Matthieu Coquelin : The Ace of the Made in France Swimsuit !
Welcome to Matthieu Coquelin’s, in La Confection du Coglais ! A small village near Rennes. Haven’t heard of it? Well, me neither until la Maison du Savoir-Faire et de la Création invited me to meet with the manager. From there on, we have three possible interpretations :
- The MSFC: (Maison du Savoir Faire et de la Création, are you following?) “You’ll see Jessica, Matthieu Coquelin is an exceptional craftsman who puts all his savoir-faire at the disposal of high quality French brands. A work of precision and exceptional quality! “
- Mes followers Instagram en message privé : “Who’s this cute guy on your right in the photo? I pressed like just for him!” (I’m still laughing!)
- And me : “He makes what swimsuits? Erès ??????? I am totally available!”
And that is how I found myself on the Montparnasse station’s platform on Thursday morning. At that moment, I didn’t know what was waiting for me, a lesson of humbleness, strength and courage. Because despite his young age, Matthieu Coquelin has conquered all the battles faced by an entrepreneur. An amazing meeting that I would love to share with you!
TFM: Can you introduce your company ?
Yes! The company was created by my father 39 years ago. We specialize in making swimwear ! We were also elected as the “Living Heritage Company” in 2016.
Today, I’m the person in charge, but at the time, there were 4 associates to begin the adventure. My father packed his suitcase and went up to Paris to sign his first contracts with the brand Anti-Flirt. At first he was making nightgowns, but then the swimsuit won over the business very quickly with a contract from the famous maison Erès.
TFM: At what age did you decide to take over the family business ?
Matthieu Coquelin: The question came up when I was still in high school.
What am I doing ? Should I keep going ? Am I really gonna do this or not ? I was only 16 !
At the time my father was 60, and he needed to prepare his departure. The choice had to be made quickly because the company needed a new business model.
I then took a decision that none of my professors understood. I switched to a scientific concentration and chose STT (tertiaire) to learn accounting.
It was a good start and I learned how to make a balance sheet. I then continued to get a BTS in Business Management for some background in law.
The following year, I arranged with my school to skip one day a week to take care of the company. And I was just 19 back then !
Yes ! It was a big risk ! I began in 2008. In 2009 there was the crisis ! It was an impossible mission. We hit the lowest profits in company history.
The industry was struggling. In 2012: the banks were no longer supporting us. I had to put my personal money in the company for 4 months just to keep the business going.
At the height of everything, my father was diagnosed and died from a terrible cancer a few months later. At this time I had to make a choice.
I left with my wife to the United States. I took a five-weeks break to get some air. And I came back with a project..
- TFM: What was this project ?
To find a way to boost production and save the company. I discovered, like everyone else, the brand Le Slip Français. They only made lingerie but I heard that the founder, Guillaume Gibault was looking to add swimsuits. I had to be his partner !
I contacted Guillaume Gibault, the founder of the brand, and I told him that we make men’s lingerie. (Which is completely wrong !)
We had weeks and weeks of work to make 400 pieces ! I even went to a colleague for a machine and he taught us how to make it !
The idéal was to bring him to the manufacture. I wanted him to see that I was able to make his swimsuits !
Today I am their only supplier of swimsuits. And that’s about 25,000 suits a year !
TFM: What is your magic recipe ?
I put a lot of money in training to increase productivity. This allowed us to go from a turnover of 1.3 million to 1.6 million with little change in workforce. It really was the key.
It’s also the experience. Swimsuits are a specific industry. You have to work with elastane, put the perfect amount of tension during the process. These are years of learning. We are very few doing this !
TFM: What brought you through these years ?
Matthieu Coquelin: Believing that there was something to be done..
I knew we had an extraordinary savoir-faire and we had to show it !
Also the story behind the company stopped me from letting my father go like that. Closing the store overnight and just saying ” That’s it ” was hard ! I came from here. And I oriented my studies towards it, so I had to try something.
I figured it would be an experience either way, even if I had to close down in the end, at least I would have tried everything. It was exciting !
To go to backstages and sit the the tailors…
Photographies: Alexis Chaillous pour @thefrenchmakers