It is a high room where heat and noise merge. This lair contains around ten knitting machines moving back and forth incessantly. After fifty-five minutes, a black wool sweater appears at the bottom of each, made in one go, like photos from a photo booth. From time to time, an employee passes by, threads spools of thread, while another checks that operations are running smoothly. Andrei Dohose is working on one of the machines. “There is a needle that doesn’t work,” points out the 36-year-old programmer, who arrived from Romania two and a half years ago to work in this state-of-the-art factory. His niche training taught him how to create clothes on a computer, which were then made by digital knitting machines.
There are few positions like this in France. But 3D-Tex, the company that employs him, is betting on developing them at high speed. While the French textile industry relocated its factories in the 1980s, Basile Ricquier, Gwendal Michel and Marc Sabardeil chose to co-found a “textile industrial start-up” in Saint-Malo (Ille-et-Vilaine), in 2021. Years of navigating the industry in Asia and the Mediterranean gave them ideas. “The textile industry pollutes and is expensive on a social level. Our project advocates reindustrialization and locality,” claims the first, a confident-looking forty-year-old.
Between Japan and Europe
To meet this challenge, the trio relied on machines from Japan and 100% European wool. The technique allows, rather than cutting and assembling the pieces, to make them in one go and without sewing. “In traditional factories, there are 20% of scraps, and therefore a lot of waste,” figures Basile Ricquier. At 3D-Tex, these falls are minimal and have no impact. Sweaters, hats, car seat covers and even fire-resistant hoods for firefighters… the creations are piling up. “I see with customers what it is possible to imagine using our equipment,” explains Albane Gaulier, 25-year-old textile project manager. The company works with Décathlon as well as Sézane, or the Saint-Malo Beaumanoir, which has also acquired a stake.
After only two years of existence, 3D-Tex already has 45 employees. But qualified labor in this sector is scarce. The company therefore trains new arrivals itself. A mission devolved to Bertrand Hélias, the production director. In a room sheltered from noise, with his back bent, the man who worked for thirty years at Fileuse d’Arvor in Quimper (Finistère) carefully assembles an old-fashioned knitting machine: “I prepare it for the people who arrive Training. There is nothing like it to show them how a stitch is shaped, before learning to use the very fast digital machines. » Just a stone’s throw away, Elvina Rocaboy is at the next level. Concentrated in front of her computer, the junior programmer, just 23 years old, designs a new sweater. “I discovered the profession during my design studies, but there was no training to learn it then,” she says. 3D-Tex welcomed her on a work-study basis, before integrating her last November into its constantly growing team. After a turnover of 1.6 million euros in 2022, the company is targeting 8 million for 2026.
One hundred thousand pieces per year
The void that the young company is filling and its objectives have earned it financial support from Ademe and the government as part of the France Relance plan. The company is also one of thirteen projects supported by the State to reindustrialize the country. “We hope to inspire others because, in our sector, there is room. We all need to dress,” notes Basile Ricquier.
Eighty thousand pieces will be shaped by their knitting machines in 2023; soon a hundred thousand hope the founders. Once made, these pieces go to the other site, surprisingly silent, where other employees carry out the finishing touches: ironing, labeling, embroidery… before ending up in physical or online stores. The third founder Gwendal Michel is delighted: “We are releasing our own brand, Cézembre, with hats, at the end of September. » They will be found in shops in Saint-Malo and the surrounding area. Just a few kilometers away.
What are the recipes for success of the 3D-Tex company?
- Local anchoring. The relocation in the field of ready-to-wear relies on clients from the region such as the Beaumanoir group (Bonobo, Bréal, Cache-Cache, Caroll, etc.), also based in Saint-Malo.
- Tailor-made training. As qualified labor is rare, the company itself trains its staff in the specificities of the sector and the high technicality of the machines.
- Zero waste. Almost all of the raw material is used, with no fabric scraps.