 19th century?
Neyret was founded in Saint-Etienne, a city with many ribbon manufacturers at the time. While Lyon specialized in making large sheets of fabric, notably silk, Saint-Etienne’s specialty was in narrow ribbons. The company was one of the first in Europe to use and industrialize Jacquard weaving technology. The technique involves reproducing a drawing, a figurative form. In a way, it’s the ancestor of computer technology. It begins with pixelating an image to obtain different points: If you run a black thread over a white thread, you'll get a black dot. Conversely, if you run a white thread over a black thread, you'll get a white dot. In this way, you can reproduce an image. This technology has always been at the heart of our business, even though we also weave plain ribbons.
Neyret was also one of the first to incorporate a factory at a time when the predominant model in Saint-Etienne was based on subcontracting to independent, specialized craftspeople called passementiers.
Neyret's personalized printed ribbon for Trudon ©SDP
What were Neyret’s historical markets?
The first was in woven images, which were widely used in the 19th century. These were liturgical images, which French people had in their missals, or prayer books, reproduction of works of art at a time when posters didn’t exist, or official representations of the French Republic. Another historic market was that of solid-color ribbons used for military decorations. The company has maintained these two areas of expertise.
And other innovations followed?
The company has always adapted to societal evolutions. Jacquard weaving in particular was used to introduce woven labels on garments early on. This activity boomed in the 20th century, when French ready-to-wear brands operated their own production units, and in France no less! This declined in the late 1980s, when the French textile industry began both to outsource and to internationalize its production, notably to factories in Asia. We managed to survive this period with the support of luxury brands, who favored European garment production and continued to source their woven labels in France. Nevertheless, we had to diversify. Since ribbons made up our core business, we began making printed ribbons for luxury product packaging, to accompany in-store sales. Today, we’re one of the leading suppliers of ribbons for gift-wrapping and shopping bags in the luxury sector.
Textile coffret band and shopping bag ribbons for Chanel ©SDP
What constitutes your current product portfolio?
Our business is segmented into three product offerings. The first is printed ribbons for external packaging. The second, which is linked to the acquisition of Seram in 2019, is textile or metal ornamentation notably for fragrance flacons, and wine and spirits bottles. And finally, textile labels for the ready-to-wear sector. This last offering is now complemented by a digital solution that can be used to create serialized, woven labels that carry digital content, enabling brands to incorporate digital applications within the textile product itself. All three activities support the development of luxury brands through solutions for decoration, identification, authentication, and now product traceability.
Bespoke ornament for Givenchy's Parfum L'Interdit ©Givenchy
What smart label concept are you developing?
For example, we’re going to weave a unique QR code. If we weave a million labels, there will be a million different QR codes, making each textile product individualized. Our technology enables us to update the digital content of the textile product in real time, even after the product has been sold.
Textile label with QR code ©Neyret
Is it already being used by ready-to-wear brands?
It’s very recent. These are emerging markets, driven by the expansion of certain societal phenomena: consumers’ demand for more responsible purchasing habits, and therefore the need for transparency regarding manufacturing conditions. Regulatory requirements are also driving this trend. There’s the AGEC anti-waste law in France, and now we're talking about the European Digital Product Passport, which could result in companies being obliged to provide consumers access to digital information concerning the sustainability and circularity of their textile products. Another societal change, and probably the most important, is the digitalization of the customer experience, which brands want to enrich and personalize, making textile products a compelling channel to develop.
Are you working on smart labels for packaging?
We support brands with the integration of NFC chips in products or other solutions, and we are diversifying into other technologies through partnerships. But for the moment, our project is focused on textiles. What is complicated about packaging is the serialization of the industrial chain, i.e., the ability to mark the product individually at the production level, because this poses problems in terms of logistics and information systems. These technological hurdles will, I believe, be overcome in the future, opening new horizons for packaging, as these uses are still emerging.
Recycled polyester ribbon for Yves Saint Laurent's Black Opium limited edition ©Neyret
The textile QR code has the advantage of being monomaterial, unlike systems such as chips, which make the product harder to recycle, right?
In some areas, such as leather goods, NFC tags may be more appropriate. But, yes, textile labels offer all the advantages: the material is eco-friendly, robust, non-intrusive, and recyclable. One of the questions now is: how can we make the QR code a design object instead of hiding it?
How does eco-design fit into your innovation strategy?
We have invested heavily and innovated in weaving and printing responsible, biodegradable, bio-sourced, and recycled materials. In 2012, we were the first to weave a printed ribbon from eucalyptus. Today, more than 70% of our production is made with bio-sourced natural fibers. These include, of course, Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) recycled and non-recycled cotton, linen, hemp, silk, and Tencel (eucalyptus), as well as cork, algae, the castor oil plant, and others. We ensure traceable sourcing through certification by the most demanding environmental labels. We also invest in product life-cycle analysis, for example by using SimaPro software.
Recycled polyester ribbon for home fragrance brand Carrière Frères ©SDP
How is Neyret structured worldwide?
The group has industrial operations in eight countries, including Tunisia, Madagascar, Sri Lanka, and the Canton and Shanghai regions of China. Our foreign converting facilities are all wholly owned, and we can provide regional support for brands, for example by producing in China for the Chinese market.
Have you carried out any other growth operations since acquiring Seram in 2019?
In January 2023, we created Sansara, our digital subsidiary in Grenoble. It will maintain the software tools required for our digital woven label business. And we've just announced in June that Seram, our accessories and ornamentation subsidiary has inked a partnership with Quiova, a laser solutions provider. Quiova’s patented high-speed multi-beam femtosecond laser technology will allow us to apply a variety of both functional and aesthetic markings with very short lead times. Their technology is particularly interesting as it can work on a variety of materials including glass, ceramic, textile, polymers, wood, cardboard and metals (aluminium, zamak, brass, copper…) and is also suited to creating extremely small personalized QR codes. Sansara will oversee the logistics in terms of tracking unitary products.
How do you see the company developing?
We’ve experienced significant momentum, with sales increasing from €8m in 2012 to €50m in 2022. We’re going to continue to grow, first through organic growth, since we’re in buoyant markets; we’re projecting growth of around 10% in 2023. And we aren’t ruling out expanding the family and doing build-up operations, bearing in mind that international business is important to us. We’d like to regionalize our presence in Asia, Europe, and North America, the three major consumer markets.
Neyret is present in textiles and to a lesser degree in metal. Would you be interested in new sectors?
Why not? And preferably in connection with decoration, identification, authentication, and traceability of luxury goods. But there is no obligation to grow. We’re a 200-year-old company with solid governance, shareholding, and values, and a solid financial situation—we have a Banque de France 1+ rating, the best possible rating. We want to maintain this industrial and family model, while preserving our technical expertise and creativity.