French Fancies: Atelier Tuffery

Who doesn’t love jeans? Most of my (French) girlfriends have multiple pairs.

In the heart of the Cévennes, Julien Tuffery carries on a grand family tradition. His great-grandfather created work trousers 130 years ago using the famous ‘de Nîmes’ fabric. Today, Julien and his wife Myriam run the oldest jeans factory in France, Atelier Tuffery.

Jeans in the Genes: Family Artisans in the Cévennes

How it all began

Myriam, Jean Jacques and Julien pattern cutting

With his singing accent from the Cévennes region, Julien Tuffery, sporting denim from head to toe and a fashionable haircut and beard, knows what he is talking about. He’s the dynamic owner of Atelier Tuffery, the oldest and last manufacturer of jeans in France. Passionate and talkative, he is the heir of a long line of master tailors of jeans.

Célestin Tuffery

Just over 130 years ago, in 1892, his great-grandfather, Célestin Tuffery, had the idea of using the raw indigo-dyed fabric then being manufactured in Nîmes to make work trousers. Because it was strong and cheap, it was ideal for making industrial clothing for the influx of workers building railroads nearby. He was only 17 when he opened his workshop in Florac and he went himself to buy fabric in Nîmes, 100km (62.5 miles) away.

Thanks to this ‘de Nîmes’ – or denim as we now know it – fabric, Célestin Tuffery probably invented jeans in France, at about the same time that Levi Strauss, on the other side of the Atlantic, had already started to make jeans for California gold-diggers.

Jean Alphonse

In the 1950s, Célestin’s son, Jean-Alphonse, succeeded in transforming jeans into a fashion product, following in the footsteps of American brands. But in the 1980s, the company, renamed Tuff’s, was hard-hit by Asian and North African competition. In 1985, it was doomed to decline and only a few seamstresses and Jean-Alphonse’s children – Jean- Pierre, Jean-Jacques and Norbert – remained. They had to close the workshop and kept only a simple boutique, which struggled for years.

Fortunately, in 2016, Julien, Jean-Jacques’ son, and his wife Myriam, both engineers, decided to quit their lucrative jobs to take over the family business. Their objective was ambitious: to revive it at all costs and perpetuate the unique know-how passed on by Célestin Tuffery.

Initially, his father and uncles tried to dissuade Julien and his wife largely because they had endured too much themselves. But the determined couple wanted a meaningful project which would also be ecological, societal, human and economic. They were lucky because their relatives had the wisdom to say:

3rd generation of Atelier Tuffery

Listen Julien and Myriam, we are completely out of touch with Facebook, Instagram, the internet and e-commerce. If you want the business, take it, we won’t interfere.  But you should know that we can be pretty damn useful!

Before beginning the journey, Julien and Myriam did economic studies on the jeans market and consumer trends. Since 2016, the picture has hardly changed: France, with 90 million jeans sold annually, represents 10% of the European market. Only four countries account for more than 80% of the production imported into Europe: Bangladesh, Turkey, China and Pakistan. When they reach the consumer, the jeans have often travelled over 65,000km (40,625 miles).

Convinced that new consumer trends focusing on eco-ethics and buying local offered an opportunity, Julien and Myriam figured they had a card to play in the ‘Made in France’ niche. Now owners of the company, they changed Tuff’s to its historic name Atelier Tuffery and revived it. Sewing patterns formerly drawn individually were replaced by digitised templates and the product range, which was limited to trousers, expanded to include skirts, aprons and shirts. Their marketing strategy targets end customers through social networks, influencers and a newsletter. Their top priority is  sourcing locally where possible and marketing the brand so the majority of value-added goes back to the workshop and not distributors.

Everything on the Atelier’s website, absolutely everything, is made in France or Europe, the majority by its workshop and the rest by partner networks. They work with four weaver-spinners located in the Vosges, the Tarn, the Basque country and northern Italy. Obviously, the Atelier’s costs are quite high. And since 80% of the cost of manufacturing jeans is labour, its products are expensive. That said, they’re not necessarily more expensive than jeans from a big brand manufactured far away. In terms of societal cost, they’re perhaps even less expensive as they’ve not travelled around the world several times before reaching the consumer and the hands that make them are the hands that sell them.

Entirely handmade in facilities combining traditional savoir-faire and modern technology, three-quarters of production is sold online and the rest in the on-site boutique. Ranging from €119 to €290 per pair and more for custom-made organic cotton models, the jeans are guaranteed for seven-day delivery in 28 countries. The clientele of this flourishing business are young urbanites who want better quality and who reject products not coming from a ‘short supply chain’ alongside jeans costing €10 in a fast-fashion store. The  jeans are so timeless that they can last for years and even be repaired.

The Atelier makes 40,000 pairs of jeans annually, three per cent of sales in France. It’s a micro-drop in the fashion ocean, but a drop growing each year. In 2020 and 2021, because of Covid-19, internet sales exploded. Ten years ago, the ‘Made in France’ label wasn’t fashionable. Today, the company’s order book is full.

The Future

Last year Julien and Myriam started construction to increase the workshop’s size fourfold. However, growing too much is out of the question. They don’t want to embark on large industrial projects that would reproduce the same mistakes that led the industry to bankruptcy.

They’re aiming for 100,000 jeans annually and then they’ll stop growing. Their direct-sales business model avoids waste and overstocking. In the same spirit, Atelier Tuffery strictly refrains from launching a new collection every six months or so and . works only on absolutely timeless, beautiful and perfect pieces, those that our customers have been attached to for years. 

Florac-Trois- Rivières has been home to Tuffery for 130 years

Miriam and Julien’s workshop is located in the very town where his great-grandfather opened his factory: Florac-Trois-Rivières, a picturesque village in the Lozère department, in the heart of the Cévennes National Park, amidst cattle, sheep and goat farms.

Tuffery has a new lease of life under the stewardship of Julien and Myriam

Incidentally, Julien and his team have made the ultimate tribute to great-grandfather Célestin: with its classic straight cut and high waist, the company’s historical model bears his name. Timeless, you see!

All images courtesy of Atelier Tuffery

22 Comments on “French Fancies: Atelier Tuffery

      • I have more pairs of trousers than I’d like to own up to, and rarely wear skirts or dresses. However, I’m not a big fan of denim and only have two pairs, one blue and one black, both of which I’ve had for some time. Most of my French girlfriends have around a dozen pairs (different colours, weights and styles) and regard them very much as a fashion staple.

        Liked by 1 person

  1. Another well written post, sheree
    And loved how the pandemic gave this company a boost and cheers to keeping this company alive and making needed changes that are also with many perks to environment

    Liked by 1 person

  2. How do these jeans compare to Levi’s or Wrangler brand of jeans? I stopped wearing Levi’s long ago for 2 reasons, for and price. I find Wrangler brand a better fit and a better price. I think I’m paying about $20 for jeans. But not more than $30. Though I have not bought any for some time as they don’t wear out .

    Liked by 1 person

    • TBH buddy, I don’t know and I think jeans are very personal. When you find a brand that fits, you stick with it. It also depends what you wear them for, after all they were intended as workwear.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Interesting. but I have been meaning to ask you…”Are ya’ll ok over there”? Are things as “crowded” on the streets as we are hearing and seeing.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Levis was founded in 1853 actually. 🙂 No idea if their jeans were originally made of denim though.

    Also, a gold digger is completely different than a prospector or miner. 😀 😀

    From The Urban Dictionary:

    Gold Digger

    A generally attractive person who seeks out relationships with sugar mommas or sugar daddy for monetary gain. A gold digger can be a female or male. It is often a mutually opportunistic relationship: the rich person gets sex or companionship and the GD gets money.

    A song by Kanye West featuring Jamie Foxx.
    My friend Jessica is a total gold digger. She’s sleeping with this middle aged executive and he buys he pays all her bills. She might as well be a street walker. O_O

    Liked by 1 person

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