Chanel commits to the circular economy with Atelier des Matières #551


Circular economy and upcycling are increasingly at the center of attention in the luxury industry. While LVMH launched Nona Source in 2021, a site for reselling its dormant stocks of fabrics and materials, Chanel initiated the Atelier des Matières four years ago, via a slightly different circular transformation model, which works on the recovery and revival of unused materials as well as unsold or unused manufactured products from the fashion and luxury sectors.

The idea from the outset 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, and finished or semi-finished products, with the support of Chanel’s research and development department in Paris, where eight to ten people work on this project. Located in Le Meux in the Oise region, on a former logistics site of the group, the Atelier des Matières now employs 35 people, including a team of “valuers” in charge of finding second-life solutions for the objects collected.

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 parts, buttons and cuffs, leather and skins, which it will sort, disassemble, extract and then transform “into quality recycled materials, relying on the complete traceability of the resources entrusted to it, as well as 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 it has been transformed, or in an open circuit, when we are entrusted with products, which we will refurbish and then offer to other clients,” explains Eric Dupont, Chanel’s director of sustainable development and transformation, who has been running the company since 2020.

This engineer by training has been with the group for eleven years. He notably managed the Manufactures de Mode division, which oversees Chanel’s manufacturers and suppliers, particularly in Italy. His mission at the Atelier des Matières is similar to a sort of tailor-made 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), the Atelier has micronized some of Chanel’s leather bag offcuts to transform them into aggregates used in the hidden parts of shoes. Another example, leather has been recycled to create knife handles.

“We have also created a packaging sector. I would also like 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 reuse and recycling. “How can I scientifically, technically, and humanely put in place the means to break the codes of circularity, to make something qualitative that is at the same time accessible? That’s the big challenge,” he says.

If Chanel was his 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 director admits, the business is not yet profitable. “It is clear that there must be an economy behind it, that the process put in place makes the project profitable. For the moment, we are not making money with all the cases we handle,” he confides.

Until now, the Atelier des Matières has been kept confidential, but it recently found itself in the spotlight during the Hyères Fashion Festival, as a partner of the competition with a dedicated prize inaugurated at this 37th edition. The company provided the ten finalists in the fashion category with materials to create a silhouette and awarded the Finnish designer Sini Saavala. A way for this entity to gain visibility and to make itself known to new generations of stylists, and potential future clients.