Vertical integration has been the name of the game lately in many industries including ours, and even more so since the Covid-19 outbreak, with brands going direct to consumer as the dominant pattern. The revival project of the Maison Bourgeat name offers a different picture though, with a 5-store optical retail chain in Paris taking its integration upstream and bringing back to life an eyewear workshop located in Morez, the historical French eyewear industry cluster.

The venture started in 2016 when Harry Bessis, a 36-year old optical retail entrepreneur at the helm of several independent shops, took over the Maison Bourgeat store located in the famously chic Saint-Honoré street in Paris and specializing on bespoke luxury eyewear. A year later, Bessis also took over the eponymous workshop in Morez which had just been put into liquidation proceedings. Created in 1879, the workshop had had its heydays in the 1980s when it was producing metallic frames for licensed eyewear brands such as Balmain, Lanvin or Saint-Laurent, employing up to 15 workers at its peak.

A second Maison Bourgeat store opened in the suburbs of Paris in 2017, and Bessis progressively divested its independent shops to focus on the development of the new banner, inaugurating three new retail locations in Paris the first quarter of 2020.

The project took another dimension at the end of last year when private investors injected a total of about €1.5 million in the project, allowing the company to accelerate its investments in the production unit. Bessis recently announced that it would invest around €500,000 in the restart of the facility, starting with the purchase of three machines for the production of acetate frames and the recruitment of three to four workers. At the moment, the acetate parts are ordered in Italy and assembled in Morez. A financial backing by the regional administration, as part of the national Covid-19 industry support plan, is also underway and should be definitely validated by the end of the month.

The business plan of the company calls for an output of 4,000 to 4,500 frames by the end of 2021 in Morez, with the totality of the production delivered to the network of Maison Bourgeat shops. The design of the collections is in the hands of a small in-house team based in the Saint Honoré store, including Oscar Esteves, an award-winning eyewear designer with previous work experiences at Acuitis and Lafont, among others.The company will apply this year for the Made in Jura label, as well as for the Entreprise du Patrimoine Vivant distinction (Living Heritage Company), a label granted by the French government to both traditional and innovative companies with a specific know-how, representative of “French excellence” in manufacturing.

According to Bessis, cutting all intermediaries in the supply chain will make it possible for the company to offer three different product ranges: the already existing fully bespoke frames retailing from €600, a semi-industrial collection of customizable pieces at around €250-300, and more surprisingly, an entry level range of frames at around €95 including lenses, and therefore eligible to a complete refund for consumers under the new French eyecare reform. For the supply of lenses, the company signed a partnership with Hoya for all its collections.

The relaunched Maison Bourgeat is also working on the extension of its stores’ network, with the opening of its first two retail locations outside Paris this year, in Lyon and Bordeaux, and the target is to reach a door count of 10 DOS units in France by the end of 2023. However, a project of partnerships with independent opticians is also in the pipeline for a second development stage. On the digital front, the company is investing on the creation of a new e-commerce portal which is scheduled to go live by the summer of this year.

In the mid-term, Bessis is also projecting to develop the brand on the international market, starting with the Middle East and Asia, with retail plans limited to the bespoke offering and wholesale supply to selected retail locations. The company is targeting annual sales of 30,000 to 40,000 frames in the longer term.