The French luxury house’s first production site in the department of Gironde in southwest France employs 200 people, of which 50 have moved from other sites across the country to share their know-how, as part of the company’s ongoing training program for the artisans who produce its bags by hand exclusively in France.
The site will eventually house 280 people, and is part of an ongoing expansion program with three additional units already in the pipeline, said Guillaume de Seynes, managing director of Hermès.
“We continue to see very strong demand. That’s why we continue to invest,” he told WWD in an interview on the eve of the inauguration.
The company has 100 people dedicated to training new recruits, and this week announced the creation of an in-house apprenticeship training centre that will issue a state-endorsed national diploma in leather working.
Despite this, Hermès can’t keep up with demand, resulting in famously long waiting lists, and recent reports of disgruntled customers in China protesting in front of stores where they were unable to secure a handbag.
In particular, Chinese customers have complained about having to spend money on smaller items in the hopes of being allowed to buy more in-demand products, a practice known as “peihuo.”
“This is not a company-endorsed policy,” de Seynes said. “What is true is that most markets have to manage scarcity. That means managing waiting lists, and sometimes managing disappointment and long wait times.”
Nonetheless, Hermès does not plan to ramp up production, saying it is growing as fast as it can, considering the 18 months it takes to train new hires, and an industry-wide shortage of skilled workers.
“It’s very frustrating for us not to be able to satisfy everybody. At the same time, we’re not doing it to create an artificial market. We’re doing it because we’re not going to lower our quality standards, which are based on an artisanal production model that is growing as fast as it can,” de Seynes said.
“It’s not about investing in machines, in production chains, and pushing a button. We are making a statement about the care we put into the quality of the object,” he added.
Hermès has a similarly considered approach to its production sites.
The Maroquinerie de Guyenne building in Saint-Vincent-de-Paul, some 30 minutes north of Bordeaux, is set on a 13.8-acre site previously used to store backfill. The wood and concrete structure was designed by architect Patrick Arotcharen to respect the natural environment and maximize the use of light.
The eight workshops are bathed in natural northern light to help the artisans execute their precise gestures. Hermès planted more than 100 trees at the site to create a garden for its employees.
Solar panels supply more than 40 percent of the site’s electricity, supplemented by LED lighting. The building also has a rainwater recovery system.
Hermès plans to open a site in Louviers, in the Normandy region, next year, to be followed by a workshop in the Ardennes in 2023 and a second site in Auvergne the following year.