When most people think of sustainable fashion, they think of resource preservation and efforts to minimize impacts on the environment.
But a documentary film from Hermès shows the French luxury fashion house’s efforts to preserve a different resource — the artisan. And sustaining craftsmanship has another practical benefit: more jobs.
“In France, like in many countries, in many western countries in recent years, all the manufacturing jobs disappeared and were replaced by nothing,” said Olivier Fournier, executive vice president compliance and organization development at Hermès International.
Hermès now employs about 5,000 craftsmen across France, Fournier said during a panel discussion about the documentary.
The documentary, which is actually nine mini-films strung together, takes the viewer from the countryside of France to Japan to London and back to Paris, in an attempt to demonstrate Hermès’ sustainable practices through the eyes of its craftsmen, supplier and customers. Six of the mini films were screened Monday night at the Museum of Arts and Design in Manhattan. Fournier and filmmaker Frederic Laffont were both in attendance.
A glimpse inside the lives of a Japanese family that owns a bookbinder business in Kyoto highlights a form of paper marbling, also found in Hermès’ Lyon archives, that was believed to be extinct. The artisans in the film are the last known people who know how to execute the process.
“For years, for decades, he fought not to let die, his know-how, which no longer interested anyone,” Laffont said of the father of the business, who worked as a part-time paramedic to make ends meet before being hired by Hermès. “There’s a conviction [that] my work is worth something.”
Or, the tiny town of Montbron, France, once struggling from high unemployment rates and lack of jobs, now has about 300 leather craftsmen after the Hermès workshop was opened.
The two men argued that as consumer preferences across fashion brands moves to socially responsible manufacturing practices, the luxury market — and Hermès in particular — is no exception. In fact, the films are intended to serve as a model for other, smaller, fashion houses on how to be sustainable, Fournier told the film’s audience.
“It’s the virtue of examples,” he said. “You have to be conscious of what you do regarding the material you use. And as long as you can give examples, I think things move, even for Hermès.”
The 181-year-old company released the films earlier this year in conjunction with its updated website, Fournier said. Film screenings were also held in San Francisco and Los Angeles this month.