Virginie Varenne, founder of Philéone

Virginie Varenne - Fondatrice de Philéone

Hello Virginie, can you introduce yourself?

My name is Virginie Varenne, I am 56 years old, and I am happy to be the adoptive mother of 4 children. I arrived in the Croix-Rousse district in Lyon, an emblematic silk district thanks to the school, and as soon as I realized that one day I will have to leave the family home I told myself that I will live here, and that's what I did.

How did you start to work in the textile industry?
In the 90s, in parallel with my studies, I participated in the creation and development of an association that s 'calls The world tour of young entrepreneurs , whose objective is to develop the export markets of French companies in the United States (New York, Los Angeles, Hawaii) and in Asia (Tokyo, Seoul, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore).

We were about twenty students leaving for two months in the summer to develop the export markets of the companies that had trusted us. We were sponsored by the Ministry of Foreign Trade and Crédit Lyonnais. Each company financed the travel of its student. We didn't have big budgets and slept in small hotels, sometimes at 6 per room. During the day, everyone went to prospect their future customers. This is how I really discovered textiles, an industry with a strong presence in the Lyon region.

During my last World Tour in 1989, I met the French Commercial Consul in Los Angeles, who told me about his desire to help promote French textiles in the United States. Back in France with this project in the back of my mind, I present it to the Textile Center in Lyon, which agrees to carry it out with me. At the same time, one of the companies that I represented during our tours abroad, JM Parent, wishes to continue its export development, and it is therefore thanks to the development of these two activities that I can, at 25, become self-employed at the end of my studies.

Until 1996, I spent half the year traveling between the United States, Canada, and Asia. I organize trade fairs for the Lyon textile industry and I develop the export markets for JM Parent. It was great, but also very trying. So I wanted to stop doing service and develop my own product. At the same time, JM Parent, who made scarves, filed for bankruptcy. I bought it, and set up my "Lyon Laine" business in a room at Croix-Rousse, in Lyon.

Can you tell us a little more about Lyon Laine?
With Lyon Laine I design, manufacture and sell stoles and scarves, especially for big names in fashion like Dior, Lanvin, Cerruti or Donna Karan. I was going to canvass them to show them my qualities of fabrics. When they were interested in such or such quality, it was not uncommon for them to entrust me with drawings from their archives to readjust as well as their color range. After validating the prototypes we started production. For Dior, for example, I created wool and silk stoles, a quality that we are still working on at Philéone!

It was exciting and very stressful at the same time: the contracts were not fixed because they were dependent on the fashion market, which also does not accept any delay in delivery. Year after year we didn't know if customers from the previous season would collect our designs again.This is a market that can generate great anxiety!

For example, I remember an order for Thierry Mugler, where we had a problem when the product was delivered. The threads, to weave the order, had been delivered in wooden crates containing straw residue the same color as the threads. The strands spread throughout the fabric during weaving. We didn't realize this until the dye returned when the strands of straw, which had not retained the color, were revealed. We had to pass the 1000 meters of fabric with tweezers to remove all the straws and be able to deliver Thierry Mugler!

All this leads us to January 2001 and at that time, Lyon Laine is in difficulty. What we call globalization weakens Very Small Enterprises like ours! We then decide Philibert and myself to join forces, professionally, before joining forces with the City 🥰 Philibert also runs a very small textile company in Lyon, Soieries Varenne. We are pooling our resources and continuing to manufacture Soieries Varenne clothing fabrics. In 2002 we created a brand of scarves, Capucine, which will be marketed in China in collaboration with our Chinese partner Yuxia, who becomes our friend.

In 2004, China is doing very well , but globalization on the move is violently affecting all very small businesses. We have the choice between selling ourselves to a larger structure or moving towards a workshop-boutique, a concept that is starting to interest the general public. It was there that when I returned home one day to La Croix-Rousse, I saw on the front door of my building a sign “We must save the Maison des Canuts!”. I call Philibert and tell him “I have found, we are going to take over the Maison des Canuts ”.

< b> So at that point it's the start of a new adventure?
Exactly. We are working on our file, we are going to meet the textile profession, the actors of the Croix-roussienne life such as Gérard Truchet, president of the republic of Canuts and friends of Guignol. All support us and write us letters recommendation. Our project wins against 7 other proposals . A new profession begins for us.

We are trained on tourism, culture, guided tours, handlooms. Philibert learns to weave on Saturday morning thanks to Yvette Chevassut, canuse at the Manufacture Prelle, who offers us her help. And we re-open the Maison des Canuts to the public in September 2004.

It is the beginning of a magnificent story: the activity is more serene, we learn every day , we put all the looms back into operation, we create a scenography and give a second life to this place which was in very bad condition.

La Maison des Canuts - Avant

In parallel, the activities of Lyon Laine and Soierie Varenne continue! Our goal is that these two activities are complementary, to be in the present of the industry : that the Maison des Canuts boutique reflects the quality and creativity of the Rhône-Alpine textile industry.

In 2006, Agnès Alauzet, Meilleur Ouvrière de France in hand weaving joined the team and we developed a new activity: hand weaving on our looms. This is how the Maison des Canuts will produce exceptional fabrics for Dresden (the coronation cloak of Auguste Le Fort), and for Marie-Antoinette's boudoir at the Château de Fontainebleau.

In 2015 Agnès leaves us and the hand weaving activity ends with her.We must then rethink the business plan of the company which is a little hybrid, and as we wish to return to our core business, it is quite naturally that the Philéone project sees the light of day in 2018

What is your project with Philéone?
The Philéone project really goes in the continuity of everything we have always defended, in particular through our desire to promoting the French textile industry.

I have always loved the fact that with Lyon Laine first, and Philéone now, I can go to see the weavers in the Loire in the middle of the countryside. It’s another trip than the great export! At the time of Lyon Laine I was happy to be able to tell them that the orders I gave them were for customers in South Korea, Japan, Canada or even the United States. C 'was so the opposite of everything that we were advocated: relocation, relocation!

This is what is extraordinary: in our countryside in France, all the knowledge- do remained. Not everyone caught the '90s wave of profit at all costs, and many continued to produce locally. So today, when we talk about relocation, we have to realize that we are fortunate not to start from scratch since we have had this know-how for years. We still have this possibility of producing and transmitting. And we are also fortunate to be joined by our daughter Sixtine for this new adventure.

So with Philéone, our goal is to continue to offer a range of very good quality products, without needing to have won the lottery to afford it. Work to find that "middle-of-the-range-plus" that we had in France in the textile industry, and which has almost disappeared. Suggest an alternative between fast fashion and luxury, explain it, and be more live.

I have two more questions for you! What are your favorite textiles?
Silk, for its history, its beauty, its Lyon roots and its ecological footprint. And woolens, wool, silk and cashmere blends for their softness and nostalgia for my first steps in this beautiful history of French textiles.

And what is your essential from the Philéone collection that never leaves you?
A Morgane stole in wool and silk, warm and soft. < / p>