For 10 years in the niche of what they call regenerative fashion, the three partners of Bandit Manchot have been precursors in the field of upcycling. It’s first of all a story of postcards like you won’t find anywhere that brought them together, produced in upcycling leather. Interview with the designer and co-founder of the brand Anne Duquesnoy.
How did you come up with the idea of making pieces in upcycling leather in 2010?
We are initially two designers, Marie-Christine Frison and me. We both worked at Galeries Lafayette. That’s where we met. After our careers in the houses where we worked, we recovered beautiful skins that we didn’t know what to do with. And one day, we had the idea to make postcards by reusing all these leathers as no skin was the same, no color or finish was identical. We both wanted to make something other than leather goods and above all we wanted a French manufacture. We joined forces with Marie-Laure Biscon whom we knew from elsewhere and who had a leather goods business. It is with her that we developed the upcycling leather postcards. Bandit Manchot was born.
You then developed your collection. How did you go about it ?
We started making small leather goods, decorative objects and bags. Everything is made in the Tarn, in Graulhet, a town that has been working with leather for years and had its period of glory before everything was made in China. But the production goes back to Graulhet! A lot of people now want to manufacture in France. We work exclusively with local artisans.
You’ve been working on upcycling for 10 years long before the term was popular. You are very precarious after all.
Yes, we have been sensitive to upcycling for a long time and we want all our production to be made in France.
What does a French production entail ?
Of course it implies making simplified manufacturing to guarantee affordable prices. We didn’t want to make top-of-the-range products but products that are accessible to everyone. We think so that our products require the minimum of operations and have the tightest possible price. For example, we limit the number of seams. What we get the cheapest is the leather because we buy back stocks without looking at what’s inside. This allows us to get around certain details by putting more leather in the final product.
Where do you find these leathers?
Leather workshops, shoe shops, tanners… We sometimes hear about someone who has a batch he wants to get rid of. You buy the whole lot without looking in detail and build the collections according to the skins inside the lot. Customers then order a piece but don’t know exactly what they are going to receive, i.e. we can offer a metallic yellow piece at the beginning of the season and a matt yellow piece at the end of the season when the first color is sold out.
Each piece is almost authentic.
Almost. Besides, it’s quite complicated for us to manage. Sometimes we put a piece on the social networks that people will ask for but it will be quickly sold out. Sometimes we have small skins with which we make only three products dispatched to Paris, Bordeaux and Nice. After that, it’s over! Well at least, nobody has the same piece.
Is it easy to find skins today ?
Hides are very popular for upcycling but as there are also many unsold hides, there are stocks of leather for sale. It can be a factory closing, a company that has bought too much, samples from a collection, a representative’s collection that is being bought back. We try to be on the lookout. A lot of people have gotten into the upcycling business, but they don’t necessarily operate the way we do. Some of them are going to offer high-end skins for example. There are different ways of working with unsold stock.
You highlight on your site the fact that you work with local craftsmen with golden fingers. Does this mean that you collaborate with dressmakers? Because they are quite rare…
That’s what he tells himself. But in Graulhet, there are plenty of couturiers! These are people who worked in leather goods factories that have closed. They have the know-how and they are available. What more could you ask for!
You produce in small series. How do you manage your production ?
It is a very special manufacturing system because we only manufacture to order. We have a stock of leather, with a number of square meters, which we fill as soon as we have an opportunity. We are going to evaluate the quantity of leather we need to make our collection and build skin by skin ranges. It’s much longer than saying that we need three colors for a certain model and ordering them from the manufacturer. We really need to put aside all the skins needed to produce a given model so anticipate! We manage all our production manually.
Bandit Manchot is now at Galeries Lafayette under the Go For Good label. Were you surprised when they asked you to join them in an upcycling niche ?
A little. A person from Galeries Lafayette came to see us by chance at the Maison&Objets show and she was very surprised by the materials and also to see that we have existed for 10 years around skin upcycling.
Your brand is 100% certified by the Go For Good label, meaning that you meet all 38 criteria. Is this the beginning of the recognition of Bandit Manchot?
It feels good! We’ve been in this niche for 10 years and everywhere these days, people are talking about upcycling, fair fashion, local production. We missed the right time to make ourselves known! Afterwards, putting forward certain criteria may not be completely fair. A lot of brands say that they care about the environment, but when you dig a little deeper, you sometimes realize that it’s not so true. There are still not enough standards established on the subject of eco-responsible fashion. It’s always good to be sensitive to it, but the more you’re into it, the better!