Linen, the spearhead of an ecological French textile industry #142


France is the world’s leading producer of linen. However, due to a lack of spinning mills, it has to send 90% of its production to China and India for processing. Several players want to move up a chain in France, starting with “Linportant”, which has just created a range of French organic linen T-shirts. From the boom in second-hand clothing to the boom in ethical fashion applications, Novethic is weaving the fabric of more sustainable fashion.

It is a natural material that has become a symbol of responsible fashion. Linen ticks all the boxes. It consumes four times less water than cotton, does not require any chemical products for cultivation and grows in France. France is even the world’s leading producer. But there is a downside to the picture. 90% of the flax fibers produced in France are exported to China and India, where they are woven and processed into shirts and pants. Linportant wants to remedy this lack of consistency.

The director of this cooperative, Paul Boyer, wants to relaunch a flax production chain in France, from cultivation to the finished product, while a new study by the Union of Textile Industries shows that relocating textiles to France could halve its carbon footprint. This summer, Linportant thus created a range of organic linen t-shirts whose linen comes partly from Normandy and Seine-et-Marne. “The idea is to make a short circuit,” explains Paul Boyer. But there were many obstacles because France, a great textile nation, has gradually de-industrialized.

Spinning mills under construction

Although scutching plants, which separate the fibers by crushing and beating, are still present in the area, this is not the case for spinning mills. In the 1970s, France still had about fifty of them, today they have almost all disappeared. In 2020, the Emanuel Lang factory decided to reassemble a flax spinning line. The quantity produced is modest, with 150 tons of fibers, but it allows to recreate a complete flax textile industry in France. Since then, other flax spinning projects have been announced, notably that of the Normandy cooperative NatUp in Normandy.

The fact remains that there is “resistance to change,” says Paul Boyer. In the first place: the price. One kilogram of linen spun in France is worth about twice as much as linen spun abroad. “Over the past 30 years, the value of clothing has fallen with the development of fast fashion,” deciphers the journalist and president of Fashion Revolution France, Catherine Dauriac. “Polyester has flooded the market. It is necessary to re-teach customers what is a good material and that they accept that a T-shirt does not cost 5 euros”, she explains. Linportant’s T-shirt, for its part, costs 45 euros. In any case, some brands are ready to take the plunge and support this industry in reconstruction.

Hemp in the wake of linen

Several brands such as 1083, Splice or le Slipe Français have launched the Linpossible collective in coordination with spinners Emanuel Lang, Safilin and Tissage de France and cooperatives such as Terres de Lin or Lin et Chanvre Bio (LCB). They are committed “to prepare as many brands as possible to switch to a local spinning mill” to integrate “from today the extra cost in the calculation of the cost price of their linen clothes to invest in the promotion of this project and federate new brands with us”.

The re-emergence of this flax industry in France is being emulated. The LCB association wants to rely on linen to re-emerge the hemp industry in France. France is also the world’s leading producer, with nearly 84,000 tons produced, compared to 32,000 tons in China. The fact remains that these natural materials do not outweigh the 26 million tons of cotton produced each year in the world, but show the way towards a more responsible fashion.