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Famous for its striped fisherman sweaters, the iconic French brand distributed by our Small Business member Le Comptoir Français is expending its footprint in Australia.
What is the purpose of your trip to Australia?
I have come to attend the fashion trade show Life in Style in Melbourne, to feel the market and to support Thibaut Guigues who, with his company Le Comptoir Français, is since January 2017 our general agent in Australia.
We have been present in Australia over the last 7 years through a multi-brand shop in Toorack, but meeting Thibaut, who is from Normandy, is what prompted our decision to expend our presence on the Australian market. Very familiar with our products and our traditional savoir-faire, Thibaut – who is married to an Australian – brings to us his knowledge of the Australian market and his wide local network. This marriage is a very good match and in the space of seven months, we have extended our presence to 20 retail outlets and expect to reach 50 by the end of year. Our target is 100 stockists in the next 2 years.
More generally, what is your international export strategy?
We actually have a long experience with international export, and it usually takes 3 years to establish the brand onto a new market. Ultimately, we might open a franchised boutique in Sydney or Melbourne, like we just did in Taiwan. Overall, 40% of our production is exported to Europe, North America and Asia (mainly to Japan, Korea and more recently to China). Our objective is to reach a 50-50% balance between domestic and international sales.
We believe that the Australian customer, like the European consumer, cares more and more about quality and ethical production. Our products are all traditionally manufactured in France, out of our factory in the village of Saint James, only 20 km from the famous Mont St-Michel. Our 300 workers have been passed on their knowledge by their parents, generations after generations since 1889! It takes 18 months of training for our workers to be able to deliver the level of quality we expect. Australians are also very much Francophile and our brand is truly part of the French imagery, first thanks to Coco Chanel, Godard and the Nouvelle Vague and more recently Jean-Paul Gaultier. Australians also share the love of the ocean and boating; which is the origin of all our products.
How would you describe your range of products nowadays?
Of course our range of products has grown and evolved considerably since 1889 and the original striped woollen jumper worn by the fishermen of Brittany. Our no less iconic combed cotton jersey, La Marinière, which has been part of the official uniform of the French Navy since 1871, exists now in 40 colours. Saint James also manufactures jackets, shirts, T-shirts, pants, Bermuda shorts and soon (next year) swimming suits! To view our collection, please consult our new Australian website: saint-jamesaustralia.com.au.
If you wish to become a stockist, please contact Thibaut Guigues by email email@example.com or telephone (07) 3189 3352.
Interview conducted by Claire Dupré on Friday 4 August 2017.
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