To Longchamp president Jean Cassegrain, sustainability and durability go hand-in-hand.
When it comes to creating sustainable products, there is no “magic material” that solves all the challenges that come with reducing their impact on the environment.
“Sustainability is very much associated with innovation, and people might expect that maybe a new magic material or something resolves everything,” says Cassegrain in an interview at the brand’s Suria KLCC store in Kuala Lumpur.
“I always say to our team that the number one thing that we can do for the environment is to make products that last a long time, and I think that the durability aspect is often overlooked or is not given enough value.”
“I think that’s really the number one sustainability criteria. Maybe you’re going to make a bag out of a ‘magic’ material but if it’s only going to give you six months of use and then you have to dispose of it, there’s no way you can say it’s sustainable,” he explains.
For the luxury family-owned business based in Paris, France, the first focus is quality.
“To us, quality and sustainability are two sides of the same coin,” says Cassegrain, whose grandfather founded the company in 1948.
“The person within our organisation who is the director of sustainability is also the director of quality, because we feel that the two are very closely associated,” he explains, adding with a laugh,” That’s very old fashioned and not very glamorous.”
Innovation is the second thing they focus on, through testing, optimising and developing new projects, their efforts are geared towards research into processes and raw materials that help minimise products’ ecological impact.
For the brand’s iconic Le Pliage bag – an item coveted by everyone from teenagers and college students to jet-setting executives and Cassegrain himself for daily use and while travelling – Longchamp staff developed a new canvas, both sides of which are made of recycled polyester derived from plastic waste (mainly recycled bottles).
“By the end of next year, all the canvas that we are using will be made from recycled fibre,” says Cassegrain, adding that they use recycled polyamide, polyester, linen and cotton.
“We have chosen to go this way for several reasons, the primary reason is that there is no difference in quality, no one in our team can differentiate a bag made from recycled nylon from one made of virgin nylon. The durability is going to be exactly the same but the carbon footprint is not the same,” he says, adding that for a product that feels and looks the same as one that isn’t recycled, the carbon footprint is 20% lower for the recycled product.
The brand’s latest product line, Le Pliage Re-Play, uses end-of-the-roll fabric, which is extra fabric from previous collections, reused to create entirely new products.
“The concept can be compared to the chef in the kitchen who opens the fridge and his challenge is to make the best possible dish with whatever he has,” quips Cassegrain. “It’s not only using the leftover material, it’s also using them in a new, creative, interesting way.
The Le Pliage Re-Play range consists of three formats – a spacious vertical tote, a small shoulder bag, and an on-trend belt bag – each combining two different colours of end-of-the-roll nylon canvas with a third colour of Russian leather trim.
These bags come in nine different colour combinations, available in varying quantities in boutiques throughout the world.
The collection is quite literally a limited edition, as once the stocks of canvas and leather are exhausted, these bags can never be reproduced.
“It’s maybe a little old-fashioned, it’s not rocket science. It works well and a lot of this is based on good sense and also the fact that we are manufacturers, that we are artisans. It gives us a different approach because we have not lost touch with what it means to make products.
“We see the waste, we see the leftover fabrics, the impact that we have is maybe more concrete than if you were simply moving products from one logistics platform to another, it’s not abstract, it’s what we do, and it’s what we’ve been doing. We look at sustainability in a way that is maybe more concrete and hands-on than other brands.”
From finding alternative ways to reduce their environmental impact in manufacturing (using recycled materials made from plastic bottles, fishnets and stockings) and logistics (minimising air shipments and using mostly sea shipments), Cassegrain himself, on a personal level, practises sustainability in his daily life.
“I still have a car but I don’t use it anymore, I use it maybe twice a month,” he says. “I go to the office either by bicycle or by subway. My children are also pushing me to live in a more sustainable manner, as a company too, when there’s the option of travelling by train we take the train instead of flying,” he explains. “We’re trying to evolve in the right direction.”
And when they do have to fly to a location, Cassegrain quips, “No private jets.”