By  on April 15, 2010

PARIS — Leading French fashion brands on Wednesday signed a charter of good conduct with their subcontractors in a bid to preserve local know-how and jobs in the face of increased outsourcing.

The nonbinding document sets out measures designed to promote constructive dialogue. In it, brands pledge to pay manufacturers promptly and give them better guidance on production schedules, while subcontractors commit to diversifying their production capacities and client bases in order to become more competitive.

Industry Minister Christian Estrosi, who brokered the deal, said it was part of a government drive to promote French manufacturing skills. “For each side to benefit from this relationship, it must be more equitable. That is precisely the aim of this charter,” he told industry members gathered at the Institut Français de la Mode.

The agreement was inked between the French Fashion Federation, which represents leading brands, and French apparel association UFIH. Among those present at the signing ceremony were Sidney Toledano, president and chief executive officer of Christian Dior; Bruno Pavlovsky, president of Chanel fashion; Guillaume de Seynes, executive vice president of Hermès, and Ralph Toledano, chairman and ceo of Chloé.

Toledano at Dior dismissed criticism the charter did not go further by establishing minimum order amounts or long notice periods for contract cancellations. “There are competition and trade rules, and we must remain within that framework. It’s not about creating a restrictive framework, but about bringing people together and instigating a dialogue,” he said.

Emmanuelle Marty, owner of family-owned luxury apparel specialist E. Marty, welcomed the deal. “I think this charter goes in the right direction and that it will allow us to progress on a certain number of points that have been raised,” she said.

However, French designer Agnès Troublé, better known as agnès b., suggested the agreement could have been more ambitious. “It’s a good day for fashion, it’s a step forward, but there is still a lot to be done,” she said. “We are already applying everything contained in this charter.”

In order to become more competitive and lower their prices, French manufacturers needed a greater volume of orders, added Troublé, who said she was surprised to discover recently that she was the biggest purchaser in France. “We are not protectionist enough in France. The Germans are 10 times more protectionist than we are. I am not ashamed of protecting as many jobs as I can in France,” she added.

Estrosi said the next step was the creation of working groups in late May that will examine issues including working hours, competitiveness, know-how, intellectual property and the creation of a “Made in France” label for luxury clothing. The minister has pledged to loosen France’s strict labor laws to give firms more flexibility in the run-up to fashion shows, when seamstresses and other key staffers are often required to work more than the legal 35 hours a week.

“This charter of good conduct is a key step towards establishing a platform between purchasers and subcontractors concerning key industry issues,” he said.

Toledano hinted Dior would not support the idea of a “Made in France” label. “I won’t make any comment on that issue. The question will be debated,” he said. “Our brands are already the important beacons.”

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