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Louis Vuitton Opens Two New Ateliers as Hugo Boss Shutters Factory

Louis Vuitton inaugurated Tuesday two new workshops, just south of Paris, in a move that the French luxury powerhouse said demonstrates its commitment to grow its domestic manufacturing footprint and champion leather craftsmanship.

The openings of the Abbaye atelier in Vendôme and the “bioclimatic” Oratoire atelier in Azé, which Louis Vuitton described in a press release as its most energy-efficient site, boasted a megawatt ribbon-cutting turnout, including Michael Burke, chairman and CEO of Louis Vuitton; Burno Le Maire, France’s minister of economy, finance and the recovery; and Bernard Arnault, chairman and CEO of Louis Vuitton parent LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, the world’s largest luxury conglomerate by revenue.

The two sites, which will create up to 500 new jobs, will zero in on producing goods from “precious” skins, which Louis Vuitton said are the “most tangible outcomes” of the high standards it “demands of its supply chain.” By the end of 2022, it said, 100 percent of the crocodile skins used for manufacturing Louis Vuitton bags, shoes and accessories will tout the Crocodile Standard, a certification that LVMH created with an independent body to bolster animal welfare, environmental protection and respectful working conditions for farmhands.

Louis Vuitton said it favors supply chains that are “most committed” to maintaining local biodiversity in line with regulations such as the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, better known by its acronym, CITES, which aims to ensure that global trade in specimens of wild animals and plants doesn’t threaten the survival of their species.

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“This is seen in the integration and control of the manufacturing stages from the sourcing of the hides to certification of the hides from farms in southern Africa, the United States or Australia,” it said. “Added to this high level of knowledge at each stage of sourcing and processing in the tannery is the exceptional craftsmanship that places research and development at the heart of Louis Vuitton’s production system, as well as the optimized use of raw materials.”

Exotic skins have become one of the fiercest battlegrounds in the animal-welfare fight as fur increasingly loses its luster. There has been some momentum to shed the materials, particularly in the early days of the pandemic, when exotic wildlife faced increasing scrutiny for potentially incubating and then spreading the virus that causes Covid-19.

Last July, Puig, the Spanish owner of Carolina Herrera, Dries Van Noten, Jean Paul Gaultier and Nina Ricci told animal activists that “steps have been taken” to eliminate the skins of alligators, crocodiles, ostriches, pythons and other exotic animals from its bags, shoes and belts. Mytheresa and Nordstrom, too, stopped stocking exotic skins in the ensuing months.

The Abbaye and Oratoire ateliers, the 17th and 18th jewels in Louis Vuitton’s French crown, are just the beginning of its expansion spree. The label, which employs nearly 4,800 artisans across the country, plans to open two additional workshops in Drôme and Maine-et-Loire later this year. By the end of 2024, Louis Vuitton said it expects to onboard another 1,000 workers.

Louis Vuitton broke new ground more than a week after 240 craftspeople from three ateliers in Asnières, Issoudun and Sarras walked out to demand a bigger share of the billions of euros in profits that it rakes in every year, plus better hours that would promote a better work-life balance. The maison, which announced last week that it will be raising prices because of ballooning manufacturing and transportation costs, told Sourcing Journal that it intends to “calmly continue this dialogue in order to reach an agreement” with the labor unions.

As Louis Vuitton looks to generate more European jobs, Hugo Boss appears to be paring them back. Workers at the German firm’s factory in Scandicci in Italy took to the streets earlier this month after Hugo Boss revealed it would be shuttering the site and laying off its 21 employees.

“The decision of the Hugo Boss group to close the Scandicci (Florence) plant is unacceptable; the 21 workers employed at the Tuscan site have very high skills and specificities,” Sonia Paoloni, national secretary of the trade union Filctem CGIL, said in a statement that was first reported by WWD. “Cutting this luxury production line means abandoning prototyping, the most crucial phase in the design of new products that distinguishes [the] ‘made in Italy’ [label].” She also accused Hugo Boss of exchanging “made in Italy” for “made in China” or “made in Portugal,” not to satisfy market demand but to maximize profits.

Hugo Boss disputed Paoloni’s statements, saying that they don’t represent the brand’s view. Hugo Boss, a representative told Sourcing Journal, will continue to have a presence in Italy through its production site in Morrovalle, which has more than 100 employees, as well as in neighboring Coldrerio in Switzerland, where more than 400 workers are based.

“To live up to changing customer demand and market requirements, Hugo Boss has recently adjusted its global strategy in 2021, reaching from production to marketing and sales,” the spokesperson said. “In this context, and after a profound internal analysis, the company has decided to reorganize the processes and workflows in its shoes and accessories business. This has, in turn, resulted in the decision to close the Scandicci development site.”

Paoloni said, however, that she’s concerned that the Hugo Boss factory’s closure is only the “tip of the iceberg” and that other facilities in Italy are also at risk.

“While the whole world looks to Tuscany and Scandicci for the high skills that this territory offers in leather goods and footwear, our fear is that Hugo Boss will turn its gaze to too-distant horizons following too-nuanced mirages,” she added.