PARIS -- Inflatable furniture, wine in aluminum
cans, and even washable female hygiene products were just a few of the products
on display at Paris’s expo center at the Porte de Versailles. Visitors weren’t
there to explore the latest trendy innovations, but instead to browse nearly
200 different brands that are “Made in France.” Or at least that claim to be.
The 2nd annual “Made in France” expo earlier this November highlights nationally made goods that are increasingly
used to connote quality. The
salon is a way to put the French in direct contact with upcoming creators to
help better sensitize the population to all things “Made in France.”
According to French daily Le
Monde, three-quarters of the French are willing to pay more for
locally produced products, down only slighty from last year. The reasons are largely economic, as many French see the potential for job creation in a country plagued by 10 percent unemployment with nearly 3.3 million people currently seeking jobs.
But as more companies sew and print the French flag on their products and call them "Made in France," one organization is waging a campaign to highlight those who truly make good on the claim. According to Audrey Canestrier, general secretary at Pro France, just because a product is
labeled “Made in France” does not mean that the French are the only ones benefiting, just that a certain amount of the good was produced in the country.
Her association seeks to promote the French brand, offering a certification for
products that adhere to more stringent standards, requiring 50 to 100 percent of unit costs to be from France.
French brands like Lacoste and Renault are traditionally associated with
France, Canestrier points out that neither manufactures exclusively within the country. “With globalization, the brand no longer indicates the
origin of the product. We have to talk about the origin in terms of the place
of fabrication, the source for materials, and the people employed,” Canestrier
said. The rigorous approach, working in tandem with an outside certification board, has granted labels to more than 900 products since its creation, a number that Canestrier hopes to double by next year.
This label can be considered for any product in any industry. Toyota Europe unveiled a “Made in France” model this May, called the Yaris. Even American appliance maker Whirlpool has manufactured several washing machines that are guaranteed French-made. General Mills, Coca Cola, and Häagen Dazs have also secured labeled products.
At the expo, however, most brands labeled "Made in France" were not as entirely patriotic as consumers would think, though often for practical reasons. For example, a startup called Apto displayed its new concept handbags for men at the expo. Despite being “Made in France,” the founders were transparent in explaining that certain components including the leather and zippers, come from Italy.
"No company makes 100 percent locally produced zippers," Apto co-founder Victor Barbazanges said, "but all materials are sent to the Vendée, where our workshop conceptualizes the product, so we can say that, yes, the bag is 100 percent 'Made in France.'" The bag, maintaining a majority of French materials, can legally wear the label “Made in
But not all companies are as forthcoming with their production, something
that Canestrier and Pro France are demanding.
Many of the 200 odd vendors at the salon were entrepreneurs who may not be able to qualify yet for the guarantee, and only 12 businesses present had actually obtained it. Still, Canestrier is hopeful that Pro France's guarantee will offer more transparency. "We wanted to make this label rigorous, mathematically unassailable," she said.
Some French products, however, can'teven attempt to qualify for Pro France's guarantee, at least not yet. For example, famed French
beverage Orangina can’t procure sufficient quantities of oranges from French
territories. But Canestrier said the system will evolve, with different labels
rewarding those who maximize French resources for their products, but also for
those who work in industries that can’t possibly source more than 50 percent of their
business costs from France. “We are trying to promote French savoir-faire more
than anything,” she said.
Canestrier says that such steps into other industries could help
show that France’s economy is not limited to food, couture, and perfumes, as
many foreigners perceive. French daily Le Monde reported
that French mechanical equipment, for example, is ranked the best in the world
just behind Japanese and German competitors.
The “Made in France” salon
demonstrated that the French are on their way, but still have a distance to
go. “Today, we see that the current system doesn’t function," Canestrier said of dependence on foreign goods, "and I think that there is a direct link between French
consumerism, French fabrication, and development of the French economy.”
Photos: Bryan Pirolli
This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com