[INTERVIEW] Bénédicte Epinay (Comité Colbert) “Luxury is the oldest sector with a future”.

Interview with Bénédicte Epinay, General Delegate of the Comité Colbert, the representative body of the luxury goods industry in France.

 

From December 14th to 17th, the company organized the second De(ux)Mains du Luxe at Station F, a unique event where students, parents and adults in retraining could directly experience the craftsman’s hands-on work, visit the schools’ stands and make an informed choice about their professional future. It’s a fun way of responding to the shortage of manual talent, which is not sparing the luxury sector.

 

In mid-December, Station F hosted the second edition of De(ux) Mains du luxe, an interactive and inclusive event conceived as the ideal remedy for the shortage of artisanal talent. The aim was to ensure the transmission of know-how.

Bénédicte Epinay was appointed head of the Comité Colbert, the association representing 93 French luxury goods companies and 17 cultural institutions, in April 2020. She has been shaking up the sector for thirty years, following a career in the media, notably at the daily newspaper Les Echos, where, after covering the luxury goods sector for ten years, she successively launched her monthly magazine Série Limitée in 1999 and her weekly magazine Les Echos Week End in 2015.

 

Committed to the preservation and promotion of luxury know-how, which is at the heart of the Comité Colbert’s missions, Bénédicte Epinay has launched the latter on TikTok with promising success. And she’s already looking forward to putting the spotlight on arts and crafts in a prime-time Top Chef-style TV show on the public service channel. One thing is certain: the luxury goods industry should never cease to be a source of national pride. A sector that owes much of its longevity to the passion and creativity of its craftsmen.

Luxus Plus: Les De(ux)Mains du luxe came to a close on December 17. What is your impression of this second edition? Were you able to build on the success of last year’s first edition?

Bénédicte Epinay: This new edition of De(ux)Mains is a success. With 7100 visitors over the four days (+65% on a like-for-like basis), we beat the attendance record of our first edition. Above all, our know-how mini-site on Tiktok racked up more than 417 million views, a feat given that our presence on this social network dates back only two months! This is a particularly encouraging figure not only for the Comité Colbert, but also for the entire craft industry. It’s a particularly encouraging figure not only for the Comité Colbert, but also for the entire craft industry, because such performances demonstrate the strong appetite of young people for handicrafts.

LP : How did you come up with the idea of communicating on TikTok? The platform isn’t the obvious choice when it comes to the world of luxury, especially when it comes to craftsmanship…

Bénédicte Epinay: The idea was to get the word out where 12-24 year-olds get their information, by talking to them about craftsmanship in their own way. Launched this summer, the Comité Colbert account now has 26,000 followers! We’ve shot a lot of videos of young apprentices and craftsmen working for our members, Chanel and 19M, Louis Vuitton, Cartier, Van Cleef… Young people talking to young people. Tiktok was seduced by our approach, to the point of joining forces with us this autumn to create the hashtag savoir-faire and an associated mini-site to publish content of artisans’ gestures, whether videos shot in our homes or elsewhere.

LP: Les De(ux)Mains du luxe aims to showcase craftsmen while responding to an urgent need in the industry to strengthen its workshop workforce. How critical is the situation in France for handcrafted luxury goods? Are recruitment difficulties similar to those faced by boutique retailers when looking for sales advisors?

Bénédicte Epinay: Since the Colbert Committee was founded in 1954, we’ve been keen to address issues of general interest, and the shortage of manual labor is one of them. Luxury is a labor-intensive industry. At Hermès, one out of every two employees is a production worker. And a recent survey of our members puts the number of manual positions to be filled in our workshops at 20,000, due to an age pyramid that has become unfavorable, but above all to an unfortunately degraded image of manual professions, to which our event is attempting to respond. The shortage of talent in service professions, whether retail or hospitality, is another crucial issue for the sector, but one that we are not addressing at present.

 

LP: In your opinion, is this shortage of talent in the craft industry primarily a cultural problem, or a cyclical one?

Bénédicte Epinay: There are several reasons for this situation, starting with the lack of visibility of these professions. On average, a young schoolboy knows 5 to 10 jobs, when he should be able to visualize 50 in order to make a career choice. We have now moved away from this cult of secrecy, which had become counterproductive for recruitment. Add to this parents’ fear of their children’s manual career choices and the “pass your A-levels first” syndrome. Last but not least, teachers, often because they don’t know what is possible with a CAP, see this diploma as a dead end, even though our establishments offer fantastic career paths, including for young people without diplomas, who will be able to follow qualifying training courses.

In fact, it’s interesting to see the extent to which adults undergoing retraining choose manual trades because they are so meaningful. We’re even witnessing a kind of momentum where more and more people want to realize themselves in a different way, in particular through “doing”, an act requiring a long apprenticeship (18 months on average at Hermès) but so gratifying when you end up with a finished, tangible product.

LP: How can luxury goods reverse this trend?

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Read also > HERMÈS, CHAMPION OF THE REINDUSTRIALIZATION OF LUXURY GOODS IN FRANCE

Featured Photo: Bénédicte Epinay © Comité Colbert

 

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Victor Gosselin
Victor Gosselin is a journalist specializing in luxury, HR, tech, retail, and editorial consulting. A graduate of EIML Paris, he has been working in the luxury industry for 9 years. Fond of fashion, Asia, history, and long format, this ex-Welcome To The Jungle and Time To Disrupt likes to analyze the news from a sociological and cultural angle.

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