Small, slender and agile hands, their backs slightly bent and their eyes riveted on the red fabric. A support foot to activate the machine and make jump the white thread on the sides of the so-called “Phryge”. This Tuesday, Mélanie is smiling. The young woman has been working for nearly a year in the Doudou et Compagnie factory. For the past few days, the seamstress has had the privilege of designing the mascot for the Paris 2024 Olympic Games. Unveiled ten days ago, the red plush in the shape of a Phrygian cap had aroused as much approval as mockery. But it had especially awakened the defenders of made in France when we learned that only 15% of revolutionary mascots would be produced in France. “Making two million stuffed animals in a few months, the observation is that today we do not know how to do it”, lamented government spokesman Olivier Véran.
The truth is that it would mostly be way too expensive. But there will be many stuffed animals made in France to the glory of the Olympic Games. Under popular pressure, the Parisian company Doudou et Compagnie has even raised its tricolor ambitions by promising to manufacture 50% of the mascots in its new French workshop. This Tuesday, 20 minutes was able to visit it to understand how much the challenge was taken up.
“We still have to break in”
She took a few minutes break for a selfie with the president of the Olympic committee Tony Estanguet. But even during the inauguration of the factory in La Guerche-de-Bretagne, Mélanie, our nimble-fingered seamstress, didn’t stop sewing the pieces of the mascot. “We are making our first pieces so we still have to get used to it. It’s not very complicated but there are several small steps to follow. For this former florist converted to sewing, participating in the creation of the mascot is a source of immense pride. “It’s an honour. We make them with our little hands. It shows that we still know how to do things in France”.
Recruited by Doudou et Compagnie in January, she was able to train in plush techniques before rubbing shoulders with the mascot. Like her, around fifty seamstresses will be recruited to respond to the exceptional order. And to hear his boss, there is not a minute to lose. “When we responded to the Olympic Committee’s call for tenders, we were sure to be rejected. But they liked the file of this small workshop in Brittany. It’s a real challenge that we take up since it will be necessary to produce around 600,000 mascots in four hundred days. In Europe, there is no one capable of doing that,” summarizes CEO Alain Joly. At La Guerche-de-Bretagne, 1,000 to 1,500 pieces will have to be produced daily to satisfy the appetite of the Olympic committee. Colossal for such a small structure freshly installed in this former abandoned garden centre. In addition to new recruits, the company has already called on self-employed seamstresses and reserves the right to outsource certain assignments to speed up the pace.
39 euros the French, 30 euros the Chinese
Faced with the outcry caused by the announcement of mass production in China, the company whose headquarters is based in the Paris region announced that it would produce half of its mascots in Brittany. A choice that has a price. “The cost of production in France is five to six times higher than in China,” says the boss. To find a balance, Alain Joly and his team rely on the distribution network: “We are going to involve the whole chain, including the distributors. If everyone makes an effort on the profit margin, we will get there, ”he promises. “Relocating to France means defying many constraints because the charges are not at all the same. But today, customers have different expectations, they buy thoughtfully,” says the regional manager of La Grande Récré, who is one of the authorized resellers. “Everyone made an effort. We at the Olympic Committee but also the distributors… Everyone has reduced their margins,” explains Tony Estanguet.
This Tuesday, the triple Olympic champion sent a few selfies in the middle of the La Guerche-de-Bretagne factory. He took the opportunity to recall that the starting sale price had been set at 50 euros per mascot. It was finally reduced to 39 euros for “premium” stuffed animals made in France and will be displayed at 30 euros for those sewn on the other side of the world. For what difference? “Better padding, neater finish. And above all the promise of French manufacturing! », proudly launches the boss of Doudou et Compagnie. “We are going to show France and Europe that a stuffed animal produced in France works”.